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Harrisburg mayor outlines $42 million COVID relief spending plan

  • By Joshua Vaughn/ PennLive
Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams outlined her proposal for spending $42 million in federal COVID relief funds Tuesday.

Joshua Vaughn / PennLive

Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams outlined her proposal for spending $42 million in federal COVID relief funds Tuesday.

New affordable housing and more than $1 million in cash bonuses for police and firefighters are part of Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams’ plan for how the city should use more than $42 million it received from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan.

In total, the city received a little more than $47 million as part of the COVID relief plan passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021. Williams’s proposal, which she outlined Wednesday, leaves out $5 million for potential administrative costs or future expenses.

The city has until the December of next year to allocate the entire $47 million and must spend the money by December of 2026.

ARPA provided $350 billion to state, county and local governments to deal with the detrimental economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Williams’s plan, $14.5 million will be allocated to helping lower-income residents in the city. Williams is calling for money to construct hundreds of affordable homes, small business grants of up to $10,000, as well as payment of delinquent trash bills and direct payments of up to $10,000 for home repairs for residents earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Every family has the right to a safe home with a roof over their head, a place to keep them warm at night where they can make memories as their kids grow up,” she said.

Williams said that if her plan is approved by city council, criteria for how these programs would work will need to be developed by the city’s Department of Building and Housing.

More than $9 million from William’s proposal goes to what she describes as public safety. However, less than 20 percent of that is allocated directly towards programs shown to help reduce crimes.

Williams’s plan allocates $1.5 million to reduce blight by demolishing 42 dilapidated or abandoned homes.

Blight reduction has been shown to help reduce crime. A study in Philadelphia found that renovating vacant lots helped make people in the community feel safer and led to significantly reduced shootings in those neighborhoods.

The rest of the public safety money is to be spent on a new HVAC system in the city’s public safety building at a cost of $5.5 million, upgrading the Fire Bureau’s radio system for $900,000 and providing every police officer and firefighter who was employed by the city at the beginning of this year with a $5,000 bonus. In total, the bonuses would cost the city $1.26 million.

“I’m doing this because they deserve it and they deserve it right now,” Williams said.

She said that while there has been national conversation around defunding the police recently, Williams said she has “always been pro-police and pro-firefighter.”

She noted that Harrisburg Police have made arrests in nine out of the 10 homicides committed in the city this year. Harrisburg Police reported that they solved about 85 percent of all homicides last year but solved only half of all killings in 2020, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

ARPA allows state and local governments to provide a “premium pay” bonus of up to $25,000 to government employees.

“Police officers here don’t want $25,000 because they want the majority of that money to go to the citizens of Harrisburg,” Police Commissioner Thomas Carter said.

Williams’s plan calls for $10 million for beautification, parks and recreation, including $8 million for the creation of a water park with spray area, lazy river and slides to replace the Hall Manor Pool on South 18th Street. Williams said the pool is becoming too expensive to maintain, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to repair leaks.

She is also asking for $1.5 million to make the city’s playgrounds more accessible for children with special needs and $500,000 for tree removal and pruning for seniors and low-income households.

Williams and her team are expected to present the plan to the city council on June 7. The council can approve Williams’s plan, revise it or come up with a plan of its own but business administrator Dan Hartman said hoped the board would act to allocate ARPA funds by the end of the summer so they can begin the programs later this year.

“At the end of the day, our goals remain the same, do what’s best for the people of this city,” Williams said.

 

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