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Council Approves $134 Million In Stimulus Spending

cincinnati city hall
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

Despite some concerns about moving too quickly, Cincinnati City Council Wednesday unanimously approved plans to spend more than $134 million in federal stimulus. All the ordinances passed so far come from the spending plan proposed by the mayor and city manager.

Cincinnati is expecting about $311 million total from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The first payment is expected next week, with the remaining $146,795,000 coming this time next year.

Nearly $107 million approved for spending this week is set aside to fill deficits in the current and upcoming fiscal year budgets:

  • $18.7 million to fill the projected general fund deficit for FY 2021, which ends June 30
  • $20.6 million to fill lost revenue in restricted funds for FY 2021
  • $67.5 million to fill the projected general fund deficit for FY 2022, which begins July 1

Council members agreed using the ARPA funds to stabilize the budget is top priority. Members disagree, however, on how and when to spend the remaining money on support programs.
Council Member Chris Seelbach continues to protest the speed of these spending decisions. Mayor John Cranley disagrees.

"We are the best city in America," Cranley said. "And this shouldn't be a point of concern, it should be a point of pride."

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething responded to criticism that the city shouldn't approve spending the money before federal guidance is released.

"These ordinances that we have presented are within the plain language of the legislation," Boggs Muething said. "So it is not necessary to wait for further guidance from Treasury in order for us to determine whether this is an appropriate deployment of these funds."

Greg Landsman says other nonprofits and small businesses should have been at the top of the list, like childcare centers.

"But we are where we are," Landsman said. "So I say that only to reinforce that when we get to it next week, that we have the same level of commitment and energy and passion and excitement for those small businesses that are absolutely essential to rebuild in order to get people back to work."

Council ultimately voted to approve five of Cranley's proposed support programs for a total of $17.5 million:

  • $2.5 million for ASCEND Cincy, a minority business accelerator
  • $7 million for grants to performing and visual arts organizations, administered through ArtsWave
  • $4 million for a second round of restaurant grants
  • $2 million for the next phase of outdoor dining through 3CDC
  • $2 million for grants to human services organizations

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says it will take time to set up the support programs.
"Every day we wait just delays that and undermines the hope that a lot of these small businesses need so, so greatly," Smitherman said.

The appropriations also include about $9.9 million for the ARP additional allocation for health:

  • $7,375,375 for public health COVID response ($2 million in year one, remainder in year two)
  • $1.1 million to replace lost revenue at the Health Centers
  • $1.5 million for health department facility improvements

After Wednesday's appropriations, council has about $35 million left to spend in the first year. The Budget and Finance Committee is expected to hammer out details at a meeting next Tuesday.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.