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Warren seeks input on relief funds

Officials post survey online, planning in-person meeting at Packard hall on Aug. 18

WARREN — City residents and businesses are being provided multiple opportunities to provide input on how Warren should allocate its $28.6 million American Recovery Plan award.

It received just more than $14.3 million last month.

The city is working to obtain public input on how to spend the ARP funds, so Aug. 2, it placed a survey on its web page, www.warren.org., that outlines the categories it wants to address with this one-time infusion of cash from the federal government.

“It is very important for us to receive input from our residents and local businesses,” Mayor Doug Franklin said. “We want this to be a truly community-oriented strategy that will guide our decision-making process in the use of these funds.”

Using a 1-through-5 system, the survey asks respondents to rank the importance of a variety of topics, including community facilities; community service; economic development; housing, homelessness and rehabilitation services; and public improvements. The survey also provides a box in which respondents can write a paragraph stating what they feel is important to be addressed.

In addition to the online survey, residents will receive the same survey in their utility bill mailings.

“We are planning an in-person meeting at 5 p.m. Aug. 18 at Packard Music Hall,” Franklin said. “We are planning at least three in-person meetings, but the locations of the next two meetings will determined by the response we receive from the first meeting. We may change the location to a smaller venue if we don’t have a lot of people in the first meeting or keep it at Packard Music Hall if there is a lot of interest.”

Administration officials have had some preliminary discussions about the use of these funds.

For example, it has decided it may use a portion of the funds to purchase a new fire truck.

Because the federal government is discussing a new infrastructure bill, Franklin does not want to use the ARP funds for infrastructure improvements that it may be able to finance with those new funds.

“Obviously, we will use a portion of these dollars to help businesses that were, and still may be, affected by the negative economic impact of the pandemic,” Franklin said. “We were able to help some businesses through the CARES Act.”

The city also is determining how these funds may be used to address housing and quality of life issues, including improving city parks and other public spaces, Franklin said.

“We are looking at projects that we may have had challenges in funding in our annual budgets,” he said.

Franklin said he is in constant contact with members of the Ohio Mayors Alliance, which represents the 30 largest Ohio communities, about the ways each is engaging the public and how they are using the funds.

“We are having biweekly zoom meetings,” Franklin said.

The administration is hoping to have all the information from the public meetings, the online and written surveys compiled by mid-September.

“After we collect all of the data, we will have committee meetings with council to discuss what we analyzed from the information and provide our recommendations,” Franklin said. “This is part of the process that we will use to come up with a budget.”

After taking the survey, Councilman Greg Greathouse, D-3rd Ward, said he was surprised the questions weren’t more in depth.

“It is a high-level pass on the issues,” Greathouse said. “You get to vote on these five things. I envisioned two or three steps.”

Councilman Ken MacPherson, D-5th Ward, said it was less than suitable for obtaining information from residents about getting their thoughts of what to do with the recovery funds.

“I would have liked to have a little more specificity,” MacPherson said. “I did like the ratings and giving respondents an opportunity to provide their thoughts.”

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