ARPA Funds Dwindle as Councilors Prioritize Projects
The Finance Committee met to discuss the use of ARPA funding, which is, apparently, draining quickly. A mobile stage, ambulances, and Centre Market renovations were considered.
As the City of Wheeling enters Fiscal Year 2023-24, the pot of ARPA, or American Rescue Plan Act, funding is running dry. The Finance Committee of the Wheeling City Council met July 5 to discuss three items that could see the remainder of funds be used on.
ARPA funds must be used by December 31, 2024–something the City of Wheeling seems ahead of schedule on meeting. The guidelines for using funds on projects are broad. Money can be used to recoup lost revenue, respond to health and economic impacts of the pandemic, provide pay to essential workers, or invest in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.
The City of Wheeling has used their share of ARPA funds in a variety of ways. Funds have been expended to demolish buildings, to renovate buildings housing private companies, and to support many non-profit organizations providing services to the people of Wheeling.
At their July 5 meeting, the Finance Committee considered using funds to purchase a mobile stage, new Wheeling Fire Department EMS ambulances, and renovations to the historic Centre Market building in Center Wheeling.
The Committee first considered a mobile stage, which would be 22’ x 30’ and cost $150,000. The stage would provide performance space for bands across the city, and could be rented out to other organizations.
Councilor David Palmer, Ward 6, chairman of the Finance Committee, said, “It’s sad to go down to Centre Market and see [bands] sitting on the street,” when talking about the need for the stage.
City Manager Robert Herron said the stage was not big enough to fit the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra, or for the Blues Fest. Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis, Ward 4, asked to confirm this fact as he felt a purchased stage should be large enough to support the WSO.
Sklavounakis inquired about building a permanent structure at Heritage Port, instead. Herron said this wouldn’t work due to yearly flooding of the waterfront park. Currently, the city rents stages, like the one used for the July 4 ‘Celebrate America’ concert.
Mayor Glenn Elliott asked if there would be any ARPA money left if the stage was approved. Palmer agreed, saying if the Committee approved all three items they would exceed ARPA funds. “We could go back to see ARPA funds awarded but not spent,” Palmer said when asked where funding would come from if not from ARPA.
Councilor Ben Seidler, Ward 2, said “we should look at some sort of funding for LifeHub,” before money runs out. He requested an ordinance to provide the project $200,000 be considered at the next meeting.
Ultimately, the mobile stage was tabled.
The Committee then considered the purchase of new ambulances for the Wheeling Fire Department EMS with ARPA funding. Chief Jim Blazier spoke to the Committee and Council, telling them even if the motion was approved it would be two or three years until the new vehicle is delivered.
The City of Wheeling currently has five ambulances for their WFD EMS, three of which are frontline and one dedicated for events, something required by many events like concerts, sports games, and other large gatherings.
Each year these vehicles add 25,000 miles in the city alone. Chief Blazier said “miles on our vehicles are like dog years,” meaning ambulances put on wear and tear faster than citizen vehicles.
The oldest ambulance in use by WFD was purchased in 2005, with each having over 100,000 miles. The department received 5300 calls in 2023, with over 5000 being EMS related.
The motion was approved and will be considered during the July 18 City Council meeting.
The last funding option considered was repairs to the historic Centre Market, consisting of lighting, outdoor seating, electric vehicle chargers, security systems, restrooms, placemaking signs, among other uses.
Councilor Rosemary Ketchum, Ward 3, said the $500,000 request was half what the Centre Market originally asked for and would be the largest investment in the property since 1988.
While Sklavounakis and Ketchum voiced support for the ordinance, saying it was a proper use of funds, the motion was tabled.
The conversation quickly devolved into concerns about use of funds.
Sklavounakis asked if there were alternative ways to pay for the Centre Market project and ambulance purchase, other than ARPA funds. Herron said that Centre Market rent does not cover operational costs, but that raising the cost was not wise.
Regarding the purchase of ambulances, Herron noted that 30% of the fire and EMS budget came from service fees. Herron said these fees could be raised, which would offset the total cost.
“Funds are dwindling. Everything coming in is spoken for going out,” Palmer said. “There’s no more money.”
Sklavounakis said he was asking about funding to ensure members of the Council were on the same page, saying they needed to remind themselves how little money is left. “When it comes to infrastructure and first responders it’s our top priority,” Sklavounakis said, adding that the requests they were considering, “made sense.”
“I admire you guys on the Finance Committee for going down this rabbit hole,” Sklavounakis said.
It was clear that funding is tight. Members have several proposals funded through ARPA to consider at their July 18 meeting. The next Finance Committee meeting will take place on July 18 at 4:45 PM.
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