Cleveland City Council – American Rescue Plan Act Discussion

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Documenter: Dorothy Ajamu

Council President Kevin Kelley listed his priorities:

    -Food insecurity

    -Hunger

    -Broadband

    -Lead poisoning

    -Abandoned homes

Councilmember Blaine Griffin said that income should be looked at and that broadband can be included in the infrastructure funds. Griffin also said he feels equity is important and suggested council members take a look at documentation that different organizations have put together on the issue.

Griffin said he wants hard numbers from different departments to see what they need. Food insecurity is an issue, Griffin said, and the $5 million initially allocated was not enough. But Griffin was hesitant about issuing more funds to personnel because he didn’t know if it would be sustainable. He touched on catalytic topics, which led Kelley to touch on maintaining some assets in the community (Playhouse Square, etc.).

Councilmember Jasmin Santana said she wants to prioritize three things:

Mental health: Santana said she has seen mental health issues rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, and wants to know if they can partner with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) to assist students and their families with mental health issues.

Communication barriers: Santana feels that residents with language barriers are having a hard time trying to get assistance.

Assistance with creating jobs in the Northern Ohio Blanket Mills: Santana has already sent in proposals and hopes that the other council members will prioritize this as well.

Councilmember Michael Polensek said ARPA funds should be intertwined with the general funds if possible. He believes the integration would free up other dollars that can be used elsewhere. Polensek wants to speak with the finance director to explain the balance and to see where Cleveland stands, so the council will have a better understanding as to what money they have and how they can use it.

Polensek also said that safety vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances, etc., need improvement. He reiterated why the funds should be merged. Polensek said he has received phone calls from residents in the Glenville neighborhood with complaints about the abandoned homes in the area. He wants to know what can be done about the abandoned homes; he said he wants them removed.

Polensek also spoke about the $5 million given to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

He wanted to know whether any lead remediation money allocated from ARPA dollars will go to all areas or just for services in certain wards. Polensek said North Glenville and Superior weren’t included in the initial lead poisoning act. Polensek also asked about the 1,100 cameras, which the city has already promised for public safety, and an update on whether they have been installed and where they are located throughout the city.

Polensek said he’s ready to get going with some priorities and wants to know their capabilities, make sure there’s an outcome, and ensure that money isn’t being wasted. Polensek also wants to make sure that there are lasting results, and he said he wants to move forward with what they can do now.

Councilmember Jenny Spencer said she wants a balance between strategy and deliberation before getting started, and she wants a plan on how they’re going to move. She wants to see how often they’ll meet and would rather know upfront on allocations.

Kelley answered that first they will prioritize, then legislate, then authorize. He said everything will go through a process.

Spencer wanted to know what the city will be getting for its “buck.” She also asked about getting the data for research on some of the priorities requested to make decisions. She asked if broadband is infrastructure and how to get information on how to make decisions.

Kelley said there are specialists that the city can reach out to about broadband, and that demolition is a little easier. Kelley said they are prioritizing now, but there is a path in place.

Spencer said she wants to make sure there is capacity for demolition, even though it’s simple. She suggested that information would be welcome for demolition as well.

Councilmember Brian Mooney said ARPA funds cannot be used to address some issues he considers important. He asked Kelley if high-resolution police cameras are permissible spending. Kelley replied that he did not know the answer, but felt it may be possible because crime rates have risen during the pandemic.

Mooney said the money can be used on recreation centers. He suggested that it would be smart to use it on recreation centers to free up other money. He made a few other suggestions, such as using the money for ambulances, roads, trees, etc. Mooney reiterated that taking care of those things will free up money.

Councilmember Anthony Brancatelli said that $79 million has been allocated already, and some of the things Mooney wants may not be eligible. Brancatelli spoke on why demolition is important: it makes neighborhoods safer and builds equity. Brancatelli believes blight elimination falls under housing because it creates opportunity. He gave examples of the CHN Housing Partners, landfills, and being able to build houses on empty lots. Brancatelli felt that housing also creates family stability since families aren’t moving around a lot. It creates food security because families can find local connections. He said that stabilizing families is also good for education, and he feels stabilizing housing will move the population numbers up.

Councilmember Brian Kazy said he needs a much broader plan before deciding how to spend the ARPA funds. He wanted to know what is going to be done with those structures. Kazy would like to see the dollars allocated for streets. He felt that instead of repaving one street in a neighborhood they should do multiple streets. He also said that shopping centers need to be upgraded, and they should produce an incentive for those shopping centers. Kazy wants to make sure that any dollar spent is a sustainable dollar.

Kelley stated that demolition can help with housing.

Griffin felt that they should be strategic, and he felt that they should narrow it down to five things. He wanted to know if the process can be moved along.

Kelley felt it could be authorized quickly if they work 24/7, and he said that making sure contractors are ready to go is essential to speeding up the process.

Griffin wanted to know if someone could be brought in to make sure that priorities are accomplished. He wanted to find a way to narrow down some of the priorities to about five or six categories. Griffin wants demonstration projects done, and he wants to use technology for traffic purposes. He feels that statistics will show that traffic issues, like excessive speeding, during COVID-19 have been worse. Demonstration projects will help them see if some of the things he discussed will work.

Councilmember Delores Gray said she agreed with what the other council members were saying.  She is seeing some of the issues in the city daily — such as streets in disrepair, old fire trucks, etc. Gray wants to conclude on what’s most important and how they’re going to go about achieving the priorities stated in the meeting.

Brancatelli said there are catalytic projects in every area. He said the project at University Settlement is an amazing project that impacts different wards, as far as food and health. He said that city-wide projects — such as the new police headquarters and training facilities — can also go under facility projects.

Closing:

Santana wanted to know if some of the priorities listed are transformational, and she wondered if some of the topics discussed have deeper issues than what’s on the surface. Santana posed two example questions: “Will demolition bring people out of poverty?” and “Do we need more officers, or do the youth have deep-rooted issues?”

Spencer wanted to make sure that the priorities listed can be executed legally.

Kelley asked John James, city council staff researcher, if he’d been taking notes and said they’ll later match up their notes. He said they will work to develop a conclusion.

Brancatelli wanted a presentation on population as he wants to know if he can challenge the population numbers for Cleveland. He suspects the Census response numbers were low for Cleveland.

Polensek wanted an update about allocated funds.


Santana proposed that a notification about the next ARPA discussion should come at least a week in advance. 
Kelley said that a week in advance isn’t plausible, but that maybe three days will work.

[It was announced on Friday at about 4 p.m. that the meeting would take place on Monday at 2 p.m.]

The meeting was adjourned at 3:06 p.m.

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