City Manager George Lahanas provided City Council with a line-item American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Draft Plan at Council’s meeting on Nov. 16. The City is set to receive the second portion of the approximately $12.2 million in federal Covid relief funds in May 2022, and Lahanas has suggested plans for just about every dollar.
Lahanas seems to want to stay the course from what he presented at the Oct. 12 meeting in spite of some challenges from the previous Council during its last discussion. You can see the Oct. 12 and Nov. 16 proposals compared to one another here.
The ARPA discussion at the Nov. 16 meeting revolved around Lahanas setting public input as the next step in the process of preparing for use of the funds.
All East Lansing residents are encouraged to head to the City’s webpage by Dec. 10 to learn what ARPA funds are allowed to be used for and to review and provide feedback for the City’s current draft plan.
It’s important to note that, while viewing the proposal, the columns “Initiated 2022” and “Initiated 2023” indicate when the City plans to begin using these funds for respective projects. According to the federal government, the funds must be allocated and spent by December 2024.
During the Nov. 16 discussion, Lahanas stated that City staff desire to prioritize three facility types as they begin spending this money: parking systems, the fire station, and the Hannah Community Center.
Lahanas also said that the first priority, ahead of facilities improvements, is the Homeowner Assistance program, which includes cost sharing with residents to install household check valves to prevent sanitary and storm sewer backups — a rising concern amongst East Lansing residents as they have and continue to see increased rain and flooding.
There is $500,000 allocated for the first year of the program which is listed as 2022, though Lahanas said he wants to begin using that money this fall so a majority of check valves through the program can be installed by spring.
This check valve installation assistance will be retroactively available through March 2021. This means that any resident who installed a check valve system after March 2021 has the opportunity to be paid back a certain amount of the total cost of their check valve installation project. The City has not yet determined the amount that will be back paid or allocated to individual households during the program. Lahanas originally proposed an even split, but Council member Lisa Babcock and several members of the community have pushed for the cost to be covered in full with ARPA funds.
Depending on the program’s demand, additional check valve assistance in the City will come back for more discussion.
When Lahanas opened the floor to Council to offer comments or questions on the matter, Council member Babcock said that, “we have the opportunity to lookout for our neighbors who are and have been affected by climate change and we’re doing something to make it better for the future.”
Mayor Ron Bacon said he “feels a great deal of anxiety when it rains [and] knows this is the biggest topic of community conversation.” He called the current check valve program “a great start” to address the flooding and sewer troubles in East Lansing.
Beyond flooding, updating parking infrastructure is one of the City’s next priorities. Proposed projects include modernizations to the Charles Street Garage elevator system for $900,000 in 2023, technology integration for $100,000 in 2022, and $750,000 for allocation in 2022 for facility repair projects that would be matched with City parking funds (the revenue the City collects from its parking systems).
The second of Lahanas’ priorities for the ARPA funds is $1.25 million for kitchen, flooring, generator, and driveway upgrades at the main fire station.
Concluding Lahanas’ priority list is $2.73 million in proposed improvements to the Hannah Community Center. Of that, $1.5 million would be spent in 2022 to renovate Hannah’s third floor. The remainder of the funds would be spent in 2023: $50,000 for repairs to the building envelope (the parts of the building that separate the interior of the building from the exterior environment), $180,000 to replace the boiler (a project that was meant to begin in 2021), and $1 million to renovate Hannah’s meeting and conference space.
One line item City staff did provide clarity on is the last $1 million mentioned in the draft plan titled “Water Meters.” This $1 million will cover a portion of a project to replace all of the City’s water meters and add a new water meter reading system. City staff has determined that the “current system is past its useful life and the new system would include updated technology.”
When ELi asked City staff for clarification on other items in the draft plan, we were directed to compare the draft plan with the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which shows the plans for just about all of the City’s capital improvement projects that the City wishes to begin through the year 2027. Eight of the eighteen total projects outlined in the current ARPA draft plan are detailed in the City’s CIP.
The items in the current draft plan are said to be estimates. Since the total proposed in the draft have allocations for $12.185 million out of the $12.2 million the City is receiving, City staff said that “additional funding sources may be required for some of the proposed items,” as inflation and other factors may cause the actual cost of the projects to increase before the ARPA deadline of December 2024.
While there are no action items for Council or the City regarding approving or modifying the plan at this moment, we can expect to hear more about input from residents after the Dec. 10 deadline.