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How Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb Is Prioritizing ARPA Spending

The mayor announced that he will focus on affordable housing, violence prevention, broadband expansion, lead removal and City Hall upgrades in spending American Recovery Plan Act funds.

(TNS) — Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb Friday, May 13, announced his spending priorities for millions of federal stimulus dollars awarded to the city through the American Recovery Plan Act.

Included in Bibb’s list is affordable housing, violence prevention, internet access, education for all ages, lead removal, along with arts and neighborhood amenities, which includes parks, recreation and cultural offerings.

Also included are efforts to modernize and bring transparency to City Hall through technology upgrades and other investments, and filling holes in the city budget caused by revenue lost to the pandemic’s dampening effect on the economy.

While the list lays out abstract priorities, it does not include any specifics, such as which programs the city would pursue, how stimulus funding would improve transparency, or the amount of money that should be devoted to each priority.

One other priority area identified by the city on Friday was a “civic participation fund,” described in a press release as follows: “Cleveland’s 17 wards can identify important neighborhood projects and advocate for change at the hyper-local level in partnership with City Council.”

It’s unclear if that kind of proposal is related to participatory budgeting, a concept Bibb has supported in the past in which residents would have a direct say in how to allocate a portion of the money. Alternatively, it might be akin to how Cuyahoga County intends to use a portion of its federal aid, via so-called “slush funds,” in which council members would direct spending on projects specific to their council district.

A Bibb spokesperson did not respond to questions seeking clarification.

Bibb’s broad priorities are meant to guide the work of his Center for Economic Recovery, a body the mayor intends to set up to help evaluate hundreds of spending proposals that have poured into City Hall. City officials have said the center would score proposals using objective criteria to determine which would be best suited to address Bibb’s broad spending priority issues.

Those objective criteria were also unveiled on Friday. They will include each proposal’s impact to the community, equity, sustainability, the ability to make Cleveland more competitive in the global market, and more, according to the mayor’s website.

City officials previously said that Bibb intended to staff the center with outside thinkers – essentially experts on loan from local organizations, such as the Cleveland Foundation, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Gund Foundation, Center for Community Solutions and Fund for Our Economic Future.

But it’s unclear that plan will come to fruition. The mayor’s website, as of Friday, only stated that internal City Hall staff – mostly members of Bibb’s cabinet – would handle the center’s evaluation process.

Bibb’s spokesperson did not respond to questions about why the original staffing plans for the center had changed, saying only that Bibb’s team “regularly engages with subject matter experts on a host of issues” and “will continue to engage with community stakeholders, but they will not be employed by the center.”

To use outside thinkers (rather than internal staff), council would have to approve legislation allowing Bibb to do so. Council has not scheduled a formal hearing for that legislation since it was introduced almost two months ago – a potential signal that members were not on board with such a process.

Whatever recommendations are made by the center – and whichever proposals Bibb ultimately wants to pursue – are subject to approval by City Council, which will likely have its own spending priorities and evaluation process for the money.

The funds at issue are the second half of Cleveland’s roughly $512 million in federal ARPA money, which is set to hit city coffers next month.

The first half of the aid, roughly $250 million, was mostly allocated late last year, under the former mayor and City Council.

Notably, the spending priorities Bibb rolled out on Friday may not apply to the ARPA money alone.

The city’s news release stated such priorities may also be used to guide whatever money Cleveland receives from the $1 trillion Infrastructure Innovation and Jobs Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in November, and any other funds from the federal government.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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