More than $ 26 million in federal COVID-19 aid will now hit the streets of Erie after county council on Thursday approved an ambitious spending plan to revitalize a still recovering economy.
The funding, which stems from the $ 1.9 trillion US bailout, is the first of a $ 52.3 million pool planned for Erie County, and which will attempt to stabilize a recovering community still from the pandemic.
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The council, which met at the Erie County Courthouse, proceeded to a line-by-line vote on the spending plan and approved each budget item, the majority of which passed unanimously .
Notable items included:
- Free tuition for eligible students entering Erie County Community College.
- Municipal assistance to emergency medical services and volunteer fire stations, as well as seed money for a fire authority, which would coordinate services among county fire companies.
- Small business grants, as well as “transformative grants”, which would help entities that develop “forward thinking” ideas for the public good.
- A commission on diversity, equity and inclusion to oversee the disbursement and mobilization of funds for the benefit of minority communities.
A full list can be found at: bit.ly/cccovidplan.
For County Director Kathy Dahlkemper, who appeared at Thursday’s meeting, the council vote was a “truly historic moment.”
“I think what was passed tonight will have positive reverberating effects for many years to come,” she said. “I think we’ll look back and say that it has changed the trajectory of our community in a very positive way.”
While each budget item received enough votes to move forward, some were pushed back, namely an allocation of $ 360,000 to start a vaccination incentive program for county employees.
Republican council members Ellen Schauerman, Scott Rastetter and Brian Shank, who each voted against the measure, described the program as a pointless and unsuccessful attempt to increase vaccinations.
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“These (COVID-19 relief) funds are for community members and $ 360,000 for ourselves and the people lucky enough to work for the county – I don’t think that’s correct,” Schauerman said. . “People who don’t want to get (a vaccine) aren’t going to get them. And I don’t think an incentive is going to help.”
Rastetter agreed, saying the budget item “sets a bad precedent” while Shank called it “offensive”.
“Trying to bribe county workers to get shot and pay them $ 300 is offensive, especially when county workers went through the pandemic and didn’t miss any paychecks and had to stay home in their pajamas for a while. that everyone was struggling, ”Shank said, adding that he would donate his incentive money to a local veterans center.
The budget item was adopted 4-3.
Another measure that took a hit was the creation of a Community Futures Center.
The center, according to the plan, would be made up of three contract employees who would network with beneficiaries of the US bailout across the county and advise them on how to strategically spend and leverage their funds.
Council attorney Tom Talarico argued that using contract employees, as opposed to county employees, would mean the center could potentially bypass public scrutiny and scrutiny.
Council members have agreed to transfer the $ 280,000 allocated to the center to a restricted account, where they will remain until administration and council determine how best to staff the center.
Expense reports and schedule
Dahlkemper said she intends to sign the plan as soon as it gets to her office.
The allocated $ 26,315,751 will be joined by a duplicate game in 2022 and is expected to be allocated by December 31, 2024 and spent by December 31, 2026.
According to an amendment added and approved in Thursday’s vote, the administration is required to provide monthly reports to the council on spending on its US bailout. The requirement will last until the end of the year. Thereafter, the administration will provide quarterly reports to the board until December 31, 2026.
Funds not committed before December 31, 2024, or used to cover the costs of funds committed before December 31, 2026, must be returned to the county.