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Council briefed on rescue plan

Marietta City Council was briefed Monday on the impacts of the recently passed American Rescue Plan from the federal government.

They were told that the funds from the rescue plan are strictly to be used for infrastructure projects, but the Times cannot corroborate that specific restriction based on the act language that has been signed into law.

In a keyword search within the act’s language, infrastructure appears nine times explicitly, predominately identifying cybersecurity and public health analytics within digital infrastructure.

According to the Buckeye Hills Regional Council breakdown by government entity within Washington County, Marietta is projected to receive $9,524,495 from the stimulus bill.

Monday, council members were referred to a Cleveland.com article citing up to $10.2 million allocated for Marietta, in addition to Subtitle M of the stimulus act noting the section named “Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.”

According to the requirements upon local governments as outlined in that act, use of the funds are restricted to “cover costs incurred by the metropolitan city, non-entitlement unit of local government or county by Dec. 31, 2024.”

Repeatedly within the act are references to utilizing the same definitions for entities of government and nonprofit as outlined by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.

“I found this out, I started reading it and it keeps referring back to other items, this, that and everything else,” said Councilman Mike Scales, D, first ward, in a follow-up interview after Monday’s committee meeting. “All I know is what I read and I’m waiting for the administration to get the do’s and don’ts on this particular money.”

The stimulus act now signed into law also identifies the goal of the funds to “respond to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.”

Also within that subtitle in a separate section, according to Congress.Gov, is written the authority to transfer the stimulus funding to “a private nonprofit organization … (or) a public benefit corporation involved in the transportation of passengers or cargo, or a special-purpose unit of state or local government.”

According to the regional council of governments (Buckeye Hills), their allocation projection is based on 2018 data produced by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Municipal and township estimate ranges are based on the level to which municipalities and townships may overlap with one another,” stated the allocation release.

Meanwhile the lower figure provided by Buckeye Hills, it notes, “is the estimated allocation with no overlap.”

For example in the projected allocation within the city of Belpre, the range of allocation possibility shows between $1.1 million and $1.4 million from the federal government.

Only one projection was shown for Washington County as a whole ($11.7 million total), and only one projection likewise was shown by Buckeye Hills for Marietta (the $9.5 million.)

That funding was the focus of Finance Committee for Marietta City Council on Monday.

Councilwoman Susan Boyer, D, at-large, noted in response to Scales saying the funds could only be used for infrastructure that the city ought consider options within public parks.

Councilwoman Cassidi Shoaf, R, at-large, cautioned use of the funds on ongoing costs rather than one-time investments like water and sewer infrastructure.

Councilman Geoff Schenkel, D, fourth ward, emphasized via the social media comment function afforded for the broadcast that the funds be used to maximize public safety needs.

In addition to his public comment, he stated in private message with the Times; Councilman Bill Gossett, R, third ward; and Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz additional follow-up.

“I suggested that long-standing pedestrian safety issues be addressed with these funds,” he wrote. “The west side is working to fund pedestrian safety issues and maybe these new funds could be considered as something that could at least supplement streets and safety issues we’re working on over here.”

Presumably similar reviews are being considered for what Scales would eye for opportunities within his ward to bail out the “River Trail Money Pit” with engineering failures at Duck Creek revealed in the summer of 2020 and the active litigation the city is now engaged in to remedy the landslip along the trail project.

Scales laughed when asked about the project in the follow-up interview.

“I didn’t even think of that one, I’m sorry, I didn’t I swear. I was thinking about if perfect world, our streets, blight, houses for blight. I could go down the list … We have one chance to utilize this money, if we could use it for upgrading our infrastructure, I don’t just mean streets, alleys, sidewalks, we’ve got a blight problem … can we utilize some of this money as leverage for other grants?”

Scales said he’s “still trying to grasp the significance of this entire thing and how it can help the city of Marietta in the long-term.”

To see the township projected allocations, be on the lookout for the Times’ special edition this week focusing on hope, faith and community in the first of two installations of Progress 2021.

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