Reading City Council was surprised Monday to learn how far along Mayor Eddie Moran’s administration was in earmarking a little more than $61 million in federal funds.
“We’ve committed $41 million out of the $61 million in American Rescue Plan funds,” Managing Director Abraham Amoros said.
Reading is slated to receive more than $61 million from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress this year and will have until 2026 to use the funds.
The city has received about half of its allotment and expects the rest of the funds by March.
The city must come up with a spending plan for the funds by Dec. 31, 2024, and spend the money by Dec. 31, 2026.
“I was a little surprised we had $41 million tentatively planned out,” said Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. “I thought we were still kind of in the development stage. We definitely need to go through a process with the body and make sure everybody is on board.”
The proposed spending breaks down like this:
- $3 million to the Berks County Convention Center Authority.
- $3 million to the Reading Fightin Phils.
- $500,000 for a neighborhood initiatives program that includes funding a coordinator for three years.
- $3 million for arts, culture and music community-based organizations.
- $2 million for a commercial façade matching grant program for small businesses.
- $50,000 to the Berks History Center.
- $100,000 to the PA Americana visitors bureau.
- $250,000 to the Reading Area Firefighters Museum.
- $5.5 million for housing for displaced residents.
- $4 million for a residential façade program for single-family homes.
- $3 million for a blight remediation program,
- $4 million for the Ninth and Marion Fire Station project.
- $3 million for City Hall heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
- $1.3 million for apparatus replacements.
- $2 million for the recreation commission facilities.
- $3 million for dam remediation.
- $3 million for City Park upgrades.
- $2 million for sidewalk repair.
- $500,000 for an all abilities park and dog park.
“We are not done with deliberations and considerations,” Amoros said.
Requests come through the managing director’s office, and there have not been that many requests, Amoros said.
“There is no stampede in terms of the number of requests,” he said. “And we take each one individually.”
Part of the reason the administration has proposed the spending is to get ahead of supply chain issues, Amoros said.
“We still have issues with supply because of COVID,” he said. “So, we need to get ahead of things.”
Amoros agreed that council will have time to analyze each proposal before the money is spent.
“We’re not in a rush,” he said. We want to get this done correctly, not quickly.”
City Council has been adamant that it wants the final say over how every dollar from the rescue plan is spent.
There has been some pushback from Moran’s administration to council’s request to add another level of approvals.
Administration officials have pointed out that the city has a purchasing policy in place, which these funds would be subject to, and the administration cannot transfer more than $10,000 from one account to another without council approval.
The city’s purchasing policy allows the mayor and managing director to approve purchases or contracts up to $34,999. Any contracts or purchases above that amount must be approved by council.
“Nothing will be spent without council approval,” Amoros said Monday night.
The city will also hire a consultant to help administer the funds, Amoros said.
City Finance Director Jamar L. Kelly said the firm would handle the applications, monitoring and evaluation process of the grant awards.
The city will hold two public forums, one at Centro Hispano on Nov. 4 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and a second at Albright College on Nov. 10 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The forums are to gauge public interest and suggestions for spending the rescue plan funds, Amoros said.
“I think what we need to do after the budget is slow down and take some time to go through these items,” Waltman said. “I don’t want us to get too far ahead in the decision-making process. Everything you’re doing is great. You have to do something, you can’t wait until the last minute.”
Source: Berkshire mont