Binghamton City Council To Continue ARPA Discussions

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VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — Appropriation of the $46 million in federal stimulus funds provided to the City of Binghamton through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is set to hover over city council meetings next week following months of tension over how to use the funds.

City of Binghamton Mayor Rich David and City Comptroller Chuck Shager address council during a city council worksession last week. (Vaughn Golden/WSKG)

Last week, council moved to hold over several resolutions to next week’s meeting where they may receive a vote.

Among those resolutions is a measure moving around $12 million in ARPA funds to the city’s general fund. Under the federal legislation, ARPA funds can only be used in certain areas, meaning they are restricted. The move to take the $12 million out of those restricted funds is allowed under a provision of the act, allowing municipalities to use a portion of the monies to account for revenue lost amid the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democrats on city council have requested an explanation of the federal formula used to calculate the $12 million of “lost revenue” funds. Representatives from Rochester-based Bonadio Group, consultants hired to oversee that calculation and use of the ARPA funds, will appear at the council’s worksession on Monday.

City council Democrats are also concerned over the process Binghamton has used to allocate the funds. Other cities like Elmira, Syracuse and Utica have undertaken special endeavors to solicit public feedback and broadly lay out various policy areas where the dollars could be spent. To date, Binghamton appears to be allocating the funds on a piece-by-piece basis, through legislation proposed to council from Binghamton Mayor Rich David.

David said he was comfortable with his approach to the spending and contended that the public has had many opportunities to voice how it thinks the funds should be spent.

“You have individuals who show up at city council meetings,” David said. “You have individuals that send emails to individual council members or the administration. We have at many different points highlighted the fact that we received this money. We make every proposal that we want to use this money for public.”

David also said he believes most of the opposition to the process has come from “activists and special interests.”

“It’s my job to make sure that all of the different diverse constituencies in the City of Binghamton have their voices heard and we don’t just simply respond to specific individuals or specific special interest groups that are trying to basically shut out all of the other projects and priorities that the city has,” David said.

To date, Democrats on city council contend that they have not seen an overarching plan from the mayor as to how all $46 million will eventually be spent. Last week, there appeared to be some interest, albeit after money has already been spent, for council to establish guidelines on what policy areas the funding should be allocated towards.

Republican Councilman Giovanni Scaringi signaled that he would get behind such a measure as long as council agreed to it with “unanimity.”

“Could we do that and propose that to the mayor? Yes. Do we have the autonomy and the agency to do that? Without question. We are an independent, co-equal branch of government. That is alright to do that if we choose to do so,” Scaringi told WSKG. “And if there is a genuine want on behalf of my colleagues to do that, I would absolutely support it and do whatever research or help with writing that up in whatever way.”

With several million dollars of the funds already allocated and debate ongoing on the council, it is unclear whether the seven members could forge a compromise.