He said local government “knows what’s best to meet the needs of its residents” and while “there’s really no strings” he wants these funds to go to help the “less fortunate.”
He left Monroe, Trenton and the villages of College Corner, Jacksonburg, Millville, New Miami and Seven Mile out of the equation. When the Journal-News asked him about it, Rogers noted when the commissioners distributed the first batches of their $74.4 million in ARPA funds, they gave money to four villages — $4 million total for College Corner, Millville, New Miami and Seven Mile — for critical infrastructure repairs.
“There’s always different definitions of fair...,” Rogers said. “I think each one of those villages got some money for their projects. There is no way we were going to be able to do anything where everyone said that’s fair. But so far the way that we’ve distributed those ARPA funds, compared to where I’ve seen other counties and cities, regional jurisdictions go with their funds, I think we’ve done an admirable job.”
A cry for help
There was a gathering of elected officials and their staffs a couple weeks ago with state Sen. George Lang and Rep. Sara Carruthers to discuss the increasing local homelessness issue. Officials from Hamilton and Middletown have been the most vocal asking for help.
“We’ve had no correspondence with them or anyone from those areas that would indicate that there’s a problem with the homeless in those areas,” Commissioner Don Dixon said about the communities that were left out of the funding. “If we find out that there is we’ll deal with that separately.”
Dixon introduced the idea of putting the rest of the ARPA money into solutions for the homeless problem last week, after Hamilton city officials told the commissioners they are “at the breaking point.”
Michael (he didn’t want to give his last name), a homeless man who has been living at Hope House in Middletown for the past couple weeks, reached out to the Journal-News after seeing Dixon’s comments. He was laid off from his construction job and has spend countless hours trying to get unemployment assistance. He said he was told the system is backlogged to May.
“I think that’s a big cause with the up-rise in homelessness, if people get laid off they’re going to lose their home because they’re not getting their unemployment for a month,” he said. “This is the first time in my life I’ve ever been homeless ever, and now mind you bad decisions have contributed to getting me here, but if I would have received unemployment in the first week or two I wouldn’t be here.”
He said he had been dealing with the state computer and phone system and getting the run around, so he called Butler County Job and Family Services.
“There was nothing they could do over the phone. I would have to show up in person,” he said. “As you know that might be a little difficult for someone homeless.”
Early ideas for spending
Dixon told the Journal-News they used to have a satellite JFS office in Middletown many years ago, but it wasn’t cost effective. He said perhaps Middletown could use some of the windfall to arrange rides for the folks in need to get to services in Hamilton and elsewhere.
Middletown Councilman Zack Ferrell said “that’s a great idea” and while they are very grateful to the commissioners, he hopes they are given some leeway in using the money.
“I think there are people that do and don’t want to be homeless, we can’t help the people that do, but if there are things we can do today by organizing services and that gets us towards getting those people from homelessness towards productive members of society, those are the ones that we have to use this money for, to target to help them as a part of this money,” he said. “Honestly I don’t know how loose the commissioners are going to be, but I would like some of the money to go for neighborhood clean-ups, I would like for some of the money to go towards police overtime. I don’t think it’s just throw $2 million at one specific thing and that’s the fix-all.”
Middletown Mayor Nicole Condrey told the Journal-News they haven’t had time to discuss the windfall, but she would like to somehow use the money to get to the “root” of the local homelessness problem.
“We can continue to ignore that part of it and only try to fix the in-your-face, 100 people out on the streets,” she said. “But the reality is there’s a lot more people who haven’t quite gotten to that point that if we created programs or something we could keep them from getting to that point.”
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter noted there are specific allowable uses for American Rescue Plan Act funds but many people have used loopholes to do projects that weren’t necessarily tied to the ill effects of the pandemic.
She wants the message to recipients to be “please look at the neediest people in your community, I know that you can do a water tower, you can do a roundabout and you probably need those, but that’s not what this is for.”
Rogers said he didn’t introduce this proposal as a program to help the homeless per se, and he wants to give the jurisdictions autonomy to some degree, but he does want guardrails.
“I’m trying to be prudent, but if they took this money one of these entities and just wanted to slip it into their budget for normal operations, for want of a better word, I’d be upset,” Rogers said. “And nobody wants me to be upset.”
Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said until he knows the parameters of the program, he can’t comment.
County Administrator Judi Boyko notified the jurisdictions on Monday they would be receiving money and gave them a general idea what it can be used for. Dixon said she is working on more specific criteria for the grant.
Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott said he and his staff are working on some ideas.
“The expenditure of these funds must fall under ARPA requirements and also meet the county’s additional restriction that it be used for “disparate populations within the respective community and to mitigate the needs of the underserved,’” Elliott wrote to the Journal-News. “The city is pleased that the Butler County commissioners recognize the needs of the underserved in the county.”
Ross Twp. Trustee Keith Ballauer said there isn’t a large homeless population in the township but the money is appreciated.
“There is always a way we can try to assist somebody with the uses of that money,” he said. “$150,000 is a nice chunk, it’s not a million, but I’m sure we can use it in a manner to help somebody less fortunate. With the thought and input of my peers I think we can come up with some good ideas.”