The Corvallis Budget Commission made some preliminary recommendations on Wednesday night regarding how to spend $13 million in federal relief funds and tilted toward facilities for city staff instead of social services.
The commission, which consists of the nine councilors and nine citizen members, was requested to chime in because of a recommendation it made during last spring’s budget deliberations. In that May, 2021 session commissioners urged the city to spend as much of its American Rescue Plan Act funds as legally possible on city facilities.
City staff, led by City Manager Mark Shepard, say that perhaps as much as $255 million in deficiencies in city facilities need to be addressed. Some community members and councilors, however, have recommended that the city look to use a significant chunk of the money for social services, particularly housing the homeless.
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So far, the facilities backers are carrying the day. The commission recommended that $7 million (53%) be spent on facilities and about $650,000 (5%) on social services. Another $5.4 million (42%) or so remains up for discussion, with commissioners agreeing to come back in January or February to complete the work.
Nothing in the discussions or motions was binding. The City Council will be the final arbiter.
City officials recommended that the $13 million be spent on upgrading two fire stations ($7 million), maintenance projects ($4.5 million) and fiber optic upgrades ($1.9 million). The maintenance and fiber optics projects, however, are not part of the $255 million facilities study. The maintenance piece came from a separate facilities assessment, while the fiber issue was identified in a separate study of "unmet needs."
Commissioners chose to agree on the $7 million (or 53%) with one motion, without specifying that the money should be spent on fire stations and then went in the social service direction for a second motion that accounted for another 5%.
A third motion, which would have taken $900,000 and given each councilor $100,000 to allocate to worthy projects in their individual wards was abandoned out of fears the concept looked like pork barrel politics in an election year.
It was not clear how the council might divide up the 5% or when it might reach those in need. It seems likely that the same sort of vetting that is done for city human services grants, United Way social services grants and Community Develop Block Grants will be used.
Helen Higgins of the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis and Ben Danley of Community Outreach had recommended in a Mid-Valley Media guest opinion that 20% of the city’s ARPA funds be spent on social services. Four visitors testifying at Monday’s Corvallis City Council session upped the ante and requested 30% be spent on social and poverty programs.
The session contained a bit of push and pull on timing. City officials are facing a Dec. 31, 2024 deadline to allocate the ARPA funds and and Dec. 31, 2026 deadline to complete the work. But city officials also urged caution because possible new monies from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill and the still-pending "Build Back Better" plan of President Joe Biden might ultimately become part of the mix.
Meanwhile, Ward 2 Councilor Charles Maughan noted at Wednesday’s Budget Commission session that the temperatures got close to freezing on Tuesday night and that lot of people still are sleeping outside.