Middletown leaders list many ways to spend nearly $19M in ARPA funds

Vice Mayor Nenni believes the “path forward in Middletown is bright and full of promise.’

With millions in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to spend, Middletown leaders are taking their time determining the most effective places to invest the once-in-a-generation money.

On Saturday, before more than 50 city staff and Middletown residents, City Council held a work session at Central Connections. While no final decisions were made, it became clear where some of the council members wanted the nearly $19 million earmarked.

Eventually, after more discussion with city staff, legislation will be written, then voted on by council. No timetable for that vote has been announced. City Manager Paul Lolli said Middletown has received $18.9 million in ARPA funds that must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

After last week’s City Council meeting, Lolli said he hoped council gave him “direction” where it wanted to focus the majority of the funds, including economic development, neighborhood revitalization and social services.

All of those topics, and more, were discussed during a five-hour work session.

ExploreCity manager hopes council gives Middletown ‘direction’ where to spend millions in pandemic relief funds

Several council members were contacted on Monday by this news agency to discuss the work session.

Vice Mayor Monica Nenni called the session “a productive conversation” and she hopes council can create ways to “improve Middletown for all its citizens in all parts of town.”

She believes the “path forward in Middletown is bright and full of promise. That’s exciting to say about Middletown.”

Council member Zack Ferrell said it’s important to invest in infrastructure that will create jobs, but also financially support “assets in the city” like the Sorg Opera House, the Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center and Light Up Middletown, a holiday drive-through lights display at Smith Park.

“We want to make Middletown a destination, not a flyover city,” he told the Journal-News. “We want non residents as well as residents spending their money here. We’re fixing our city from the inside out. Now it’s time to change the public’s perception of what Middletown is.”

Council member Rodney Muterspaw said council needs to carefully budget the ARPA funds to correct some of the mistakes from previous city leaders.

“We have to make the right decisions,” he said. “We got one time to do it right and if we don’t, it will hurt us in the long run.”

Here are some potential uses for the ARPA funds:

  • $3 million: Prepare the city-owned Manchester Inn, Sonshine Building for redevelopment.
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  • $2 million: Earlier this month, during a City Council meeting, Jon Graft, superintendent of Butler Tech, asked to land a $2 million commitment of ARPA funds from the city to build a $13 million aviation education hangar at Middletown Regional Airport. It appears City Council is considering investing $500,00 into the project.
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  • $1.25 million: Economic development to use for small business grants and site preparation.
  • $800,000: Neighborhood revitalization. “Our city has decaying neighborhoods,” Muterspaw said. “Those places have been ignored.”
  • $500,000: Investing in an event center located in the East End, near Atrium Medical Center. This was the project originally slated for the Towne Mall Galleria before city staff determined the price tag was too high.
  • $265,000: Sorg Opera House to pay off $165,000 mortgage and make roof repairs.
  • $200,000: Social service organizations in Middletown.
  • $100,000: Parks and recreation to host community events.

At times, the discussions regarding an aquatic center in the city became “spirited,” according to several members of council.

Muterspaw said an aquatic center is needed to keep Middletown residents from going to other neighboring water parks in Oxford and Miamisburg and Kings Island. He said the city needs an affordable option for residents who can’t afford to join a country club.

Council also discussed possible capital improvements, including a $5 million shortfall to fund the building of four fire stations; $2.9 million to replace the HVAC at the City Building; and $2 million to improve the parks.

The city also may help Holiday Whopla purchase an ice skating rink, though that money won’t come from ARPA or the general fund.

Avinne Kiser, founder of Holiday Whopla, a second-year downtown winter festival, has asked the city for $240,668 to purchase the ice rink in hopes of continuing the holiday event. Without the city’s financial support, the event can’t continue, according to Kiser who said purchasing the rink is cheaper than leasing it for three years.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a Journal-News series tracking how dozens of our area’s largest governments are spending hundreds of millions of dollars combined from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Visit our “Billions in COVID aid: Where it’s going” special section on our partner newspaper’s website at daytondailynews.com to see summaries from other communities.


ARPA MONEY THE CITY HAS EARMARKED

  • Robert “Sonny” Hill Jr. Community Center expansion project: $2.1 million
  • Premium Pay: $1,167,000
  • LED street lighting replacement project: $800,000
  • Police locker room improvements: $430,000

SOURCE: City of Middletown

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