Frederick’s aldermen have questions about some of Mayor Michael O’Connor’s plans for spending the city’s allocation of money from the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19 relief.
O’Connor submitted a 13-point proposal for the city’s $10.6 million in relief funds last week for the aldermen to consider, covering areas of public health, negative economic impacts, service to disproportionately impacted communities, and water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
The aldermen offered feedback at a workshop Wednesday.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak questioned how some of the projects applied to COVID relief, such as a $250,000 proposal for an expansion of the Frederick Police Department’s crisis car program, which provides a vehicle that combines law enforcement, medical, and mental health assistance to respond to situations with people in crisis that may require a clinical rather than law enforcement approach.
The projects don’t have to be specifically related to COVID, and the crisis car provides a focus on public safety and more effective community policing, Chief Administrative Officer Marc DeOcampo said.
The relief funds may let them run the car more often and ramp the project up faster, O’Connor said.
Kuzemchak also questioned plans to fund design of a 24-hour restroom facility along Carroll Creek, and whether the mayor’s office has looked into retrofitting the restrooms in several of the city’s parking garages instead.
That project isn’t funded through the city’s capital improvement plan budget, and the relief funds offer a chance to make some headway on the design, DeOcampo said. The size and structure of the parking garage restrooms make them unlikely to be able to be retrofit, he said.
“What’s giving me heartburn is, I don’t have a clue about what you’re wanting to do with this,” Kuzemchak said.
Alderman Ben MacShane complained that DeOcampo was being unnecessarily vague in his presentation — and leaving a lot of questions for the aldermen and residents.
In some cases, they have specific plans in mind, but in others they need to know if there’s a general desire from the aldermen to pursue something before they move forward, O’Connor said.
A proposal to spend $150,000 on business recovery counseling for small, minority or women-owned businesses also drew criticism from several aldermen.
MacShane said he’d rather see the money put toward direct investment and grants for such businesses rather than simply offering counseling.
That proposal is still in the formative stage, and the city’s economic development department hasn’t created a specific plan, O’Connor said.
Alderman Derek Shackelford called the plan condescending, and said it suggested that Economic Development doesn’t have a grasp of what’s going on with the issue.
He agreed with MacShane that he’d like to see access to capital and other resources available rather than counseling.
Shackelford said that he was happy to see a proposal for stormwater management resiliency projects at several spots around the city included in the proposals.
O’Conn or said that they could have easily justified putting the entire $10.6 million into stormwater and sewer projects, but they wanted to spread the money around to as many areas as possible.
He acknowledged the proposals wouldn’t please everyone, and welcomed the aldermen’s feedback.
“It’s not perfect. This was me working with my staff,” he said.