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‘Every string is attached’

Panel of leaders discusses funding

YOUNGSTOWN — A panel discussion Tuesday of the some $250 million in American Rescue Plan funding coming into the Mahoning Valley turned toward how the money can or cannot be used.

“A lot of the CARES Act money came to communities without a lot of strings attached. This is a lot different. Every string is attached,” said Terrence Slaybaugh, vice president of infrastructure and sites with JobsOhio, during a “Lunch & Learn” panel presented by the Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber.

Slaybaugh, along with Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti, Eastgate Council of Regional Governments Executive Director Jim Kinnick and Warren Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, sat on the panel moderated by Regional Chamber president and CEO Guy Coviello. Approximately 90 local business and community leaders attended.

Slaybaugh called the federal American Rescue Plan funds, or ARP, a “generational opportunity” to make the state of Ohio stand out among other Midwestern states, but added that guidelines for the funds — which are still not fully finalized — say they must be used specifically to help people, businesses and areas impacted by COVID-19.

While workforce development, site readiness and marketing the area to make it more “competitive” were discussed during the panel, Slaybaugh said ARP guidelines rule out using the funds for “traditional” economic development.

GUIDELINES

“I think these funds are really restrictive,” Rimedio-Righetti said.

She said the Mahoning commissioners have been working hard to offer financial help to those most in need while following the ARP guidelines set out by the federal government.

She said community members have expressed concerns for road quality and safety — but ARP funds don’t cover roads. Some safety issues might fall into the criteria, she said.

Communities can use ARP funds to support their public health response by funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses and behavioral health care, according to the National Association of Counties. Other uses for the funds include addressing negative economic impacts, replacing public or private sector revenue loss, and improving access to water, sewer and broadband infrastructure in underserved areas.

INPUT AND IDEAS

Saffold said her telephone has been “ringing off the hook” as residents ask questions and make suggestions for the city of Warren’s $28 million cut of the funds.

Saffold said the city has been holding symposiums so residents can give their thoughts on how the money should be spent. She said the city needs to determine how to best utilize the funds so they benefit the most people.

Saffold said in her neighborhood, which has high rates of unemployment and poverty, people want to work but can’t find public transportation.

“We need public transportation in Warren,” Saffold said. She said she hopes some of the ARP funds could be used for that — though Kinnick pointed out that securing public transportation involves an annual fee and establishing a sustainable service.

Saffold later added that bringing down the city’s high crime rate is also a priority and a worthy use of funds.

Unlike in the city of Warren, Rimedio-Righetti said Mahoning County commissioners have not had public meetings. That doesn’t mean the commissioners aren’t open to every idea.

“Everybody has a right to send into our office a request for help,” Rimedio-Righetti said. “Whether you think it fits or not, send something to us. If it fits and we can help, we will.”

Kinnick said at recent community meetings, the Valleywide issues that have been identified include strengthening the workforce, improving broadband quality and access, and reducing brownfields.

Kinnick said he hopes communities in Trumbull and Mahoning counties can work together to use the funds to benefit the whole region.

“Areas where we’ve been successful have been because we have a regional vision,” Kinnick said.

The Chamber’s monthly Lunch & Learn series will continue for the next year, according to Coviello.

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