Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department issued new guidelines allowing communities to use funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to address increases in violent crime over the past year.
At the June 29 Mobile City Council meeting, officials discussed how Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s People First Plan (PFP) could be altered following these new guidelines. Under a proposed revision, $5.1 million would be diverted from the $58 million PFP to focus on reducing rates of gun violence through new crime detection systems and methods of prevention.
Under the plan, funding would be used to provide $5,000 bonuses to full-time city employees and $2,500 bonuses for part-time city employees who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bonus would be prorated based on the number of months worked in cases where an employee retired during the pandemic.
The plan also focused on alleviating issues related to the negative economic impact of the pandemic through assistance to small and disadvantaged businesses, as well as residents who need assistance with rent or utilities, fighting evictions or buying their first homes.
The original plan set aside $16 million to acquire and build new affordable housing, though $2 million of that has been reallocated towards gun violence prevention under the new plan. An additional $12 million was allocated to convert vacant structures. More funding is allocated for repairing roofs, plumbing, electrical and HVAC units.
The $3 million that had been set aside for broadband infrastructure, which would be given to areas that lack adequate access, was reduced by $1 million as funds shifted to address gun violence. Other funds were also adjusted to accommodate the $5.1 million of funding currently allocated.
However, the City Council is still asking for the help of the public to ensure the funds are spent equitably and with community input.
Teresa Bettis, a representative of the Alabama Economic Roundtable, spoke to the council and emphasized the ARP’s focus on helping historically marginalized communities and those who were adversely affected by the pandemic.
Bettis criticized, among other things, a perceived lack of transparency between the council and community and a lack of engagement and input from the community in the plan’s creation.
Councilman Levon Manzie said the PFP is the mayor’s plan, and it will continue to be until it is passed through the council. He said he felt public engagement was important during the development of the plan.
Councilors have until Aug. 13 to vote on a plan to give the administration enough time to meet the Aug. 30 deadline set by the federal government.
“There are some great aspects of the People First Plan, but there are also some ideas that others might have that could really make it an even better plan,” Manzie said.
He said the council’s eyes and ears are open to see and hear from members of the community.
“This is a unique opportunity. I don’t know of any other circumstance in which we would have this level of federal influx relative to resources,” Manzie said. “It would probably take another global pandemic, so we ought to make certain that we leverage resources and we get the most bang for the buck … We can do some transformative things with this.”
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