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Schenectady pauses discussion on more ARPA allocations

Schenectady City Hall
Lucas Willard
Schenectady City Hall

The City of Schenectady is putting the brakes on discussion about how to utilize nearly $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding. The pause comes after the allocation of more than $40 million so far.

Schenectady was awarded more than $52 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding.

After tapping $16 million to cover losses incurred by the pandemic, the city in recent months has allocated about $26 million of federal COVID relief funding toward a number of city and community projects.

Funding recipients include upgrades to city facilities as well as allocations to community non-profits and organizations that submitted applications for ARPA dollars last December. More than $70 million was requested.

The projects approved to date have been selected by the city council in a process that some have criticized as lacking transparency.

This week, the all-Democratic city council reached an agreement with Democratic Mayor Gary McCarthy to pause before approving any additional allocations with the nearly $10 million remaining.

In an interview with WAMC, McCarthy said he worries several projects may end up being more expensive than initially estimated.

“Some of these groups that have applied – very well-meaning, good organizations within the community – some of these are projects that they have had conceptually or reviewing for a number of years. And some of their estimates, I believe, are probably on the low side. Even some of the projects the city is undertaking today, when we go out to bid, the numbers are coming in higher than what our internal estimates are for,” said McCarthy.

The question about what to do with the remaining funding was a topic of discussion at this week’s city council committee meeting.

During the meeting, city councilor Damonni Farley asked his fellow officials if they would support opening up a second call for ARPA applications.

“That’s something that we said we were going to do, and I think if we have the capacity to do it, then we should do it,” said Farley.

There was some confusion among councilors about wording used on the city’s webpage to call for ARPA applications. The website read that an “initial round of applications” was due on December 31st, 2021.

The idea of a second round of applications did not resonate with other councilors on Monday.

John Polimeni, one of the most vocal critics of the process the council has undertaken in selecting projects, insisted the council hadn’t agreed on a second round. The Democrat said a fairer process would have been to call for more applications when the first half of the funding was allocated.

“That would have been fair and it would have given everybody an opportunity. Now we’re at less than $10 million. Quite frankly, this doesn’t make sense to me,” said Polimeni.

The council agreed in committee to give time for review of the approved projects. Farley remained hopeful that additional projects could see future approval.

“Let’s give the staff time to kind of look of where we’re standing now, but, again, I just want to be clear that I still think that we should find ways to give the community access to these funds,” said Farley.

Mayor McCarthy says that’s a longshot.

“I’m not sure we’re going to have money left over,” said McCarthy.

The mayor adds he wants to look for ways that community projects can be coordinated for the “biggest impact.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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