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Council reviews suggestions for remaining pandemic relief funds
One community suggestion on how to spend the City of Turlock’s remaining federal COVID relief funds is to install lighting in more public areas, including the bike park (Journal file photo). - photo by Journal file photo

The City of Turlock has a little over two years left to decide how to spend federal pandemic relief funds and the City Council continued its discussion earlier this month on exactly where those dollars should go.

The City of Turlock was notified in July 2021 that it would be allocated approximately $15.7 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Unlike CARES Act funding, which was intended for local governments to use to respond in the short-term for COVID-19 response, American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used by the City to assist households, small businesses, nonprofits and industries negatively impacted economically by the pandemic. The City can also use Rescue Plan Act funds to invest in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

The City has already received $7,876,595 of the ARPA funds with the remaining set to arrive in July. The City Council has already obligated more than have of the funds, with the largest amount approved in a split decision at the April 12 Council meeting to spend $4.7 million on subsiding garbage fee increases for the next five years.

The Council also has previously approved spending:

·         $3 million of ARPA funds on the Columbia Pool renovation;

·         $1.1 million for RAD Card, an app program that doubles customers’ spending dollars at local businesses;

·         $481,338 for creating a business development and assistance program;

·         $450,000 for budget augmentations to unfreeze positions in public safety and fund firefighter overtime; and

·         $50,000 for improving broadband infrastructure.

Council members held meetings seeking public input on how to spend the remaining funds.

The first meeting was held at the Westside Ministries office on Columbia Street in late January. Attendees of that meeting offered up ideas from expanding high-speed internet, to increasing bus transportation for school kids to creating a program through a local credit union to leverage ARPA funds for car loans, especially for individuals who wouldn’t qualify for low-interest traditional loans.

Councilmember Andrew Nosrati gave an overview of the suggestions made by community members during public meetings and other feedback he received:

— Investments into improving the safety and accessibility of our public spaces. Suggested ideas of adding bollards to the economic cores, specifically looking at downtown to increase pedestrian access spaces.

“This is something that has been advocated by residents, consumers of our downtown, as well as the downtown property owners. It’s what we did during COVID and was a hit and to replicate that in a more efficient, cost-effective manner seems to make a lot of sense in a lot of ways,” said Nosrati.

— More lighting. “They talked about a specific effort with the bike park, but also in a broader sense, all of parks and all of our public spaces,” he said.

— Expanding the activities and accessibility of the parks that we have.

“There are conservations related to adding public walking paths, sculpture gardens, athletic equipment, expanding the existing bike parks and amphitheaters,” said Nosrati.

— Support for funding to stimulate our community and economic development.

“People want places and spaces where the community can come together for events that bring this town together,” said Nosrati.

According to Nosrati, there were suggestions to make Turlock “the most business-friendly community in the state.”

— Explore county island annexation. If the City annexed county islands, funds could be used to update those area’s base infrastructure needs.

— Housing.

“Broad support for policy changes and general plan changes that could spur more affordable housing development,” said Nosrati.

— Concern of splitting up ARPA funds into many small efforts “that would result in nothing substantial.”

Councilmember Nicole Larson suggested creating a sidewalk grant program.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we go out to people’s houses and to the sidewalks outside of their houses and we tell them that they have to fix that sidewalk on their own dime and we have no way to help them with it,” said Larson.

Mayor Amy Bublak made the case to shore up the City’s cyber security.

“We’ve got to make sure that our ability to safely keep information is addressed. As we progress, we have all of our residents’ information and everyone is getting hacked everywhere. So, if we can utilize this money to make us stronger so we aren’t going to get attacked, I think it would be extremely beneficial,” said Bublak.

The Council did not vote on any spending suggestions this month and is expected to consider specific funding proposals over the next few meetings.

— Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.