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Agencies explain funding needs

Mahoning commissioners consider proposals for spending relief money

YOUNGSTOWN — Three top Mahoning Valley economic development groups made presentations to the Mahoning County commissioners Thursday for spending some of the county’s $44 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

Two of the presentations — from the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and Valley Economic Development Partners — were similar to the ones they gave Tuesday to the Trumbull County commissioners.

But the Western Reserve Port Authority proposed something different to Mahoning County’s commissioners than the $673,000 the authority seeks to complete the extension of sanitary sewer lines at the Youngstown Warren Regional Airport, which the port authority runs.

On Thursday, Sarah Lown, public finance manager for the authority, proposed three projects with a total cost of $5.25 million — with $2.5 million to continue to develop the county’s Campus of Care at 4891 E. County Line Road, Austintown.

The port authority and the county commissioners partnered to take over the facility after the former Youngstown Developmental Center vacated the facilities. Among the organizations using it are Flying High, Head Start, Compass Family and Community Services, Alta Behavioral Health, Easter Seals and Potential Development.

Lown said the authority researched the rules for using the rescue funds and found that the money can be used for “services and outreach for access to physical and behavioral health and primary care and preventative medicine.”

CARE CAMPUS

The proposal to improve the Campus of Care is to “beef up our behavioral health care services and facilities as result of the additional needs of the COVID pandemic,” she said.

One of several ways the funding would be used at the campus is improving road and parking areas and safety upgrades on Countyline Road. “That needs to be done some day. Maybe this is the time to do it,” Lown said.

At the building where Compass Family and Community Services is located, the authority would like to turn it into a Medicaid-eligible facility, requiring upgrades such as water and sewer improvements and private bathrooms in each of the suites, she said.

Other upgrades would involve upgrades to the campus’ greenhouse area at the Grow Urban Farm run by Flying High Inc. Grow Urban Farm provides job services and fresh vegetables, helping individuals living in food deserts access to quality produce, according to the Flying High web site.

BUSINESS DISTRICTS

A second $2.5 million request is for economic development in “business districts” in the county. It would involve “each of the townships, each of the villages outside of Youngstown and help each of them select a retail business site that we can put all of our energy into: improve the facade, tear down any of the buildings,” she said.

It would involve the Mahoning County Land Bank, which would use funds to carry out demolitions, Lown said.

“You drive through every single township, every single village and you see one blighted property dragging everybody else down and then you see a couple of other struggling businesses,” Lown said.

Nick Chretien, program manager for the non-profit Economic Action Group, then joined Lown in discussing several census tracts outside of Youngstown that qualify for assistance, such as one in northern Boardman Township and in Struthers and Campbell.

“Investments can be made a bit easier in these areas,” he said. A goal is to rebuild neighborhood business districts that were impacted by foreclosures, online retailers and “big-box stores with delivery services that they can offer at reduced cost,” he said.

OTHER IDEAS

The final ask is for $250,000 to build a web site to market economic development services to all of its partners and showcase Mahoning County’s assets to business investors.

Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer at Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, asked Mahoning County for the same $800,000 that was requested of Trumbull County’s commissioners to expand the chamber’s EMERGE program that provides one-on-one assistance to companies that continue to struggle as a result of COVID-19.

And Theresa Miller, executive director of Valley Partners of Liberty Township, asked that the Mahoning commissioners continue the work done during the pandemic in providing small businesses with funds to get through the challenges of the pandemic.

Valley Partners asks for $1 million to $2 million create a revolving loan fund.

In 2020, Valley Partners disbursed 356 small business grants in Mahoning County totaling $3.35 million in stimulus funds allotted to the county commissioners. The organization also funded 280 forgivable Payroll Protection Program loans totaling $7.7 million.

Afterward, Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said it is “early in the process” of spending its $44 million, and the commissioners have three years to use the money. “We want to make sure the community gets the biggest bang for its buck. There has to be a lot more discussion. There were some things I like.”

erunyan@vindy.com

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