County’s municipalities lay out different strategies for federal aid

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig gestures to the millrace running through Neahwa Park that he hopes to use ARPA funds to connect to the Susquehanna Green Way trail. (Kevin Limiti/AllOtsego.com)

County’s municipalities lay out different strategies for federal aid

By Kevin Limiti

How Otsego County municipalities use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) varies as widely as the towns and villages themselves.

President Joe Biden signed the law in March 2021, giving federal relief dollars to state and local governments for COVID recovery

For the City of Oneonta, this means spending the federal dollars on renovating Neahwa Park. But for Cooperstown, it simply means covering only 10 percent of revenue lost mostly to a drop in pandemic travel.

Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh told The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta that the federal money wasn’t necessarily a bonus for them.

“It barely made up 10 percent of the lost revenue,” Mayor Tillapaugh said. “Kudos to anybody who got a windfall. They were made whole. We weren’t made whole.”

Mayor Tillapaugh said since ARPA is based on population and not lost revenue, the amount of money ARPA gave Cooperstown barely made a difference. She estimates losses during COVID were $800,000. Cooperstown plans on putting the ARPA Funds, a little less than $180,000, towards finishing the renovation of Doubleday Field, which began in early 2020.

ARPA funds disperse in two installments; half in the summer 2021 and the other half in summer 2022.

Pittsfield Town Supervisor Shelby Wing said her town was in a similar position as Cooperstown. She said the town lost a “substantial” amount of revenue between 2019 and 2020, which she says exceeded the $132,000 ARPA earmarked for Pittsfield.

“Pittsfield will be utilizing the funds for purchases or projects that were not able to be completed in 2020 as we did not have the revenue as compared to that in 2019,” the supervisor said.

In contrast to the Cooperstown and Pittsfield predicaments, Oneonta has more leeway on spending the federal relief money.

Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig took The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta on a tour of Neawha Park in November, showing how the City plans to use its $1.4 million in ARPA funds.

Mayor Herzig said he understood the importance of having outdoor activities since the pandemic first struck, which is why he allocated the money to local parks.

“Every community is doing something different with (the ARPA Funds), but the intent is to provide something for the people as they overcome the effects of COVID,” Mayor Herzig said. “It is important to have access to free, healthy outdoor activities. The parks were one of the only safe places people could come, socialize, and exercise. We thought that was an appropriate use of ARPA funds.”

One of the mayor’s passion projects would build a pathway around the millrace that runs through Neahwa Park, eventually connecting it to the Susquehanna Green Way Trail.

“That has always been a dream,” Mayor Herzig said. It could take a long time to complete because of the project expense, but Oneonta plans to use a combination of ARPA funds and grants in order to make the dream a reality.

“Having natural assets like a river is a wonderful thing,” he said. “People should be able to see it and enjoy it.”

The Future for Oneonta Foundation pledged $50,000 for the trail. Mayor Herzig said the plan is for the ARPA funds to pay the balance.

Other uses include renovating the park’s basketball court, which Herzig called an “embarrassment,” as well as its skate park.

Oneonta upgraded the electric infrastructure in the park with ARPA money in order to accommodate the Festival of Lights, taking place between December 18 and January 3.

“Having greater capabilities to do things like the Festival of Lights in the park requires electricity,” Mayor Herzig said, pointing out where workers had started digging trenches and installing poles with outlets.

Future usage for ARPA funds at the park include playground improvements and building a permanent amphitheater, which Mayor Herzig hopes to name after famous Oneonta-born outlaw country singer Jerry Jeff Walker.

Mayor Herzig also wants to construct a pump track — a series of loops and banked turns for biking — so “young people can practice and learn mountain biking.” Volunteers and donations will fund the project.

Otsego County received a total of $11.4 million in direct aid. The Otsego County Board of Representatives created a county-wide ambulance service with the funds and intends to look at how to spend the rest of the funds in January 2022.

Here’s how other towns in Otsego County used or plan to use their ARPA funds:

• The Town of Cherry Valley acquired close to $68,000. Town Supervisor Tom Garretson said he hopes to put the ARPA funds toward the town’s museum and library, each receiving about $12,000, as well as other non-profits in the town.

• The Town of Maryland received more than $185,000 and, through a combination of ARPA funds and grants, wants to replace two bridges that are more than 100 years old. Town supervisor Ron Wheeler said the town wants to repair or replace the pavilion in Borst Field Park and repair sidewalks.

• The Town of Morris has not yet allocated its $123,000 ARPA allotment.

• The Town of Oneonta received $500,000. Town Supervisor Bob Wood said he is looking at technology improvements such as video conferencing and radio communications for the highway department, and also considering improvements to Fortin and Hemstreet parks.

• The town of Otego, which required a FOIL request for access to their ARPA fund usage, has more than $100,000 with no current plans on how to use the money.

• Westford is using its federal relief funds to create a storm mitigation system with the intent of building a salt containment bunker or shed.


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