Lancaster officials plan to spend at least $5 million of the city’s unallocated American Rescue Plan Act money to fund projects lumped into a broad category they are calling “community facilities.”
A request for proposals from those looking for a share of that money is posted on the bid-management website PennBid.net. The deadline to apply is 11 a.m. Jan. 23.
Winning proposals will get money toward capital projects that “support public programs, improve quality of life and public health, create economic opportunity and promote equitable outcomes for residents,” according to the request.
Examples of eligible projects could include, but are not limited to, community health centers, youth centers, libraries, centers for arts and culture, parks and public places, and building or renovating child care, education, health and social service facilities.
Those projects reflect priorities community members expressed when the city sought input on how to spend $39.5 million in ARPA funding the city received in 2021. City officials have until the end of 2024 to decide how it will be spent and until the end of 2026 to spend it.
With much of its ARPA money already earmarked, this latest request for proposals may be the last broad call the city makes for entities looking for ARPA money.
City Council has already designated $10 million in ARPA funds toward affordable housing projects, and it is factoring some ARPA money into the city budget to make up for revenue shortfalls.
The first of three question-and-answer sessions for interested applicants was held Tuesday morning. City chief of staff Jess King moderated the session, which focused largely on the technical aspects of filing a request through PennBid.net.
Still to come are sessions at 1 p.m. Dec. 20 and 4 p.m. Jan. 4. A link and passcode for the sessions are posted on the city’s website.
A representative of a project proposed by the nonprofit South Ann Concerned Neighbors was on the call Tuesday.
Council member Janet Diaz in November proposed an amendment — which failed — that would have tacked on to an affordable housing related-ARPA allocation $500,000 for the South Ann project, the details of which are not publicly available.
Mayor Danene Sorace said the South Ann project was a better candidate for some of the $5 million in community facilities ARPA funds.
Among those who criticized South Ann’s exclusion from the affordable housing money was the Rev. Edward Bailey, senior pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Ongoing tensions surrounding the project were evident during a City Council meeting Monday.
“Can you give me a definition of what exactly you are referring to when you say you’re going to give the funds to community organizations?” said Diaz, who wasn’t looking for a lengthy explanation. “I just want kind of like a clear, simple-cut answer.”
Sorace said she believed the request for proposals was sent to Diaz and that it included the definition of community facilities.
“I understand that,” Diaz said. “But the community. There are people that watch this video that don’t have internet that don’t get the emails that would like that definition. Is it very complicated?”
No, Sorace replied.
“It’s not complicated, Councilor Diaz,” Sorace said. “Would you like to answer that, Councilor Arroyo?”
“The owner of the facilities could be a nonprofit, could be a developer. It doesn’t necessarily define who the owner has to be as long as the community facility actually invests in these noted qualities around public programs, improving quality of life and public health, creating economic opportunity and promoting equitable outcomes for residents,” he said. “So this is geared toward the community facilities, not necessarily who owns it, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
Asked during the meeting what other projects are under consideration for remaining ARPA dollars, Sorace named a couple.
“We are engaging in a project with the School District of Lancaster related to child care. So there’s some potential there,” she said. “But we’re not through that project yet.”
She said there are internal conversations happening about supporting small businesses through marketing and promotion for neighborhoods and downtown.
“But those investments would be in partnership with other funds. So the ARPA dollars that may — may — be requested from council would be only if we are able to get some additional grant dollars to go with them and/or partners to come along,” she said.
With the aforementioned allocations, the city is “getting near the top end” of its ARPA money, she said.