Schenectady interrupts discussion of more ARPA allocations

The city of Schenectady is stalling talks on how to use nearly $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding. The break comes after the allocation of more than $40 million so far.

Schenectady has received over $52 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

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

Funding recipients include improvements to city facilities as well as allocations to community nonprofits and organizations that submitted requests for ARPA dollars last December. Over $70 million has been requested.

The projects approved so far were selected by the city council through a process that some have criticized as lacking transparency.

This week, the all-Democrat 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’s concerned that several projects will end up being more expensive than originally anticipated.

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

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

During the meeting, Councilman Damonni Farley asked his fellow civil servants if they would support opening a second call for ARPA applications.

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

There was some confusion among councilors about the wording used on the city’s webpage to call out ARPA applications. The website said a “first round of applications” was due to take place on December 31st2021.

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

John Polimeni, one of the most vocal critics of the process the board undertook in selecting projects, insisted the board had not agreed to a second round. The Democrat said a fairer process would have been to call for more nominations when the first half of the funding was allocated.

“It would have been fair and it would have given everyone an opportunity. We are now under $10 million. Frankly, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Polimeni said.

The board agreed in committee to allow time for the review of approved projects. Farley remained hopeful that other projects might be approved in the future.

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

Mayor McCarthy says that’s a long shot.

“I’m not sure we’ll have any money left,” McCarthy said.

The mayor adds that he wants to look for ways to coordinate community projects for the “greatest impact.”

James V. Hayes