Fairborn library mural sparks debate over use of federal money

Fairborn is spending $15,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds on a new mural for the library, but the mural has been controversial among some residents and business owners.

City Manager Rob Anderson said the city consulted with Fairborn’s finance department, which reviewed the ARPA guidelines and determined that this was an eligible use of the funds.

“The city experienced revenue losses in our general fund due to the pandemic,” Anderson said. “One of the uses of ARPA is to replenish funds that were lost due to COVID. The ARPA rules give more latitude to how these revenue replacement funds can be used because we are essentially replacing general funds that would have been used for this project.”

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The mural will be on the west exterior wall of the library, located in downtown Fairborn. It is meant to look like books sitting on a shelf, according to an artist’s rendering from the city.

Work has already begun on the mural as of last week.

Anderson said the city has been using the $6.8 million they received in ARPA funds for several things, including helping businesses and individuals with rent and mortgage assistance, small business grants and assistance to nonprofits.

“We will continue to identify and help those in need in our city with the additional federal funds,” Anderson said.

City council did not formally vote on the topic. At a city work session in September, council discussed ARPA funds, but the library mural was not specifically mentioned, though the city did discuss their ability to replace lost city revenues due to COVID-19.

Some in Fairborn are opposed to the library mural.

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Karen Combs, a Fairborn resident, said she was alarmed to find the city was using these funds for the mural, and reached out to city council.

“The primary thing is the abuse of the funds, then the way it was handled with no community input,” Combs said.

Combs said she also did not like the way the mural covered up the historic façade.

“All these bricks and things were, a lot of it donated with private money, and they just roll along and slap a coat of paint on it,” Combs said.

Anderson said the project has value.

“I believe once it is done it will be a show piece that people will come far and wide to take a look at,” he said.

James Baker, who owns the Old Mason Jar Tavern and Jimmy B’s Automotive, Motorcycle Detailing and Window Tinting in Fairborn, said he was also upset about the mural. Baker said he didn’t know that Fairborn had these funds until after the city announced the library mural. He said he called the city, but didn’t get a call back.

“If there’s 14 small businesses or something in the city of Fairborn, why not pull us all together and divide it to each person, even if they wanted to help us get the exterior of our buildings looking nicer, you know?” Baker said.

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