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Warren examines ARP fund requests

WARREN — City Council on Wednesday rejected passing by emergency measure a police department effort to purchase software for a fully integrated record management system, as well as funding for three road projects because of questions about using American Rescue Plan Act funds for these and other projects.

The police department is seeking council approval to use $250,000 of its ARP funds to pay for a data conversion software called Mark43 that will assist its officers in report writing, case management investigations, crime analysis and maintaining property and evidence records.

Warren would be one of the first departments to use this software in the state of Ohio. However, it is being used in much larger communities.

It was one of the items police Chief Eric Merkel asked the city to fund during a presentation in which he asked for more than $3 million of the city’s ARP funds.

During a council police and fire committee meeting on Tuesday, a representative of the New-York based Mark43 Inc. gave a presentation about the use of the system, including allowing the department to track units in real time, and record response times, special skills and requests for aid.

It also allows the department to analyze frequency and types of calls to determine whether there is any cross connections.

Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, who did not attend the meeting, said she could not vote to approve the purchase of this software without getting more information about its uses and costs from the department. Saffold questioned the need for this software andsought specific examples of how it would help reduce crime in her ward.

She suggested that council should look beyond the intial purchase price, but also fees that will have to be paid by the city over a 10-year period. The contract fee schedule over that period will be $1,060,349.10.

In the first year, the city would pay $248,400 in fees. Over the next three years, it would pay $84,400 per year. It would continue to increase over the next six years.

“Where will the money come from to pay these fees?” she asked.

The administration was seeking to obtain emergency passage during Wednesday’s council meeting because the $250,000 cost of the software is approximately one-half of its normal price. If the city does not make the purchase before the end of the month, the price will increase significantly.

Merkel said getting this software is one of the department’s top priorities among the items on his wish list.

Councilman Gary Steinbeck, D-at Large, during Tuesday’s meeting said he would be willing to use $250,000 of the ARP money he can allocate to provide the funding for this system.

“I believe we should give the police department the tools they need to keep this community safe,” Steinbeck said. “We have to find ways to stop crime from increasing in this city.”

Council also failed to pass emergency legislation that would have allowed a vote on three road projects , including the 2022 city road program, the restoration of the Reserve Avenue Bridges and the 2022 Ohio Public Works Commission / Community Development Block Grant.

Warren Community Development Director Michael Keys warned council that some of the road projects that have not gone forward are being funded through Housing and Urban Development block grants, which have deadlines that must be met or the federal government may take their funding back.

During the last council meeting, several council members, including Councilman Andrew Herman, D-2nd Ward, Ken MacPherson, D-at Large, and Saffold, voted against the legislation because they had a problem with providing funding for the Reserve Avenue Bridges section of the legislation.

Neither Herman nor MacPherson attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Several other council members voted against allowing the legislation to pass with an emergency vote because they questioned using ARP funds to pay for heating and air conditioning units for Packard Music Hall at a cost of $605,000, the payment for repair of sewer lines for the splash pad at a cost of $150,000, and setting aside $3.7 million for Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership projects.

Councilman Todd Johnson, D-1st Ward, questioned why some of these requests could not be paid for using general fund money, instead of using once-in-a-lifetime ARP funds.

“You’re going to keep asking for emergency passage of things and the next thing we know, the money will no longer be here,” Johnson said.

Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert said some of the items the city is making funding requests for, such as the Packard Music Hall HVAC system, have been things the city needed to address for a long time.

“We did not have the funds to pay for them,” Colbert said.

The city received $28 million in ARP funds. The city still is discussing its first $14 million allocation. The second half of the funding will be coming soon.

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