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

Middletown City Council to hold special work session Saturday at Central Connections.

MIDDLETOWN — While no checks will be written Saturday, City Council is expected to discuss ways to invest millions of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars during a special work session.

City Manager Paul Lolli, hired in March after Jim Palenick, the former city manager, signed a separation agreement with the city, said leaders have taken their time to determine the best options to spend these once-in-a-generation federal dollars that are intended to help communities rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.

He 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.

Lolli said he hopes City Council gives him “direction” where it wants to focus the majority of the funds, including economic development, neighborhood revitalization and social services.

The special work session is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Central Connections, 3907 Central Ave. The session, open to the public, will be recorded and shown later, according to Lolli. Since it’s a work session and not a council meeting, citizen comments will not be allowed.

Besides discussing ARPA funds, Lolli plans to address possible capital improvements, including city parks, City Building improvements and constructing the four fire stations.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Vice Mayor Monica Nenni said council has some “really difficult decisions to make” regarding distribution of ARPA funds.

“We want the things for our community as much as you do,” she said.

Council member Tal Moon called the ARPA fuds “an incredible opportunity” that also includes “a lot of pressure” since ARPA funds are available only once.

Several organizations have made pitches to City Council recently seeking APA dollars, including two groups Tuesday night.

During citizen comments, Larry Mulligan, a board member of the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group, said the organization’s next phase of renovations include roof repairs and waterproofing for the commercial building, fire escape repairs for the upper balcony to increase event capacity, and façade improvements and white boxing storefronts within the commercial building.

He said spending a portion of the ARPA funds on this project would provide an “economic catalyst” as concert goers patronize local restaurants and businesses.

Mayor Nicole Condrey, who has met with Sorg officials, said the group needs $165,000 by June to pay off the building. That doesn’t include funds, totaling $275,000, for the storefront and roof repairs. She said Sorg has secured $70,000 so it needs $370,000 more in funding.

Avinne Kiser, founder of Holiday Whopla, a second-year downtown winter festival, 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.

“We are on the cusp of greatness,” Kiser told council.

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.

The proposal is for a 25,000-square-foot facility that includes a 10,000-square-foot hangar large enough for classes, labs and community space, according to Graft.

A change in city leadership also has caused Middletown to delay earmarking some of its ARPA funds.

In November 2021, when Palenick was city manager, City Council approved programs that were expected to benefit from the ARPA money. At the time, the largest ticket item was $7.5 million earmarked for the renovation of the Great Miami River riverfront property and parts of downtown called Hollywoodland.

But that project died.

The city has spent or encumbered about $3.83 million in ARPA funds on LED street lights, premium pay for city employees, the Robert “Sonny” Hill Community Center expansion project and renovations of the Middletown Division of Police locker rooms, Lolli has said.

Some of the suggestions from Lolli and city staff have included $4 million to replace the HVAC system, the windows and column repairs in the City Building; $3.75 million for the Towne Mall Galleria redevelopment; $3 million in the fire station gap funding; $2.6 million in water capital projects; $250,000 to install Wi-Fi in Smith and Lefferson parks; and an undisclosed funding for Butler Tech Aviation at Middletown Regional Airport.

But since then, the city has pulled its proposal to purchase the Towne Mall property and now plans a similar project near Atrium Medical Center.


ARPA MONEY THE CITY HAS EARMARKED

  • 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

About the Author