After two months of discussion, the Merced City Council has determined how to distribute the $27.4 million it is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).
Merced held its first public hearing in October to discuss ARPA, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package signed into law by President Joe Biden in March.
That was followed by another discussion in November in which the council narrowed down its desired spending to certain projects such as affordable housing, the Applegate Zoo, stimulus payments and a job training program.
The council also notably struck down a program for universal basic income, keeping the focus for ARPA funds in other directions.
On Monday, the council held its final public hearing to determine how to spend its $27.4 million ARPA allocation.
Based on previous discussions, city staff came into the meeting with an initial allocation for various projects to receive direction from the council.
Three projects proved to be a sticking point for some of the council members, however: a park south of town, affordable housing and the proposed job training program.
City staff sought $7.5 million for Community Park 42, which would be a regional sports facility located on the northwest corner of Mission Ave. and Tyler Rd.
That drew the attention of Councilwoman Bertha Perez, who was one of the council members who sought more than the initial $4 million set aside for affordable housing.
“We need to put more in affordable housing or we’re going to find everybody living in the park we’re putting $7.5 million into, that’s for sure,” Perez said. “That’s my thought exactly. We need to train more people so they don’t end up in the $7.5 million park. It’s just a no-brainer. We need to train and develop the youth so that we don’t have to support them later in life, and we need to put more money into affordable housing.”
Perez voiced a consensus among the council: “I just can’t prioritize $7.5 million for a park when we need housing.”
That led to a series of amendments and a 6-1 vote in agreement for Merced’s ARPA allocation. Councilman Kevin Blake was the lone representative to vote against it.
Merced’s ARPA allocation is as follows:
- Affordable housing: $6.5 million
- Water: $2.5 million
- Broadband: $2.65 million
- Applegate Zoo Renovation/Expansion: $2 million
- Downtown projects: $1.75 million
- Community Park 42: $5 million
- Utility Bill Relief: $1 million
- Job Training Program: $1 million
- Stimulus Payments: $1 million
- Expanded Youth Programs: $250,000
- Nonprofit Support: $1.5 million
- COVID-19 City Coverage: $613,916
- Remaining Funds: $1.6 million