The Butler County commissioners agreed to award another $16 million from their $74.4 million allotment of federal pandemic relief funds for various projects in two cities, townships, non-profits and parks.
The county has already doled out $52.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds and agreed on — but not yet formally approved — $16 million more in city and township infrastructure projects, parks, a community center and a non-profits package on Monday.
The largest award is $5 million for paving of county and township roads in 2024, the award mirrors the project they already approved for next year. They also plan to give the cities of Fairfield and Hamilton $3 million each to help with Ohio 4 redevelopment and an elevated water storage tank respectively.
They gave Hamilton their full request, Fairfield was looking for $5 million. The city of Middletown also received a $3 million infrastructure grant to raze the old Middletown Paperboard site in the first round of funding.
Edwin Porter, executive director for infrastructure in Hamilton happened to be in the audience and told the commissioners their contribution will do great things.
“This new water tower is going to improve the service in the enterprise park service area, it’s going to improve the resilience of the system in that area, it’s going to lower the cost of construction in that area,” he said. “As you know there are several hundred undeveloped acres in that area, I wanted to say thank you and all these factors combined will facilitate the creation of new jobs which will benefit Butler County.”
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) 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 of the windfall last year, they invited other governments and entities to pitch projects, the requests totaled in excess of $200 million.
MetroParks of Butler County is also receiving nearly $3 million for two projects — an expansion of the Great Miami River Trail and rural park enhancements. They wanted $4.5 million for the trails and $5 million to create scenic overlooks in nine parks in the rural reaches of the county. The commissioners agreed to $2.5 million for the trail extension and $450,000 for the rural parks.
There is a 3.1 mile gap left in GMRT — they recently received $1.3 million in grants to fill in other holes — and Jackie O’Connell, the new executive director of the park system, said the commissioners’ money won’t quite complete all 96 miles of the trail, but “the ARPA money just helps us get it there a little faster and helps as seed money when we’re looking for grants.”
“This money will go towards the Timberhill to Monroe segment, the last 3.1 mile gap through Lemon and Fairfield townships, $2.5 million isn’t enough to get it done, but we can use that to also help leverage Clean Ohio funding to finish it off,” O’Connell said.
MetroParks has contributed $613,734 toward completing the GMRT corridor.
O’Connell said the money they received for the rural park overlook project isn’t enough to get the job done either, so she plans to use the money at Davidson Woods in Hanover Twp.
“The money that we were granted obviously won’t allow us to do that because infrastructure is expensive,” she said. “What I think we’ll do is concentrate on Davidson Woods and getting access into that property that we’ve had since 2007, because it is by far the most beautiful property that we have and we don’t have access to it so far. It’s not open to the public basically, we’ve got it, we maintain it but there is no parking lot there and there’s no good access.”
The commissioners have also wanted to support requests for community center projects and now have approved $1.5 million for a one-stop social services center and food pantry in Oxford. They gave the same amount for an upgrade of the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Hamilton and Sonny Hill Community Center in Middletown.
“I’m happy we’ll be funding all of the community centers at the same level across the county,” Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said. “That’s very important.”
The commissioners have also agreed to $500,000 to help non profits. They didn’t specify one particular group or project, but Carpenter suggested giving money to the community foundations.
“My concern is sort of who picks and chooses what non-profits the commissioners fund,” she said. “I had made a recommendation that perhaps you take the $500,000 and split between the community foundation organizations in the county, because they do a very good job of vetting projects that directly impact communities.”
County Administrator Judi Boyko said they can further define how that money will be distributed when the resolutions are drafted officially authorizing the awards.
With these allocations the commissioners have roughly $6.3 million — including interest earned — to award.
A major project authorized in the first round of funding was countywide broadband. It is one of the largest endeavors at an estimated $10 million and is just about the only project initially funded that hasn’t been fully finalized with sub-recipient agreements.
The county put out a request for proposals and created a vetting panel to examine the submissions. Boyko said they received three proposals but dismissed one that was “unresponsive” and after a thorough vetting process selected one.
“We feel we have all of the questions answers, we feel we have a pretty good understanding of proposal and what the county will receive in service or in terms of infrastructure based on the $10 million investment,” she said, but she is awaiting the commissioners’ approval to begin negotiating a contract.
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