City approves signing ARPA paperwork before April 30 deadline

BURTON — City council approved formal acceptance of $2.9 million in federal funds awarded to the city as part of the American Rescue Plan Act passed by the Biden administration last year.

Burton officials are still considering options when it comes to spending the money allotted the city by the federal government to replace lost public sector revenue; provide premium pay for essential workers; and invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

ARPA is the government’s economic stimulus response to the hardships felt by many communities across the nation following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020.

Acceptance puts the city ahead of the April 30 deadline for the fiscal recovery funds. The plan allows for more latitude on where the funds can be spent.

While the council unanimously approved accepting the funds, Council President Steve Heffner said the council told residents it would hold a townhall meeting prior to accepting the money and he argued there was still time to do that before April 30.

“That way we’re living up to that promise to the people that we’d hold a townhall meeting,” he said.

Mayor Duane Haskins said acceptance of the funds is just a formality for getting the paperwork filled out, still giving the city plenty of time to hold public hearings to gather public input.

“The money is not going anywhere until you say this or that,” he said. “They still get the meeting and get to have input.”

Charles Abbey, director of the Department of Public Works, said approval gets the paperwork filled out, making it easier to track things like reimbursement of public funds spent on projects that can be reimbursed through the ARPA funds.

“You can show quickly and easily that we’ve had those expenditures,” he said. “You’re still not obligated…you have the right with that money that it replaces to utilize that more freely on whatever project you have.”

Councilman Greg Hull said he thought there would be a better chance of attendance at a public meeting about ARPA funds if the council had a month to prepare and promote it to the community.

Heffner said overall it will require several townhall meetings to seek input before deciding on exactly how the money will be spent.

He said at classes he and Councilman Tom Martinbianco attended regarding ARPA funds, they were told if they held a townhall meeting they would likely get to the same people attending who are at regular council meetings.

“What they were suggesting was to hold a regular townhall meeting,” said Heffner. “But then, we go to them. Send two or three council people to the senior center, take surveys on what they want. Send a couple people to (local supermarkets), different places throughout the city to gauge what the residents are thinking.”

Hull said the council can put out surveys to the community, but at the same time promote a public meeting on the city website, social media and other places.

He also said the city can see what the survey dictates and use that to determine how the townhall meeting goes

Heffner said what the federal government suggests is going to the community, rather than having the community come to the city.

Councilman Greg Fenner said it should be easy to get word out, using the Burton View, social media and the city’s website.

“I think having a meeting a month out and sending out the surveys before so they can be discussed at the meeting, and then make a decision after that,” he said. “A survey seems the most logical way, but we should give options on the survey – guidance about what the funds can be used for.”

Martinbianco said establishing the date and time for a meeting was a good idea but said if the council was to undertake community outreach, it would have to decide where and when. A tentative date for the first meeting is Wednesday, May 18 at 7 p.m.