As seen in the Standard Times on March 26, 2022.
NEW BEDFORD — The City Council approved almost $65 million in American Rescue Plan Act money in an 8-3 vote after a spirited debate Thursday night.
“Two years ago, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic,” said Councilor-at-large Shane Burgo, who voted to approve the allocations. “On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan.
“Long before anyone contracted COVID, our residents in New Bedford needed rescuing,” he continued. “We need to get this moving.”
The vote came after months of wrangling between the council and Mayor Jon Mitchell over the spending plan.
City council opposition
Debate began when Councilor-at-large Linda Morad voiced her opposition to the allocation plan, saying she was concerned over who money would go to.
“I’m very saddened and disappointed,” she said. “We worked together for many months as a group to try to come to a compromise as to how to move forward with the significant amount of money that is coming into the city.
“With the vote tonight, we are going to hand to a few special interest groups, many who are non-taxpaying organizations, moneys that will further their organizations,” she continued. “All this under the guise of economic development in the city.”
She also voiced concerns as to the mayor’s executive power, a sticking point over the last several months as both branches of government negotiated over the plan.
“I fully admit that I did not meet with the administration,” she said, referring to the allocation negotiations. “Why would I waste my time? As he has done throughout his entire term, Jon Mitchell may appear to be listening, but he does not accept suggestions.
“He does simply what he pleases,” Morad added. “There’s no checks and balances in this administration because it is well-known that several of us will always vote with the administration.”
Ward 5 Councilor Scott Lima voiced concerns that the barriers for applying for the money may be too high.
“What I am concerned about is having a floor that is so high that it will become a barrier,” he said.
Several members of the city council, including Councilor Naomi Carney, also said they are concerned about where disbursements will go and plan on monitoring distribution going forward.
“This is New Bedford’s money, it should be spent on the citizens of New Bedford,” Carney said. “I’m just hoping that this council pays attention to how this money is spent.”
“It isn’t over with this vote tonight on the council,” said Ward 1 Councilor William Brad Markey.
As it stands, the funds will be allocated as follows:
- Health/Safety and Well Being – $7,153,560
- Neighborhood Stabilization and Housing – $11,127,760
- Small Business Support – $7,153,560
- Enhancements to Open Spaces – $8,743,240
- Waste, Wastewater, and Stormwater Projects – $4,769,040
- Arts, Culture, Hospitality and Tourism – $11,922,600
- Matching Funds for Strategic Investments – $11,127,760
- Revenue Replacement – $953,808
- Administration – $1,192,260
Funding for ‘Public Safety’
In addition, there is an allocation of about $3 million — suggested by Mitchell and agreed to by the council — for “Public Safety,” a category not delineated in Federal guidelines for the money, which had some on the council concerned.
“It wasn’t very clear what was meant by ‘Public Safety,'” Burgo said. “Unfortunately, the Federal Government is not being very specific in terms of what we can spend this money on.
“That category that was added did not have any specified reason,” he continued. “If in 2026, the Federal Government says, ‘no, you can’t do that;’ we would be on the hook for that money.”
Burgo also expressed concerns about what the council considers public safety spending.
“I believe when we on this body say ‘public safety,’ we really only mean the police,” he said. “When we’re thinking about public safety, we need to be thinking about neighborhood stabilization. We need to be thinking about health, safety, well being — there are categories for that.”
Councilor Brian Gomes took issue with Burgo’s comments on public safety.
“When I heard about American Rescue Plan moneys, I thought it was coming to rescue those that had hurt the most,” Gomes said, adding that he’d “take the hit” for the $3 million Public Safety allocation. “If anybody comes up to me, or has discussion with me, or listens to me, talks to me, I’m not talking about just our Police Department. I’m talking about the Fire Department, I’ve talked about our EMS Department…They were hit the hardest.
“Are they going to see anything?” he continued, adding that he would vote against passage. “Remember that proposal you got? Read it.”
Council President Ian Abreu, as well as councilors Derek Baptiste, Ryan Pereira, Hugh Dunn, Maria Giesta, Burgo, Markey, and Lima, approved the allocations.
Councilors Gomes, Carney, and Morad voted against.