City to host town hall meeting Sept. 14 regarding economic recovery funding allocation

Sep. 12—LA GRANDE — The La Grande City Council received more than $3 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and will be holding a work session and virtual town hall on Wednesday, Sept. 14, to discuss where the money would best be spent.

"I have some strong thoughts on where it should go, but I'm really open to see what kind of input we get from people," La Grande Mayor Steve Clements said during a recent council meeting.

Passed in 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act allocated $1.9 trillion for economic stimulus to boost economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing recession. The money must be committed to projects by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. When the funding was first released, there were several restrictions in place on how the money could be spent, severely limiting the types of work to sewer or water projects.

These restrictions have since been relaxed, allowing the city council to consider a wider range of plans for La Grande.

Department proposals

A slew of city officials are set to present at the meeting — each proposing a different use of the funding.

Public Works Director Kyle Carpenter will present on potential street projects. The proposed road repairs include grind and inlay projects. The projected cost of these projects is approximately $2.7 million.

Carpenter will also discuss funding housing infrastructure development and repairs. This $1.5 million project would mean constructing city water and sewer networks to allow for future housing developments.

Police Chief Gary Bell will present about using the funding for a future law enforcement building. The police department estimates that a project this size would need $3 to $5 million in funding, although there is not currently an established plan or timeline for the project.

Fire Chief Emmitt Cornford is set to propose the purchase of a wildland fire engine. With homes built on the south and west boundaries of the city, the fire department is looking to be able to access geographical areas experiencing conflagration more efficiently.

Economic Development Director Timothy Bishop will speak about implementing revitalization activities outlined in the 2017 Main Street Refresh report. The department is requesting $50,000 annually for a three-year implementation and $30,000 for collaborative development activities with La Grande businesses.

Stu Spence, parks and recreation director, will present a proposal for a new recreation center.

Preliminary designs include the construction of two or more gymnasiums, multi-purpose rooms, restrooms and locker rooms. The department requests $2 million of the ARPA funding for the estimated $3 to $5 million project.

Public comment

Since announcing the funding, the city asked for and has received input from La Grande residents on how to allocate the $3 million.

Resident Gerald Hopkins asserted that some of the funding be used for a new building for the Union County Warming Center, which is looking for a new location after its current building was sold. Another resident, Michael Rosenbaum, proposed committing funds to prepare the city for wildfire instruction, with improved communication and emergency procedures.

Many have written the city to emphasize the need for road repair and street improvements — specifically for 16th Street.

"All of the money should be used for road repair," resident Jack Boyd wrote in an Aug. 30 email.

Allen Evans emphasized that the use of funding for street repairs would more directly benefit city residents than would department projects.