County executive candidate questions ARPA allocations

CLEVELAND — Republican Lee Weingart, one of the candidates vying to succeed Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish this fall, criticized the recent announcement by Budish and the county board that more than a third of The county’s $240 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding could be set aside for discretionary accounts and used for projects chosen by the executive or council member.

Weingart sent a two-page letter to County Council Chairman Pernel Jones on Friday morning claiming that the proposed discretionary accounts violate the county charter and, in particular, part of the charter that states: “No public money in the county or under its control from any source shall be subject to appropriation, application or distribution at the order or direction of any individual member of council. »

County officials have offered to set aside $6 million per county council member for projects of their choosing. The county executive would receive $20 million, totaling $86 million, which represents nearly 36% of the county’s total ARPA allocation.

“The charter doesn’t allow individual board members to direct the funding, which is exactly what they’re trying to do with this slush fund,” Weingart said Friday. “It reminds me of the bad old days of county government. They are bringing back the corruption of the old county government in the form of this slush fund for special interests.

In an emailed statement Friday afternoon, Council Chairman Jones pushed back against Weingart’s criticism.

“Not a single dollar will be appropriated, applied, or distributed at the order or direction of any member of council. Like all other county expenses, all ARPA/RESCUE Act funds will be introduced by statute, reviewed by council and only spent if a majority of council approves the legislation,” Jones said in a statement.

Additionally, county officials have previously said a third-party accounting firm will review all ARPA expenditures to ensure they comply with federal regulations.

“The spirit of the charter is very clear: it doesn’t want to create 11 little fiefdoms for county council members to give money at their discretion to outsiders and special interests,” Weingart said. “If they try to circumvent this very simple provision of the charter, which says ‘individual council members may not direct funding’, they are only subverting the will of the people. It’s just a subterfuge. It’s a smokescreen around the charter.

Of the county’s total $240 million ARPA funding allocation, a series of specific projects totaling $57 million have been made public. On Thursday, the Budish County Executive and several council members detailed the most recent projects that were identified through what Budish described as a “thorough, collaborative community process.”

The projects included nearly $9.5 million for several “transformation projects,” including $8 million for the county’s lakefront access plan; $3 million for affordable housing initiatives; more than $2 million for improved access, green space and recreation in Cleveland’s Central District; $2 million for blight reduction as well as more than $2 million for “aging in place” programs for the county’s elderly residents.

Weingart and his opponent, Democrat Chris Ronayne, said the lion’s share of ARPA funding should be used for economic recovery.

“We need to make sure we focus on how we spend [ARPA money] otherwise we sprinkle the desert. We can’t do that,” Ronayne said Friday. “We have to be really, really focused and collaborative on how we’re putting money into the field that’s really going to generate a synergistic advantage. We must work together. We cannot fall into the trap of handing out dollars piecemeal without any focused plan. »

The once-in-a-lifetime funding injection can have a profound impact on the county’s future, especially with respect to economic growth, Weingart said.

“This is a one-time amount the county received from the federal government,” Weingart said. “We should use it for transformative projects like, for example, my housing initiative which will help 10,000 families move into homes that they own.”

With $86 million potentially set aside for discretionary accounts and an additional $57 million for specific projects, approximately 40% of the county’s ARPA allocation remains in play. Budish previously said $50 million will be set aside for be used by the future county executive. Details on how the remaining $47 million will be used have not been determined or made public.

“I would like to see that money primarily spent on labor, economic recovery and economic initiatives,” Ronayne said. “I see that some of our communities really have deferred economic development needs… [T]This is a county that must invest in its people and workforce to ensure that we grow Cuyahoga County’s economic pie.

James V. Hayes