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ARP spending in Youngstown lacks broad vision

Vague requests by some Youngstown council members for spending more than $100,000 in council member-sponsored ward projects is giving Youngstown’s administration heartburn. Taxpayers should feel the same.

Last week council authorized spending $314,120 in American Rescue Plan dollars on projects specifically sponsored and planned for council wards.

One request from Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, for example, calls for $146,222 to hire a quality-of-life and property maintenance ambassador for her ward, the 7th, for two years, or basically until these one-time federal funds run out.

Youngstown Law Director Jeff Limbian said the request left him “stymied.” “Unless the position is created, I don’t know how we hire someone,” Limbian has said.

And that’s just the technical end of it. A better question might be simply whether it’s smart to spend these one-time limited funds on salary for a questionable new position.

Also, what is the job description? Why should one member of council have the unilateral ability to create such a position? Who will select and hire the person to fill the post? Why is this position needed?

In addition to Adamczak’s ambassador legislation, council also agreed Wednesday to spend $100,000 from 6th Ward Councilwoman Anita Davis for sidewalks and new curbing in the Glenwood Avenue corridor in her ward; $64,898 for Glenwood Avenue sidewalks between High Street and Midlothian Boulevard in Councilwoman Lauren McNally’s 5th Ward; and $3,000 for a mural on Front Street, Councilman Julius Oliver’s 1st Ward.

Mayor Jamael “Tito” Brown is receiving heat from council members, urging the administration and the city’s Board of Control to move swiftly on releasing the ARP funds for this project and others approved last week by council. The board of control includes Brown, Limbian and Finance Director Kyle Miasek. Brown has called some of council’s requests too vague, and he vowed to take his time to scrutinize the legislation before allocating the funds.

Good.

We obviously have similar concerns. Frankly, some of this spending — namely Adamczak’s $100,000 7th Ward ambassador allocation — is exactly what we feared when we previously suggested that city council members should not have such control and ability on allocating millions of dollars in ARP funds for use in their wards.

Frankly, we have been concerned at the ARP money spending all across our Valley on community short-term needs rather than being planned and spent with a large, overarching vision. Yes, we understand the importance and value of accomplishing community projects, but we wonder if these are the very best uses for once-in-a-lifetime funds that could be truly transformational for our entire region.

The narrow views and parochial plans we’ve seen so far on allocating these funds might help maintain our current needs, but they will not help our area evolve to a new level.

These types of expenditures we’ve been seeing cannot really be the biggest vision our Valley’s elected leaders have for transforming our region!

Sadly, we’ve seen no local ARP fund allocation yet that has made us excited about the impact it will have on the future of our Valley.

For now, we urge Youngstown council and administration — and, frankly, all elected leaders around Mahoning County — to go back to the table. They should review ARP spending suggestions put forth by their constituents, by area business leaders and by local educational leaders, as well as by economic development experts in our Valley and statewide in order to come up with more comprehensive and all-encompassing, meaningful ways to pool these financial resources and spend them for the region’s greater good.

editorial@vindy.com

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