How Should Cleveland Spend $ 541 Million in Coronavirus Aid? City council ideas focus on lasting change

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – However, Cleveland ultimately decides to spend $ 541 million in federal stimulus and coronavirus assistance it must be used to bring lasting change, city council members said Tuesday.

The board, assembled to think about projects that could be funded with American Rescue Plan money, came up with several ideas. Most importantly, members say, money should be spent carefully.

“We have to be, in my opinion, on a dime,” said Councilor Mike Polensek. “We really need to make sure that these funds – which we’ll never see again, I guess – that we really target the areas of greatest concern and most pressing.”

The money, which is among the $ 350 billion targeted for states and local governments in the $ 1.9 trillion package, must be spent before the end of 2024.

The first half of the Cleveland subdivision is expected to move to the city around mid-May, Council Chairman Kevin Kelley said. And the board expects to have a say in how it is used.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first conversation between board members. Kelley said she was told in conversations with Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration that Jackson’s team was also sorting out their options.

The board will have to vote to accept the money. But members said they also expected to have conversations with the administration about how it should be spent.

Ideas launched on Tuesday ranged from large to smaller, specific to somewhat cryptic:

  • Expansion of WiFi systems throughout the city to provide high-speed Internet access to all residents.
  • Target the barriers, especially those of systemic racism, that prevent residents from building wealth, accessing education and enjoying the best possible quality of life.
  • Offer grants and loans at low or zero interest rates to help residents, especially the elderly, maintain their homes and possibly help people acquire housing.
  • Demolish damaged structures in neighborhoods.
  • Repaving of streets.
  • Replacing equipment, such as fire trucks and police vehicles, and purchasing new items, such as dash cams for police vehicles.

“As a body, there are some specific things that we will have to vote on,” Councilor Phyllis Cleveland said. “We can’t just go in 17 different directions.”

No mention was made of using some of the money to offset potential losses of millions of dollars in payroll taxes if people who worked from home during the pandemic never returned to their offices in town.

At a recent public telephone meeting, Jackson said the city had to meet three criteria first:

  • Which expenses are reimbursable? These could include overtime spent on the pandemic, the cost of building safety improvements, and the costs of setting up vaccination sites around town.
  • How is the city recovering from the pandemic? This assessment would target money to stimulate economic activity to get laid off people back to work, especially in the hospitality and entertainment industry, and help small and medium-sized businesses.
  • What can be done to fight economic growth? It could tackle wealth inequalities, disparities and racism and work with outside nonprofits to raise more money to use in the city.

The mayor also noted that federal aid would help stabilize Cleveland’s budget. Jobs lost and business lost due to the coronavirus pandemic translated into lost revenue for the city in 2020. Federal coronavirus relief filled the gaps in 2020, but Jackson expected to have to exploit the reserves carried over to 2021 to balance the budget this year.

But the size of federal aid is enormous. The total that will arrive in May – over $ 270 million – represents more than 40% of the city’s general fund budget for the year.

Councilor Brian Kazy warned that as members debate with administration how to use the money, they should focus on how to benefit Cleveland as a whole.

“While we will fight for our own neighborhoods, this money must be used to support the city of Cleveland as a whole,” Kazy said. “With just one time in that money, what we don’t want to see is something that comes and goes and doesn’t work.”

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