FOIA Request Shows Government Takes Care of Itself First With American Rescue Plan Funding Disbursements

Posted In: News, Investigative Reporting, Local,   From Issue 936   By: Robert E Martin

06th October, 2022     0

With The City of Saginaw receiving $52 million of the $350 billion-dollars of federal funding allocated nationally from the American Rescue Plan Act legislation, city government is currently in the process of determining how that money should be spent.

For over a year now, public outreach has been conducted through informational meetings and an advisory committee formed upon how this money should be spent, however within that time the City of Saginaw has determined that $26 million needs to be allocated for ‘lost revenue’, with little transparency as to how that number was reached or what those dollars will be used for.

The U.S. Treasury Department has limited the use of ARPA funds to the following areas:

* To respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, entertainment, and hospitality

* To respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers

* For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID–19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency

• To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure

The city has until December 31, 2024, to obligate the funds and December 31, 2026, to spend the funds.

At an August 29th City Council meeting, where discussions of funding recommendations were considered, a grass-roots citizens group called  Saginaw Community Alliance for the People expressed concerns that the Public Consulting firm Guidehouse Strategies, which was hired to assist the city with handling ARPA allocations did not empower the ARPA Planning Commission with either the resources or purview to deeply conduct community outreach or fully develop a process for digging through proposals.

Recently, The REVIEW filed a Freedom of Information Act request to City Manager Tim Morales requesting a specific breakdown on the $26.4 million dollars that city government is reserving from the $52 million stimulus funding to counter alleged budget losses.   Purportedly $12.7 million is being used to balance estimated pandemic-related revenue losses the city faced in 2020 and 2021, along with another $12.30 million for projected losses in 2023.

Consequently, our request asked for specific breakdowns of the exact amounts that comprise these actual losses for each of the years in question, so we can actually determine where this money is in fact going.  What specific projects, services, and departments is this money being allocated to?  What are the exact amounts of money going into police protection, fire & emergency and medical services, road repairs, public infrastructure, administrative expenses, land use, and parks and recreation programs and what are they being allocated to within each department?

Subsequently, The REVIEW received the following reply, which partly granted and partly denied our request:

“Consistent with U.S. Department Treasury guidance, the City of Saginaw has performed revenue replacement calculations, which indicate a City revenue loss of $6,126,945 for Fiscal Year 2020 and $6,578,857 for Fiscal Year 2021 based upon the comparison of the base Fiscal Year 2019.”

“Fiscal Year 2022 and Fiscal Year 2023 will be further evaluated and a calculation performed. The four year total revenue loss is currently estimated at $25,000,000. A copy of the cost revenue calculations is attached.”

“The City of Saginaw has not determined the exact amounts that will be allocated from the $25 million to police protection, fire and emergency medical services, road repairs, public infrastructure, administrative expenses, land use, and parks and recreations programs. Therefore, that portion of your request is denied.”

“A copy of a Quarterly Analysis Report is attached which provides a breakdown of all expenses allocated thus far from the $25 million.”

 

The response is rather telling.  Apparently the top priority of this first withdrawal from the $26 million reserved expenditure fund is for government to take care of itself, as it shows Guidehouse Consulting receiving $24,666.90 in the 1st Quarter and. $98.326.83 in the 2nd Quarter for a total expenditure thus far of $122,993.73. Next on the list is Public Sector Consultants receiving $4,419.33, followed by the City of Saginaw withdrawing $892,524.42 for Hazard Pay, making for a total expenditure thus far of $1,029.937.

Regarding the other $26 million that is currently being deliberated, the ARPA Advisory Committee released the following funding recommendations: Community Centers, Childcare, and Youth Development •  $10,000,000; Grocery Store Capital Investment •  $2,000,000; Housing Revitalization •  $4,000,000; Foster, Transition, and Elder Care •  $2,000,000; Saginaw Behavioral Health Clinic •  $5,000,000; Parks •  $1,500,000; Arts & Culture •  $1,000,000; Neighborhood Associations •  $1,600,000; Fairgrounds •  $1,275,000.

Ironically, and quite sadly, rather than use the money allocated for the Fairgrounds to clean it up and restore its historical grandstand & bricked gateway entrance so it can be properly marketed as a new focal point and attraction, the City Council has approved a plan to use the money to demolish it instead.

Just before our press deadline, City Council also approved funding expenditures of ARPA Funds for the following items at a Single Subject Special meeting: $5 million to address blighted commercial & residential structures; $3.8 million to improve residential properties on owner-occupied dwellings; $2 million to address Saginaw’s lack of grocery stores via rehabilitation of an existing publicly owned vacant or blighted structure and to seek a feasibility study for a food Co-Op as the first step; and $800,000 for Environmental Investigation, Cleanup & Blight Remediation and all needed equipment for these activities through Dec. 31, 2026.

Regarding the ‘Hazard Pay’, as anybody who received their Summer Property Tax bill from the City & County of Saginaw is well aware, many of the items and services we’ve been invoiced and assessed for during the years of the Pandemic and Lockdowns, such as the closure of our parks, the suspension of yard waste collection for six weeks in the Spring of 2020, and the fact our court system essentially stopped functioning and developed five months of civil and criminal legal backlogs, leads to one obvious question:  Seeing as taxpayers have been assessed and paid for these services, will we be seeing any proportional tax credits from city and county municipalities for those services we were assessed and paid for but did not receive?

Essential employees were paid during the pandemic and if laid off were also eligible to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.  Given that states and municipalities were issued $150 billion dollars from the Federal government for relief through the COVID crisis, it would appear that property tax rebates & taxpayer credits should be forthcoming, considering this massive reimbursement municipalities are already getting from the Feds.

Otherwise, isn’t this an obvious case of ‘double-dipping’?

How this money is to be spent tells us much about our community and the machine that runs it.  Should it be spent on infrastructure?  Should it be spent on proposed new turnstiles on Ojibway Island to regulate the amount of traffic going through the park?   Should it be used to return services such as leaf-pick-up that were eliminated years ago? 

Now is the time to make your voices heard.

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