Cities are using their ARPA funds for all sorts of different activities, and using wildly different approaches to make decisions. Both are important: (1) the final decisions, and (2) how a local government reaches them. Binghamton has failed in both areas.
"Laundering" $14 million of the City's recovery funds (almost 30% of the total award) through the general fund so leaders could redirect them to pet political projects (a parking garage and luxury housing project in downtown?!) is insulting to those families, children, workers, seniors, small business owners, and others who still struggle from the public health, economic, and housing crises wrought by COVID-19. It's even more insulting given the City's general fund balance, at the time of this decision, was the healthiest it had been in decades. In fact, the fund balance even increased in 2020. (Read more about this here.)
Worse, two mayors and the GOP-led Council never once hosted a single community meeting on ARPA funds and stubbornly refused to commit to any form of transparency.
We could list 100 examples of local leaders that are certainly outperforming our "leaders" here in Binghamton. After all, Binghamton officials set the bar pretty low. Like, very low.
Still, it's important for city residents to see what good and excellence looks like to better understand how bad Binghamton leaders have failed us in squandering OUR recovery funds and wasting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So here are just a few examples.
Albany implemented an inclusive process to identify priority categories and select funding recipients, prioritized racial equity, and has been fully committed to transparency. Check out their dedicated ARPA webpage, which includes a timeline of activities, a graph of funding priorities and full listing of all recipients, a map of all project sites, and a spending tracker.
Our neighbors just up north are collaborative, innovative, and risk-takers. That's why they have earned state and national recognition for programs related to housing and neighborhood revitalization, all with a focus on equity. So it was no surprise to see Syracuse leadership treat these once-in-a-lifetime funds with respect, care, and thoughtfulness--and engage the community and partners to both shape priorities and implement programs. Check out their website here, which is chock full of information and resources.
Troy's current mayor previously served 30 years as executive director of a local community development corporation, and his commitment to inclusion, equity, innovation, and transparency demonstrate a keen understanding of how transformational these recovery funds can be if invested strategically. Troy has an entire website dedicated to its use of ARPA funds, with a listing of all projects, an archive of the robust community engagement sessions across the city, a schedule of spending, and an FAQ page.
Morgantown is a "college town" with a population of about 30,000 and a high number of of households below the federal poverty line. Sound familiar? Their approach to ARPA funds couldn't be any more different, though. An extensive community engagement process. A comprehensive website to achieve transparency. And investments in neighborhoods and people, including almost 8% of its ARPA award to enhance clinic access to homeless and low-income populations. For Binghamton, 8% woud equal $3,680,000.
Toledo is a larger city than Binghamton, but has many similar challenges with neighborhood disinvestment, population loss, and high levels of poverty. Toledo leadership is making significant commitments to safe and livable neighborhoods; green, healthy housing; and youth, recreation and parks. Their ARPA website includes reports, progress updates, spending allocations, and everything a citizen needs to shape spending priorities, access funding opportunities, and hold leaders accountable.
There is no shortage of 'good to incredible' examples of local governments engaging and collaborating with residents--particularly those most impacted--to help define ARPA spending priorities. Here is a great article from the National League of Cities that summarizes some of the innovative and meaningful ways mayors and councils across the country carried out an inclusive planning process for ARPA funds.
Here in Binghamton, advocates for an inclusive, open process were insulted, bullied, and altogether ignored by our elected officials.