A proposed spending of $ 24.7 million in COVID-related funding is expected to include a larger one-time bonus for frontline municipal workers, a dozen speakers said in a virtual contribution session.
A number of speakers also wanted money spent on housing and helping small businesses instead of the recreation improvement staff presented to Greenville City Council in early September.
The American Rescue Plan Act approved by Congress earlier this year provided for allocations to local governments “to turn the tide on COVID-19” by addressing the economic impact of the pandemic on the community and throwing “them away. bases for a strong and fair recovery “.
Federal guidelines say the money can be used to:
- Support the public health response.
- Address negative economic impacts.
- Aqueduct and sewer infrastructure.
- Replace the income of the general fund of the city l
- Salary bonus for essential city workers.
- Broadband infrastructure.
The money is also supposed to be spent in areas identified as qualified census tracts, geographic areas where 50 percent or more of households have an income level below 60 percent of the region’s median gross income.
Pitt County and Greenville have seven qualified census tracts.
Greenville City Council is proposing that $ 22.6 million of the funding go towards improvements to the city’s entertainment and recreation areas. Most of the dollars would be spent on renovating Guy Smith Stadium to attract a summer baseball league and improve Town Common.
The plan also proposes that a second baseball field be built at Thomas Foreman Park along with an outdoor basketball court and additional playing field equipment.
A trail connecting Town Common to Wildwood Park, which will soon open, is also available.
Smaller amounts would go to help small businesses – $ 1 million; street improvements – $ 789,311 and bonuses for city employees who worked during the pandemic – $ 300,000.
Deputy City Manager / CFO Michael Cowin said the premium pay would be a one-time allowance for city workers. Essential workers would receive $ 500 and remote workers $ 250.
Almost all of the speakers said the amount was too small.
State Representative Kandie Smith, a former city councilor, said she recognizes that the bailout spending rules cap how much can be spent in certain areas, but believes $ 750,000 could be spent. allocated to give $ 1,000 to essential workers and $ 500 to remote workers.
Speakers also expressed their displeasure that a proposal was created without any input from the community.
“We really need to support this process and start with a community-driven strategic plan and process,” said Yoshi Newman.
During his presentation, Cowin said the proposal was based on goals adopted by the board. He said a previous community survey found residents said increasing entertainment and recreation opportunities should be the city’s top priority.
Jermaine McNair, founder of NC CIVIL, said the investigation Cowin cited was conducted before the pandemic. McNair said he believed an investigation conducted now would reveal different priorities.
Tonya Foreman said she tried to complete the survey but was not finished because it was not structured to solicit responses on the needs, according to her, of the city’s minority communities. .
Foreman said the money needs to be reallocated to meet the city’s daily quality of life needs, such as building a real football field in the south Greenville area. The children in this area play on a vacant lot that is not designed for football.
More money should also be spent on helping small businesses, Foreman said. Money should also be allocated to create more affordable housing and to help both tenants and landlords.
McNair said that while the West Greenville community was discussed as part of the projects, they did not really meet the needs of this community.
“I see Guy Smith (Stadium). I also recognize that Guy Smith’s location is in this EA, but it has not been used historically by the people of this community at all, ”Smith said. “People use Thomas Foreman Park and South Greenville Gym. It kind of bothers me to see money going for a census tract and the people in that area being used for an outside organization to come in with no return on investment for the community.
To say that a project will bring people into the community who will stay in hotels and eat in restaurants does not meet the needs created by COVID-19 in the community, she said.
“It seems to me that the plan that was provided does not deal with relief,” said Pam Strickland, founder of NC Stop Human Trafficking. “That this fills a wish list, which is beautiful, but honestly I find it insulting to all the businesses, individuals and nonprofits that have struggled so hard over the past 18 months.”
The money should be earmarked to help build affordable housing, to help businesses and to help people learn skills to improve their lives, she said.
“I am troubled that not even a single dollar has been offered for nonprofits that have struggled for the past 18 months,” Strickland said. Many nonprofits saw their revenues decline because individuals and businesses couldn’t give as much, she said, but they never closed.
Strickland has offered to allocate at least $ 5 million to help nonprofits.
Former city councilor Marion Blackburn supported the recruiting of a summer baseball league in Greenville and the renovation of Guy Smith Stadium, saying it would be transformative.
However, she was disappointed that the city was not considering any projects on the east side of Greenville, such as upgrading the off-leash dog park at 200 N. Ash St.
Blackburn was also concerned about improvements to Town Common.
Cowin said recommendations from the city’s 2016 joint master plan will be funded, including the relocation and construction of a larger amphitheater, spray park and office space at the entrance to the park. .
“I think Town Common’s greatest value is its green space,” said Scott Wiseman. “Most upscale neighborhoods are developed, so having this green space to enjoy is much more precious to me… nicer than having specific offices or businesses in Town Common. “
Wiseman said the funding should be spent on improving cyclability, especially on the west side of town. The city should also find a way to improve pedestrian safety so that it is easier for people living in Meadowbrook and other nearby housing to cross Memorial Drive to reach Thomas Foreman Park.
“Overall, I’m a fan of general ideas, of proposals. My family and I really appreciate the recreational opportunities in Greenville and love the vision that has been formulated to develop them, ”said Garret Rea, who identified himself as a local pastor.
However, he said there should be more emphasis on meeting the immediate needs of the community, especially in the area of housing.
Seniors housing should be part of that goal, said Leona Howard, especially one-story developments. Multi-story townhouses can be difficult for seniors with limited mobility, she said.
“This is exactly what we needed and what… this session was for,” said Cowin. He said staff have taken note of the comments and will post the responses in the coming days on the information page on the city’s website, www.greenvillenc.gov.
Cowin said city council would discuss the proposal further at its October 11 workshop. There will be two in-person public consultation sessions, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on October 18 and from noon to 2 p.m. on October 20. Both will take place in the gallery on the third floor of City Hall.
City council will decide what changes, if any, will be made to the proposal and is expected to tentatively approve the spending plan in November, Cowin said.
The scope of the project will ultimately be determined by construction costs and the availability of financing, he said.