The city of Mishawaka received just under $12 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The city council heard public comment Monday evening on how that money should be spent.
Mishawaka Mayor Dave Wood proposed dedicating at least half of the city’s funding to critical infrastructure.
He said the city has spent $200 million to date on sewer work, and is “99.5 percent” of the way to complying with the EPA’s consent decree for its wastewater treatment process.
“But to get to that final 0.5 percent, the city’s going to have to spend – according to the consent decree – another $160 million,” Wood said. “Most of that work, if not all of it, is not currently built into our rate structure.”
Wood said using the majority of the federal funding for sewer improvements will keep the city from raising utility rates in the coming years.
Wood also proposed spending $1 million each on revenue replacement, council projects, travel and tourism investments and premium pay for city employees. He said that pay would be tiered based on the level of risk city employees took on during the pandemic.
Wood also mentioned spending some portion of the Rescue Plan funding on mental health services, and dedicating at least $1.5 million to future projects.
“Maybe there are opportunities such as creating city departments that deal with public health or impacts from COVID,” he said. “These undesignated funds might give us an ability to deal with issues that might come up that we don’t yet know about.”
Council President Gregg Hixenbaugh said he expects “a fair amount” of council agreement on the mayor’s framework, particularly the premium pay and infrastructure investment.
Other speakers included representatives from the United Way and Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County and the local Head Start program. They asked for assistance on a $10 million facility similar that would provide childcare, youth mental health services and support services for families.
“I think you have a tremendous opportunity to lift our community up and say to those that we serve – particularly those below the poverty line – that we see you, we care about you and that you are important to us,” Boys and Girls Club CEO Jacqueline Kronk said.
The organizations also asked for council assistance in finding a location for the center – either land they could construct a new facility on or a building they could retrofit to their purposes.
The Youth Services Bureau of St. Joseph County also asked for assistance in building a new facility – the YSB Center for Youth Success.
“Our work currently happens out of three aging residential buildings, some nearly 100 years old,” Development Director Christina McGovern said. “In response, YSB is planning a new 22,000 square-foot facility that will house all YSB programs in one efficient space.”
McGovern said the center will house teens and young adults who are struggling with or at risk of homelessness. She said YSB has secured 15 acres of donated land near McKinley Avenue and Hickory Road, as well as $3.8 million of the project’s estimated $6 million cost.
With or without Rescue Plan funding, McGovern said YSB plans to break ground on the new center by next spring.
Council President Gregg Hixenbaugh said public comment and requests from organizations will be factored into a final plan, which will be subject to council approval. But for now, public input is ongoing – Hixenbaugh encouraged residents to send their suggestions to the city clerk, who will share them with the council.
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