Fund requests continue: New Hazmat truck, park upgrades and addressing the homelessness issue

Some COVID-19 pandemic relief money still available and leaders must consider where to put it.

The Butler County commissioners have already awarded nearly $69 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars and have a total of $10 million more to spend, but a portion of that must address the homelessness situation.

County Administrator Judi Boyko informed the commissioners they have two more projects to consider for the remainder of their $7 million in COVID-19 pandemic relief funding. Requests have come in for $1.2 million from the Emergency Management Agency for a new Hazmat truck, and Madison Twp. wants $750,000 for park improvements.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law March 11, 2021 and it allocated $350 billion to help local governments with pains caused by the coronavirus pandemic. When the commissioners learned they had nearly $75 million to spend, they invited other governments and agencies to pitch them ideas.

The county received an eclectic array of funding requests — totaling more than $200 million —including economic development and educational endeavors, help for the homeless, propping up small businesses, park and bike trail expansion and countywide broadband to name a few. They ranged in price from $24 million for new advanced aviation and manufacturing training centers in Middletown and Hamilton to $125,000 for healthcare worker training.

The commissioners awarded the first batch of funding totaling $52.4 million in July giving a large amount — $20 million total — to educational endeavors, namely $15 million to Butler Tech for new advanced technology centers for aviation in Middletown and advanced manufacturing in Hamilton and $5 million for Miami University’s College@Elm workforce center.

The second round of funding came in December, including $16.1 million for city and township infrastructure projects, parks, a community center and a non-profits package. The commissioners haven’t asked for any more requests.

EMA Director Matt Haverkos told the Journal-News the Butler County Hazmat Cooperative’s primary vehicle is from the 1990s and knowing the commissioners still have money to award they took a shot.

“This has essentially been a capital sustainment project on the radar for the Hazardous Materials Cooperative for years now,” Haverkos said. “There has not been an opportunity with enough funding to do it. What we’ve been doing piece-by-piece is using some state Homeland Security funds that we’ve been able to get from Ohio Emergency Management and those have been replacing a lot of the equipment and bigger ticket items that are on that truck but the truck itself is aging out.”

The Madison Twp. trustees are asking for $750,000 to build a combination restroom/concession/storage building, replace faulty playground equipment they had to tear out, add power and lights and restore the historic cabin at the West Alexandria Road park.

ExploreHere is where $75M in local projects funded by pandemic relief money stand

Trustee Brian McGuire told the Journal-News people have probably been clamoring for restrooms for “decades” now and the park is teeming with people these days.

“We just don’t have the funds right now in our general fund to pay for something like that, not even close...,” McGuire said. “This would be awesome for us, my gosh, most townships they’ve got a tax base we don’t have that out here, we’re just about all residential and farms.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she would definitely favor the park project, in fact she told the Journal-News previously parks would be her top priority for some of the remaining money. They already allocated nearly $3 million to fill gaps in the Great Miami River trail system and for MetroParks rural park improvement.

She said COVID-19 had a devastating impact on county residents and providing more opportunities for stress relief is a good use of some of the money.

“What is one easy thing we can do is provide more outdoor space available, not just Voice of America — which is fabulous if you live on the edge of the county by I-75, but the rest of the county to average people, people who don’t have a gated community with a walking path ...,” she said. “Let’s get those parks available within five minutes of every individual, I think that is crucially important. I’d like to encourage the park systems, whether it be townships or cities to think outside the box.”

She said she is keeping an open mind on the Hazmat truck.

Addressing homelessness in Butler County

Commissioner Don Dixon said the two projects are “up for consideration as far as I’m concerned” but his broader goal for the money is to address the homeless problem and mental health issues.

“I think we have that responsibility to help the whole county with this homeless issue somewhat in some way,” Dixon said. “I would think some of that money would go to mental health counseling and increasing mental health services, they’re all in the mix.”

The county received another $3.1 million windfall out of federal pandemic rescue funds to help the homeless. Every year the county receives HOME Investment Partnerships Program funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), usually in the neighborhood of $1 million. This year in addition to that bucket of money the county was allocated $3.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act HOME funding.

As part of that award they had to do a housing survey and the upshot of that exercise was a recommendation to build at lease 32 permanent supportive housing units. The requests for proposals is going out for that project soon.

Dixon said “absolutely” part of the $7 million leftover cash could be used to supplement that effort.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he would not favor funding the Madison Twp. park and he hasn’t made up his mind about the Hazmat vehicle or any of the other outstanding requests. He said he might not want to spend the money on any of the ideas previously presented, because this shaky economy could push forth more pressing needs.

He said he’d like to wait awhile to make those decisions.

“We need to see what has happened or whether there’s a need that we may have missed,” Rogers said. “Or if a need comes up from a possible economic downturn that some of our residents just weren’t prepared for.”

For the first two batches of funding each commissioner picked their preferred projects, Boyko compiled a list according to unanimous and majority agreement and they voted.

Dixon said they never put a deadline on submitting proposals so the two latest offerings should be considered like all the rest.

“I don’t do good with deadlines, we’re here to get the best bang for the buck with our tax dollars,” Dixon said. “If it’s a little later and we haven’t made the final decision, any decisions as far as what to do with what’s left, I don’t have any problem letting them into the conversation.”

Since the county is ultimately responsible to the federal government for all of the dollars, subrecipient agreements had to be forged with the entities awarded funds and a reporting portal established.

The award winners were given their money after they returned subrecipient agreements and around $24 million has been disbursed but only $5.2 million spent according to Boyko.

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