Columbia City Council reached consensus on Monday to move forward on how American Rescue Plan Act funds will be allocated.
It will not yet allocate monetary amounts to the issues, but will instead begin a long-term process to deepen the needs of the community, council members agreed at a public meeting prior to council.
The process will center on public comment and will include conversations with those most affected by COVID-19, the council agreed. It will primarily determine how to spend ARPA’s second round of funding, $ 12.5 million, which will be awarded to the city next spring, said Councilor Betsy Peters.
The solicitation of public comments will not only be done in official city council rooms. First Ward Councilor Pat Fowler reiterated that citizens have pointed out that the City Council’s public hearing process is not accessible to all community members.
The council previously asked Columbia / Boone County Public Health Director Stephanie Browning to facilitate a robust public outreach process to gather feedback from the community. At that time, she said the agency did not have the capacity due to the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant.
Now City Manager John Glascock reports that the agency has the capacity, as long as it takes place over a longer period of time and it’s not a condensed process.
The Columbia / Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services conducted a similar outreach program called Community Health Assessment in 2018 under Browning’s leadership. The report received comments from more than 1,500 residents of Boone County.
The board agreed that it trusted Browning to conduct a similar outreach process to determine how to spend ARPA funds. Fowler said she has spoken to community members who are enthusiastic and willing to help this process and speak to community members in spaces where they feel comfortable.
The council has also agreed to take action now.
They asked city staff to look at a few key issues / projects and put out tenders. This allows municipal staff to formally review these issues and discuss them with relevant community organizations that have experience in solving them. A request for proposals allows community organizations to submit a business plan on how they can provide a good or service to the city.
The issues addressed for the tender include:
- A resource center for homelessness and poor housing
- A quick access center to provide 24/7 mental health resources
- A process of combating community violence
- Barrier-Free Workforce Development Programs
Debby Graham, manager of Room at the Inn, said she is still urgently looking for a space to rent for their winter shelter for the homeless.
The discussion of how to spend the $ 25 million the city receives in federal ARPA funds led to many suggestions from citizens in hearings dating back to the spring. At times this discussion has become intertwined with the city’s annual fiscal year budget adoption process.
Council members finally made it clear at their last meeting that ARPA funds are not part of the budget process and will be treated separately.