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Here's how Cincinnati wants to spend $292M in COVID relief, but it needs Council's OK first

Cincinnati City Hall
Posted at 6:01 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 11:40:52-04

CINCINNATI — A quarter of a billion dollars can go a long way in a budget like Cincinnati's, but exactly how the city will use its next round of federal pandemic relief remains up for debate.

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething this week released her recommendations on how the city should spend the $292 million earmarked for Cincinnati in the American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this month.

In a March 24 memo, she said almost half of that money -- $135 million -- should go toward closing budget deficits and recouping revenue lost over the last year from sources like parking meters and the county's hotel tax.

The remaining $157 million should go toward dozens of city programs and capital projects, Boggs Muething said.

Her recommendations seek to "stabilize the city's finances, create a wide range of pandemic response and support programs, and to make substantial capital investments in our city's infrastructure," she wrote in the memo.

Here's a line-by-line breakdown of more than 70 programs and projects that would receive funding over the next two years:

Stimulus Funding Reconciliation by WCPO 9 News on Scribd

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, leaders with the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League joined Mayor John Cranley to tout Boggs Muething's plan for its potential impact on women- and minority-owned businesses.

Her memo recommends allocating $11 million to programs like Ascend Cincy that help those businesses grow.

"This is an exciting commitment and exciting leadership," said Eric Kearney with the African American Chamber. "This adds energy to the ecosystem of Cincinnati."

For Crystal Kendrick, president of Cincinnati-based marketing firm The Voice of Your Customer, the additional funding to these programs would help her business expand.

"These funds are going to allow local Black-owned businesses who don't have employees to have employees," she said.

Crystal Kendrick is president of The Voice of Your Customer, photographed here March 25, 2021.

On Wednesday, Cranley held a separate news conference in which he advocated for devoting $12 million to programs that foster the arts throughout the city.

A million would go toward bringing back the hit art and light festival BLINK in 2022.

The Cincinnati Recreation Commission would catch a windfall with the city manager's plan, too: It calls for more than $6 million in federal relief to go toward renovating more than 40 outdoor facilities at its rec centers. The CRC would get another $4 million to build a new pool in Winton Hills.

"The CRC is overextended," said director Daniel Betts in a February interview with WCPO. ""We need to get caught up, and that (deficit) number, if we don't address it and have a plan to address it, that number is only going to get worse."

Affordable housing, police and fire facilities, and road and trail projects would all receive millions, as well.

The city would put aside $125,000 each year for the next two years to maintain the Black Lives Matter mural outside City Hall.

The list goes on.

But before city staff can spend any of that money, they'll need to convince City Council first.

At least one council member expressed some frustration this week, saying that he or other lawmakers weren't consulted before the city manager made her recommendations.

It is likely some specifics in Boggs Muething's proposal will change as City Council deliberates.