21 projects in Butler County will get share of $74M pandemic relief funding

The Sonny Hill Community Center could be renovated with the use of pandemic relief funds. RICK MCCRABB/FILE

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The Sonny Hill Community Center could be renovated with the use of pandemic relief funds. RICK MCCRABB/FILE

Requests were made for $200 million for area projects.

There are no concrete funding commitments, but all three Butler County commissioners favor investing in workforce development, redevelopment, community centers and more with $74.4 million in coronavirus relief funding.

The commissioners’ funding requests total about $200 million because they received other proposals outside those they held work sessions on 34 proposals from various other governments and groups last summer. The commissioners sifted through them all individually and did their due diligence, vetting the projects that ranged from economic development, workforce development, social services, infrastructure, healthcare, bike trail expansion and a new county morgue to name a few.

This week, County Administrator Judi Boyko outlined the ideas the commissioners unanimously support in some form or another. As presented to the commissioners, the 21 projects totaled $75 million but the commissioners have a ways to go before cutting any checks.

In several instances the three suggested different funding levels and even sources. Their funding levels range from $62.8 million to $82.4 million but this also includes $5 million to $9 million to help townships fix their roads, something that was not formally requested.

“From a project perspective there is unanimity on several projects but there is still some dissention on how to fund them,” Boyko told the Journal-News. “Some of the projects are unanimous that they want a project, but there are several that a third (commissioner) has a different funding source for it.”

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law March 11, and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioners’ first funding round

After the federal windfall was announced Commissioner Cindy Carpenter began canvassing the county, listening to the wants and needs of communities and groups. She released her plan for ARPA and other funding sources earlier this year totaling $98 million, including almost $20 million from the general fund and some other COVID-19 resources the county received. The other two say they won’t tap the general fund.

This week they took the next step on three of the projects, namely countywide broadband, the township roads and helping Middletown down the gutted Paperboard property at the gateway to the city. On Monday they will hear for details about the three projects and likely pass resolutions the following week.

ExploreButler County communities starting to spend $155.6M in coronavirus relief

Since former Middletown city manager Jim Palenick submitted a $6.6 million plan for several projects to the commissioners last May, the state announced $350 million in grants for brownfield remediation. Each county was guaranteed $1 million and distributing the rest is under consideration now.

The city missed the deadline for the guaranteed, no-match money but is in the running for a slice of the rest for the Paperboard project, according to City Councilman Rodney Muterspaw.

“The former management missed the deadline and that was catastrophic for us. Thank God the county came through and said we will help you with because that’s a $2 million hit to us, it was a $2 million mistake...,” Muterspaw said adding if they get the state grant. “If we did end up getting that, which I don’t know if we will because it’s late in the game, then the county would not have to help us.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said this is precisely why he wants to bring people back in, because circumstances may have changed since the proposals were originally submitted last summer.

“That’s the whole purpose of bringing them in, to give us the final wrap-up deal, package, where they are, what they want, what they need, what’s been changed, has anything been changed” Dixon said. “To really get down to the substance of the whole ask.”

Funding levels vary

Other projects the three all want include workforce development projects presented by Butler Tech and Miami University. The Butler Tech projects were estimated at $24 million to build new advanced aviation and manufacturing training centers in Middletown and Hamilton respectively. Miami’s College@Elm business incubator project has a $10 million price tag. None of the commissioners recommend fully funding these projects.

They also want to help the villages of College Corner, Millville, New Miami and Seven Mile make critical infrastructure repairs, again none of them assigned the full $11.5 million cost.

“Every little bit helps in the villages of Butler County,” Shawn Campbell, a consulting engineer who submitted the request said. “All the villages have various needs in infrastructure, from water and sewer to storm sewer and other failing infrastructure that need to be addressed. Any funds the commissioners can allocate towards the villages will be greatly appreciated.”

Community center projects in Middletown and Hamilton were also favored. They received a $6 million ask from Middletown and the schools to renovate or build a new Sonny Hill Community Center. The city has committed $2.1 million and the school district $4 million toward the project. Once again the commissioners are not aligned on the amount of the contribution.

Middletown School Board President Chris Urso said “that’s wonderful news” because they have committed some of their own federal coronavirus funds to the project and have until August 2024 to “spend it down to zero.”

He said since they had no idea whether they would get county dollars or when, they commissioned a feasibility study they will discuss next week, as to whether they can proceed without county funding, “that’s our big question right now” to “go through answering that question.”

“By Monday we’ll be able to hopefully filter through and see what a $6.1 million project would like,” Urso said. “We’re absolutely committed to doing something to serve our young people and families around our community center.”

County facilities also part of the funding mix

The commissioners all backed providing some funding for county facilities like a new morgue, upgrading the sheriff’s dispatch center and the Emergency Management Agency staging area at the fairgrounds to deal with future major incidents like the pandemic.

“I am grateful that all three commissioners recognize and understand the need for a unified Coroner’s Office and Morgue to better serve the citizens of Butler County,” county coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix said. “I look forward to working with the commissioners to see this project to fruition.”

Other requests that got the nod from all three commissioners include: the H.Y.P.E. youth program, a dental van, a new route for the Butler County Regional Transit Authority, Visitors Bureau pandemic revenue replacement, Health Collaborative clinical training, Shared Harvest food pantry, relocating the Oxford Senior Center, Fairfield Ohio 4 redevelopment, the county health district and fixing fairground roads damaged during mass coronavirus testing and vaccination clinics.

A majority of the board agreed on these projects: closing gaps in the Great Miami Trail, rural parks enhancement, Access Counseling homeless engagement centers, emergency mental health crisis stabilization center, a non-profits package, HVAC for county engineer’s office, a new taxiway and 10 corporate hangars at the Butler County Regional Airport, and Serve City homeless shelter relocation.

Boyko said after they deal with the first batch of three projects “I imagine unless the board of commissioners directs otherwise, over the next several meetings they’ll further narrow their preferred projects and deploy a process to allocate the funding.”

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