DNR Money Stock

Harrisonburg City Council met Tuesday for its second work session dedicated to deciding how to spend roughly $24 million the city is slated to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Members of council grew closer in agreement on several priorities, such as a homeless shelter, child care and a new fire station on the north end of the city to reduce response times to homes and large facilities, such as Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community and Eastern Mennonite University.

Council member Laura Dent said she had grown in support of allocating funding for the new fire station after speaking with Harrisonburg Fire Chief Matt Tobia about it following the last meeting.

Draft documents have an estimated price of the new station at $4.9 million and a homeless shelter at $1.3 million. Child care has yet to have an estimated price as discussions with parents, child care center operators and businesses are needed before ideas and a budget can be put together for solutions, according to staff and council members.

Council member Sal Romero stood by his position from previous ARPA discussions to prioritize community engagement to find out what members of the public would like the funds to be spent on.

Mayor Deanna Reed said council represents the city well and because of each member’s differences, they cover the city’s population.

Reed also stood by her priority to allocate funds for improvements in the Northeast neighborhood, which has a history of underinvestment due to the racial composition of the historically Black neighborhood.

She said projects like a splash pad at Ralph Sampson Park are to make up for losses in the neighborhood, such as the municipal pool nearby that was closed and paved over. The park serves the most families out of all the city’s parks, she said.

Council member George Hirschmann said he agreed with the need for child care and also said there needs to be improvements to the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Emergency Communications Center power supply. ARPA funding for projects or initiatives that benefit seniors should also be a priority, according to Hirschmann.

Council member Chris Jones said the city should use money for a new public works administrative building. Plans have been deferred for a new building that would also have space for the Harrisonburg Fire Department and the Harrisonburg Police Department on a new part of the parcel where the existing public works building is.

The existing building is in a floodplain and flood way, according to city documents.

The new fire station, homeless shelter and updated public works building are priorities of city staff, according to city documents.

Reed expressed hesitancy about using ARPA funding on the public works project because its price tag combined with the fire station, which she supports, amounts to a little less than half of all the money the city would receive from ARPA.

At the first work session, City Council approved a new position to be created for an ARPA funds coordinator, which would oversee the spending of the money and make sure the allocated uses are in line with federal requirements.

City spokesperson Michael Parks said staff is still ironing out the position’s pay and other details before accepting applications.

Also at the first work session, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce and James Madison University Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue were tasked by council to convene community groups for residents to voice their opinions on what ARPA funds should be spent on.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @iamIanMunro

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