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Albany Common Councilors would like more input on ARPA funding deployment

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As city budget hearings continue, some Albany Common Councilors are hoping to have more say over the distribution of American Rescue Plan funding.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, elected to a third term last week, delivered a nearly $190 million spending plan for 2022. The Democrat has proposed allocating $25 million from the city's $80.7 million in American Rescue Plan funding to a limited number of "highly impactful programs that can produce profound results."

Some councilors, including Alfredo Balarin of the 11th ward, say the panel has been left out of the decision-making process regarding the ARP funds. They also think the money should be included in the 2022 budget.

"I think we should have a vote on it. I really do," said Balarin.

Councilors continued budget discussions in separate sessions Wednesday and Thursday. Perhaps the most vocal: outgoing 9th ward councilor Judy Doesschate.

"I do have a proposal for putting all the money in the budget this year from the ARP, whatever we don't spend in a budget line, that makes it appropriated, that then requires some oversight by the common council," Doesschate said. "That doesn't mean it all has to be spent this year. But it means that it's not unbudgeted money that the administration can spend however it wants. So, and also, would allow for the administration to spend with consent from the Council on various things.”

During a November 4 Zoom meeting gathering public comment on ARP and the budget plan, Council President Corey Ellis thanked participants.

"We appreciate your ideas. We appreciate how you would like some of that money to be spent and you know talking to us is a step but also the administration because of how this money is allocated, a lot of it won't come through us," said Ellis.

Ellis added the corporation counsel says the mayor is handling the funding "the correct way."

Doesschate says residents' feedback has been "helpful" and isn't budging from her stance that the council should have a say in budgeting ARP money. Doesschate says her intent is not to “hamstring the administration,” but to make sure that there is “some level of oversight.”

"I think the mayor's experience with the council, the vast majority of the time should leave everybody assured that we're not here to fight battles arbitrarily, and that we are, we recognize that she is running an enterprise that for the most part, that we're going to sanction what she has decided to do with funding and allocation of staff and that kind of thing," said Doesschate.

Councilors are continuing budget discussions as they move toward final action on the spending plan this month.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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