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Superior council OKs spending plan for ARPA funds

Councilors amended the budget to fund child care and set money aside for other ideas.

Government Center in Superior.jpg
Government Center in Superior. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
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SUPERIOR — City officials have a plan for how they will spend most of the $17 million in state and local federal recovery funds allocated to Superior through the American Rescue Plan Act.

After amending the budget to include $200,000 in funding for child care and reducing the $4 million allocated for historic rehabilitation to leave $500,000 unallocated for now, the city council voted 8-2 Tuesday, Feb. 1, in favor of adopting the plan. Councilors Keith Kern and Brent Fennessey, both of whom wanted more time to consider the budget, voted against it.

The budget also includes:

  • $5 million for Connect Superior, the city’s broadband initiative.
  • $2 million for police vehicles, body and squad cameras, and stun guns.
  • $432,000 for a fire department rapid response vehicle, radio equipment, and medical and personal protective equipment.
  • $2.35 million for Woodstock Bay, park improvements and the city’s tree fund.
  • $1.25 million for nonprofit grants.
  • $500,000 to address homelessness.
  • $550,000 for the neighborhood improvement program.
  • $100,000 for mental health services.

Slightly more than $100,000 will be used to offset the city’s expenses in administering the federal recovery dollars.
All of the spending proposals coincide with specific projects, Mayor Jim Paine said.

Councilor Jenny Van Sickle proposed reducing funding for the neighborhood improvement program to allocate it to expand child care options in the city. Funding would help fill the gaps — whether through grants or forgivable loans — to help open or expand child care facilities.

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Van Sickle said she hopes some of those options would include additional care for infants and hours outside of the traditional work day.

“All or our kids went through child care,” Fennessey said. “My family owns a couple child care centers in Superior.”

The Superior Housing Authority's eviction of long-time residents and child care providers doesn't sit well with families affected.

However, he said he wanted to be sure the city wasn’t duplicating efforts when the city’s small business grant program helped with safety upgrades for a child care center in 2020 and the state increased resources for child care and child care workers.

“This will create nothing more than a set-aside amount called child care,” Paine said.

It will be up to the council to determine how the money is spent when it goes through its policy development process.

The council voted unanimously by voice vote to amend the budget.

A question of priorities

After looking at the budget for a few weeks, Fennessey said he felt officials needed to shift some of the funding around. While almost 30% of the budget is designated for broadband, only 1% is designated for mental health and 3% is designated for homelessness.

“I think our priorities are atypical of a city that wants to come out stronger through this pandemic … I think our priorities are misaligned,” he said.

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Fennessey proposed a series of amendments to the spending plan, including funding $2 million for maintenance and expansion of city-owned facilities, increasing funding for mental health services by $1 million, increasing funding for homelessness by $500,000, allocating $250,000 for city cameras in parks and on Wisconsin Point, and allocating $500,000 for scholarships for graduating high school students.

The size and scope of homelessness in the city, particularly the encampment underneath the Belknap Street viaduct, has shifted this year.

“I think the Superior school system has probably the most robust scholarship program in the state of Wisconsin,” said Councilor Jack Sweeney.

While he and Councilor Robert Pierce favored the maintenance proposal for city facilities, they joined other councilors in defeating the proposed amendments.

None of the proposals, all of which would have taken money from Connect Superior, gained traction with the council. They were all defeated, as was a motion by Sweeney to refer the budget to the Feb. 15 meeting.

Kern voted for all of Fennessey’s proposed amendments.

Councilor Nicholas Ledin proposed reducing funding for historic rehabilitation by $500,000 to set aside as unallocated.

The unallocated funds would allow the city to address other ideas, Council President Tylor Elm said.

All 10 councilors voted in favor of leaving $500,000 uncommitted. Paine said the council has to designate how that money will be spent by 2024 and spend the dollars by 2026.

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“It feels like a long time, but it isn’t. While you can take a breather from this, I would encourage you, especially the projects that we discussed … that didn’t make it into this, please reach out and formulate the unallocated money," he said. "I don’t think we should just let this sit for a great deal of time.”

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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