BY SOPHIE GORMAN ORIANI
On April 17, the Hyattsville City Council approved some projects to be paid for by funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), and closed out the long meeting by discussing some priorities and options for how to spend the city’s remaining funds.
The council approved $704,000 in funding for projects that were considered a higher priority due to their urgency. Two of the five projects were purchasing vehicles — 10 e-bikes for the police department and a new trash truck — while the other three were personnel additions. The council approved funding for the salaries of an IT technician, a professional grant writer, and a deputy director of environmental operations, as well as “consultant and subcontractor fees for evaluation, design, and construction of ARPA funded projects.”
Patrick Paschall, the city’s American Rescue Plan program manager, laid out some proposed priorities for the remainder of the funds, divided into two categories: staff-recommended priorities and priorities recommended by the ARPA executive committee. If the city approves all the projects on both lists, it will have about $2 million left to allocate, with legacy costs of just over $1.5 million. Legacy costs are those that the city would be responsible for in future years, as well.
City Treasurer Ron Brooks expressed concern that the city has only spent about half the funds it has received from the federal government. Brooks said he is concerned that ARPA funds might get pulled back and that the city needs to get the funds out on the street.
Several councilmembers expressed concern about approving projects that would create high legacy costs, especially against the backdrop of the fiscal year 2024 budget, which calls for a nearly $6 million transfer from the general reserve fund to balance the budget.
Ben Simasek (Ward 3) noted that approving projects with high legacy costs puts future councilmembers in a tough position of having to choose which programs to keep and which to cut. Sam Denes (Ward 1) agreed, noting that the city council is responsible for taxpayer money and committing to high spending levels is financially irresponsible. He also expressed concern about whether city staff could handle taking on many extra projects, given staffing levels in the city.
Joanne Waszczak (Ward 1) noted that the council could approve projects that had limited funds or a limited time frame, with the understanding that they were not permanent programs. Joseph Solomon (Ward 5) also noted that the legacy costs of some projects could be funded through grants.
On May 1, the city council voted to allocate nearly $8 million of ARPA money towards additional projects, including reimbursements for salary adjustments, upgrades to the city building, and pedestrian safety improvements. Denes proposed removing a study to assess having a circulator bus in Hyattsville, but the amendment failed. Although the overall motion passed unanimously, councilmember Danny Schaible (Ward 2) noted that he did not support every project in the list. Schaible referred to the motion as representing the “collective judgment” of the group.
There will be a public hearing on May 15, and the council is expected to finalize a spending plan for the rest of the federal money at their June 5 meeting.