Proposed use of $17 million in American Rescue Plan funds falls short in addressing Decatur's needs
At its next meeting on Monday, August 2, the Decatur City Council will vote on how to allocate approximately $17 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding and $1.7 million in CURE funding. Given the city’s significant immediate challenges including rising gun violence and intensifying neighborhood blight, and the city’s long-standing challenges such as substantial population decline, low median household income, and high poverty, the majority of funding should go to public safety and neighborhood revitalization initiatives. Instead, the largest amount of funding is proposed for water projects for which other sources of funds available.
CITY STAFF PROPOSES ONLY 6% OF ARP FUNDS BE USED FOR FIRST RESPONDERS AND 18% FOR NEIGHBORHOOD REVITALIZATION INITIATIVES
ARP funds are to be used to meet COVID-19 pandemic response needs and to rebuild an economy that is stronger and more equitable. Of the ~$17 million available in ARP funds, the city proposes allocating $9 million to water projects (53%, South Water Treatment Plant ClariCones, $6 million, and westside sewer separation project, $3 million), ~$3.1 million to neighborhood revitalization (18%, $2 million for housing rehabilitation assistance projects and ~$1.1 million for demolitions), $1 million for broadband fiber expansion (6%), $1 million for public safety (6%, $500,000 for police and fire one-time expenses and $500,000 in equipment), $450,000 for DOVE to oversee mortgage, rent and utility assistance (3%), $200,000 grant to the IL Children’s Museum (1%), ~$200,000 for revenue replacement of state motor fuel tax fund (1%), ~$200,000 for revenue replacement of local motor fuel tax fund (1%), ~$100,000 to defray costs associated with enabling remote work capabilities (<1%), and ~$1.7 million remains unallocated (10%).
GUN VIOLENCE IS SURGING AND DECATUR’S REVITILIZATION EFFORTS ARE NOT KEEPING PACE WITH RATE OF BLIGHT
The city of Decatur is facing a shooting epidemic and more ARP funds need to be dedicated to reducing gun violence. ARP funds should be used to recruit and retain police officers, increase the number of mental health crisis counselors to assist police officers (according to the Kennedy Forum, 10% of the total budget and 21% of staff time of law enforcement agencies were spent responding to persons living with mental illness in 2017), install additional neighborhood cameras (60 cameras cost $165,000 per year) and implement other camera technology, and launch community violence intervention programs such as the recent Peace Summit hosted by the Salvation Army. In addition, the city can lower response times by expanding its traffic signal priority control system so that our firefighters and police officers can arrive on the scene as quickly as possible (18 signal control systems costs ~$125,000). The city staff’s proposed allocation is inadequate to meet our immediate needs to improve public safety.
Even when the city of Decatur is successful in lowering violent crime, it must still invest in programs that reduce the causes of criminal activity in the long term such as youth employment initiatives and reentry programs for those that were formerly incarcerated. Furthermore, the City of Decatur is not keeping pace with the rate of blight and some high-crime neighborhoods contain numerous delipidated, unsafe structures. At a minimum, the city should use more ARP funds to demolish these dangerous eyesores that cannot be restored while establishing programs that prevent more properties from falling into disrepair. At an average cost of $15,000 per demolition, there is an immediate need for $3.2 million and the proposed allocation falls short.
OTHER NEEDS ARE NOT BEING ADDRESSED WITH ARP FUNDS
ARP funds could also be used for a wide range of city needs including enhanced technological tools that improve citizen engagement and help city staff, the construction of an employee health care clinic, and creating and implementing a comprehensive plan for neighborhood revitalization. I am also supportive of providing funds to entities such as the Children’s Museum of Illinois and others that have been impacted by COVID-19 and focus on educating children. Moreover, in recent days, the city council has received additional proposals requesting >$2 million in ARP funds that have not been given consideration. Proposals are from a wide range of organizations such as those committed to reducing homelessness, entities committed to improving specific neighborhoods, and those committed to city-wide neighborhood revitalization initiatives. Furthermore, the city staff has yet to develop a process for ARP funding proposals to be evaluated.
It is important to note that that not all projects have the same funding sources available to them. The proposed $9 million in ARP funds for ClariCones and westside sewer separation projects are for two projects expected to cost $39 million combined and low interest IEPA loans may be available. However, ARP funds could also be used to reduce sediment and nitrates from entering Lake Decatur and funding in the form of low interest loans may not be as readily available. Thus, to meet the city needs it will be important to pay for each of our needs using the combination of financial instruments that is most favorable for all projects combined. This is also illustrated in how the city staff proposes to use the portion of ARP funds that can be used for general fund revenue replacement for which the city has the greatest flexibility in how to spend it (~$2 million worth of funding). As an example, premium pay for first responders does not have to come from the general fund revenue replacement portion of ARP funding leaving more funds available for other discretionary spending such as demolitions.
$1.7 MILLION IN CURE FUNDING TO BE ALLOCATED
In addition to allocating ARP funds, the city council will be allocating $1.7 million in CURE funding. It is proposed that $1 million be used for demolitions, $350,000 be used for Fire Station 7 construction, and ~$350,000 go to improve the general fund. Related to above, the building up the general fund reserve is no longer necessary with 2021 revenue expected to exceed expenses thereby allowing for more flexible use of the funds.
CITY OF DECATUR’S BUDGET IS A REFLECTION OF ITS VALUES
It has often been said that an organization’s budget reflects its values. If this is the case in Decatur, the allocation of $16.9 million in ARP funding should focus on public safety, reducing crime, and improving our neighborhoods for the number one priority of our city must be public safety. Based on the revised allocation of ARP funding city staff are proposing, the city continues to fall woefully short.
PLEASE EXPRESS YOUR VIEWS AT THE NEXT CITY COUNCIL MEETING
The next meeting of the Decatur City Council is on Monday, August 2 at 5:30 PM. Meetings take place at the Council Chambers located on the third floor of the Decatur Civic Center (1 Gary K. Anderson Place). Free parking is available in the lot immediately south of the entrance. Citizens are encouraged to attend meetings and express their views. Citizens are allotted 3 minutes per person near the beginning of each city council meeting. In addition, citizens can provide comments regarding one regular agenda item per meeting for up to three minutes provided they notify the city in advance (and prior to the start of the meeting). You can request to speak on a particular agenda item at a council meeting by filling out an on-line form at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/advance-request-to-speak-at-council-meeting/.
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
If you would like to discuss city issues with a council member, phone numbers and email addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE
An agenda and information about each agenda item for each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.