BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — The City of Binghamton will receive $46.2 million from the American Rescue Plan toward a range of causes. Democratic city council members hosted a virtual town hall on Thursday to hear residents’ ideas.
$46.2 million is equivalent to nearly half of the city’s annual budget. The city will receive half the funds this year. The remaining half will be allocated in 2022.
The U.S. Treasury’s set broad parameters for the relief aid. Money can go to fund public health services, provide premium pay for essential workers, and give direct assistance to families and groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
During the town hall, Sulaiminah Burns said the money should be used to address poverty from different angles.
“I think it’s important for the money to be for all the different points that address human needs,” Burns said. “We need somewhere to live, we need to be able to eat, we need clean water to survive.”
The money can also be used for educational inequality, health disparities and invest in housing provided that the money is distributed to families in qualified census tracts or other populations and geographic areas disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,
Roughly 50 residents joined the town hall, as well as some people who Zoom-bombed the meeting. They disrupted the discussion with noise and displayed obscene photos.
The interruptions, however, did not deter residents from sharing their hopes for the economic recovery pool. Democratic council members Aviva Friedman, Angela Riley and Joe Burns, who is running for mayor, polled residents on what they want to see the money used for most.
Among the most common answers were more affordable and safe housing, youth programs, and direct assistance to workers and families.
Valdi Wiederpass, of nearby Endicott, called in to share ideas he thinks could benefit the greater Binghamton area. He suggested funding for more quality and affordable childcare for people with shifting work schedules, and improvements to public transportation, like bus shelters.
“With some lighting at night, maybe it’s solar-powered, so that you feel safer,” Wiederpass said. “You’re at least shielded from the wind and the rain and the snow, that could make a big difference.”
Binghamton Mayor Rich David did not attend the town hall, but told WSKG last week he will prioritize the city’s budget. The mayor said the city lost $3 to $5 million in revenue because of the pandemic.
“The first and foremost thing off the top is we need to make ourselves whole,” David said.
In a statement Thursday, David announced he intended to use another $5.3 million from the fund to upgrade the city’s water filtration plant.
“By making these much needed investments now utilizing federal grant funds, ratepayers won’t have to pay for these costly fixes down the road through increases in their water bill,” David said.
Combined, that leaves roughly $13 million of this year’s allocation to use for other projects.
According to Deputy Mayor Jared Kraham, who is running for mayor on the Republican line, budget items will need to be approved by the city council in a process similar to how the city distributed funds from the CARES Act.