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Some council members want to press pause on mayor's plans to spend millions in stimulus

Aftab Pureval. (John Minchillo/AP)
John Minchello
Aftab Pureval.

Cincinnati Council is moving forward on a few million dollars in spending proposed by Mayor Aftab Pureval, but a couple council members say it's too fast.

Pureval has announced about $9 million in new funding for various projects since taking office in January, with more announcements likely on the horizon.

It's rare for the city to have money to spend outside the budget cycle. The funds are "leftover" from last year's American Rescue Plan Act. It comes from $18.7 million approved by council last year to cover general fund expenses, specifically for overtime in the Fire Department. Final guidelines from the U.S. Treasury (released in January) determined that's not an eligible use for the federal stimulus.

The coincidental timing gave Pureval the opportunity to direct immediate funding toward some of his campaign promises.

“In coordination with the City Administration, Councilmembers, and community advocates, we have taken swift action on our strategic priorities in our first three months," Pureval said in a provided statement. "With these bold investments in public safety, pedestrian safety, affordable housing and homeownership, our City is responding to urgent community needs and supporting our basic services. As the upcoming budget is built, I look forward to continued community engagement and collaboration.”

In six separate press conferences, Pureval announced those plans alongside various council members. One proposal — $300,000 for a fund that helps with down payment assistance for purchasing a home — came from Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney's office.

The biggest piece, $5.15 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, has already been approved by unanimous council vote. Two other ordinances were up for consideration in Monday's Budget and Finance Committee meeting: $1.1 million for new Fire Department vehicles, and $1 million for pedestrian safety.
Council Member Liz Keating proposed delaying a vote for two or three months so council could make the decisions alongside the next fiscal year budget, as well as the rest of the "leftover" stimulus.

"If we have it all in front of us all at once, we see where the deficits are in the budget," Keating said. "Then we can make smarter and more strategic decisions."

Of the $18.7 million that needed to be repurposed, much is already accounted for. In addition to the announcements listed above:

That leaves about $2.7 million to allocate.

"In this situation, we're gonna keep putting money towards things and then whatever's last to the table is going to be left out," Keating said.

Council Member Victoria Parks initially agreed, saying it would be useful to see the big picture plan for the money.

"The things that we have agreed to reallocate, they've been good things," Parks said. "But I think going forward, it would make more sense for us to know what we're looking at so that we'll know what's left. It's common sense budgeting to me; it's what I have to do at my house."

The majority of Council, including Parks, ultimately supported moving both measures forward right away. Committee Chair Greg Landsman wanted to hold the pedestrian safety ordinance, but he and Keating were outvoted.

There's no immediate deadline to spend the funds, other than a general desire to get lengthy purchasing processes started as soon as possible. Council members could introduce their own proposal for spending the stimulus.

Council will soon get a chance to spend the second year's allocation of ARPA — about $147 million. Council passed a motion Monday requesting all of that money cover possible deficits in fiscal years 2023, 2024 and 2025, with the remainder used to address the city's deferred capital maintenance (estimated at $248 million in 2027).

Outside of federal stimulus, Council must approve a FY 2023 budget by the end of June. Interim City Manager John Curp is expected to release his proposed budget around May 15.

Updated: April 6, 2022 at 12:13 PM EDT
This article was originally published on April 4. It has been updated after an additional funding announcement on April 5.
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.