Allocation of Parks Department funds prompts questions from board members about ARPA spending in Valparaiso – Chicago Tribune

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The Valparaiso City Council approved the first reading of two ordinances at its May 9 meeting, including one to begin using some of the $7.6 million in funds allocated to the city by the American Rescue Plan Act ( ARPA), and another to allocate funds for projects. from the city’s general separate parks and recreation fund.

Both ordinances passed first reading and will be voted on for final approval at the May 23 meeting with the opportunity for public comment. The Council meeting discussion prompted Council Member Robert Cotton, D-2nd, to continue to raise questions about the use of the funds, while asking for a reassessment of how the money should be distributed after the adoption of a preliminary spending plan, which Cotton voted against, at the March 28 Meeting.

Clerk-Treasurer Holly Taylor explained that the ordinance provides the necessary funds of $600,000 for premium payments for eligible city workers, such as police and fire departments who performed essential work during COVID, as well than the amount invoiced for consultant fees for a total of $750,000. .

Another ordinance, which also passed after the first reading, was presented by Valparaiso Parks and Recreation Director John Siebert, requesting that $629,523 be allocated for various park screenings, renovations and needed amenities.

“This (order) is presented to you as an additional appropriation, as we have a budget of approximately $87,000 set aside for capital expenditures, which is not a lot for a capital infrastructure of $50 million,” Seibert explained to the council and to the mayor of Valparaiso, Matt. Murphy.

“We’ve had good years (of revenue) from both our customer base and our staff working hard to create positive cash flow, so we’re in a very good position this year for our revenue and our general fund for end the year at $2.68 million. We are currently at $1.59 million before our tax levy which comes in mid-June.

Siebert said the park department has a favorable tax history of never spending funds until they are received.

Cotton asked Siebert about the impact of the COVID pandemic on revenue and funds over the past two years.

“When you present your numbers, projected costs and expected revenues to the Valparaiso Park Board, do you present large numbers or true cost projections and expectations,” Cotton asked.

“And how about the negative (financial) impact of COVID during the pandemic on the park department?”

Siebert said COVID resulted in a “mixed” impact.

“There was definitely a negative impact in that we had to reduce the number of attendees and authorized personnel to keep activities within safety protocol,” Siebert said.

“For example, our rink continued to be very popular during the season. But at one point, we had to limit it to only 15 skaters per hour for distancing. But it also saved us with less staff and therefore expenses went down with less staff to serve fewer people.

Cotton praised Seibert and the Valparaiso Park Department at the meeting, but also later said he continued to question the large amount of Valparaiso’s federal bailout fund issued to the Park Department.

“It’s wonderful that the Valparaiso Park Department hasn’t lost large sums of money during COVID, but then why should this council allocate them (the Valparaiso Park Department) 80% of that money ARPA,” Cotton said at the end of the meeting. .

The majority of ARPA funds, approximately $6.5 million, have been allocated to parks projects that are part of the city’s Valpo for All Generations initiative, which will include a 248-acre park and complex community sports facility on the east side of Indiana 49, as well as a new adult enrichment center built on North Calumet Avenue near the current Pines Village Retirement Community and the Valparaiso Family YMCA.

The $7.6 million provided to Valparaiso by Congress is part of a $19.53 billion assistance package from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. Earlier this year, the federal government provided the latest guidelines and clarifications on eligible expenses, emphasizing that the funding should be used to compensate essential workers doing necessary work during the pandemic and to “build a strong, resilient and equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity.

Philip Potempa is a freelance journalist for the Post-Tribune.

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