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County’s $38-million question unanswered

Commissioners not set on ARP spending plan

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners are attempting to solve the $38-million question — how to spend the American Rescue Plan funds before 2023 / 2024.

Following a discussion at their meeting Wednesday, commissioners are expected this week to propose and hash out a motion outlining a process.

The issue was raised when two callers at the meeting asked when commissioners will hold public meetings, as other entities have, to discuss ideas on how to spend the money.

“It has been mentioned a couple of times that there would be public meetings in regards to identifying the best and most appropriate ARP projects, and I do hope that moves forward,” said Stephen Stoyak of Liberty, once a member of the county’s former citizen budget review committee.

West Farmington Mayor Shirley McIntosh encouraged commissioners “to please have your public meeting.”

Commissioners have indicated interest in using a large portion of the funds on water and sewer projects. Other requests for the funds, for projects outside of the county’s utility districts and for other types of projects have been made by other communities and organizations.

Commissioners may choose to create an advisory committee but haven’t settled on what types of people would be on such a committee. Other ideas include conducting a request for qualifications to find a consultant to assist with the process and the development of an evaluation tool to rank the requests for the funds.

Gary Newbrough, the county’s sanitary engineer, said he would prefer to see the funds spent on sewer and water projects within the county’s utility districts, or on projects that offer regional benefits to multiple, participating communities.

McIntosh during the meeting asked if Newbrough or the commissioners had considered her funding request for a septic-receiving station in the village.

She said she believes it is a “conflict” to consider only projects for the county’s ARP funds driven by the county’s sanitary engineer department.

Newbrough said the county projects needed for the sanitary sewer and water district should not be in competition with other government entities that received their own ARP allocations.

“Each government entity in the county was given an ARP allocation based on population, demographics, that sort of thing, every village, every city, even every township as far as I know got some sort of allocation and the county just happened to get the largest one. Now, are we asking any of the other entities for their ARP funds? We’re not. These funds are for our projects. Why would we want to give the other entities our allocation, when it was based on our population and demographics, for their projects?” he said, adding joint and regional projects would be the exception.

Commissioner Frank Fuda said if the commissioners form a committee, members should be made up of people interested in benefiting the county as a whole, and not their own benefit.

“This is recovery for everybody, not a chosen few,” Fuda said.

When more customers are added to the utility districts, with projects to join existing county utility infrastructure, the entire district benefits, he said.

When Commissioner Niki Frenchko started drafting a motion on the fly during the meeting to propose a committee to develop ranking criteria, Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said he would rather develop a more “thoughtful” agenda item.

The money doesn’t have to be allocated right away, he said.

“This isn’t very thought out,” Cantalamessa said.

He asked who would be on the committee, if the positions would be advertised and who would develop the ranking tool.

“You got to be more specific here,” Cantalamessa said.

Frenchko said there hasn’t been any movement on the issue and she is “disappointed” the can was being kicked “down the road.” She said she can’t accomplish anything without the support of Fuda or Cantalamessa and so she’s been waiting to see what they want to do before moving forward.

Cantalamessa said Frenchko hasn’t moved to create the ranking tool, scheduled a meeting or gathered potential stakeholders.

She said she proposed the motion so “we’re actually moving forward with this the way we said we were going to, instead of just talking about it week after week.”

Cantalamessa said he would introduce a more carefully worded proposal at the Tuesday workshop meeting before the regular meeting Wednesday.

To join the 10:30 a.m. commissioners’ meetings on the fifth floor of the county administration building, call 1-877-820-7831 with access code 165908.

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