Cortland County Legislators vehemently rejected a proposal last Thursday to use federal funds from the county’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) allocation to fix the roof on municipal buildings in the village of Marathon and the town of Virgil.
The funding request would have amounted to close to $105,000 to cover both projects. Funding for Marathon would come down to about $42,000, while funding for Virgil would amount to approximately $63,000.
At the County’s May 17 Finance and Administration Committee meeting, legislators unanimously voted to fund up to 90 percent of both municipal projects. The projects would have helped leaking roofs and mold control efforts.
Approval of the projects would have meant using up some of the last funds found in the county’s ARP account, which currently sits at about $711,000.
Last Thursday, legislators strongly rebuked this proposal. Legislative Majority Leader George Wagner (R-LD15), and legislator Sandra Price (D-LD-14), voted in favor of funding the projects. Wagner has been the biggest and most outspoken proponent of funding these municipal projects and any other that county officials may encounter going forward.
At the County’s Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee meeting in April, before it was dissolved, legislators said they wanted to keep a portion of funds on hold in order to figure out how to spend them on broadband or other infrastructure projects.
ARP funds need to be appropriated by 2024 and spent by 2026, according to federal stipulations.
Legislator Kelly Preston (R-LD-10) said she could not support the proposals, as the two municipalities in question had received their own share of ARP funds from the federal government. An estimate from the National League of Cities indicates the town of Virgil received approximately $234,384 in ARP funds, while the village of Marathon was awarded about $88,410.
“Personally, I had the village of Homer come in late and ask me for funding for a project, and I asked (county officials) if money was available and I was told no,” Preston said. “The process is wrong. If this is going to be opened up to municipalities, it should be fairly opened up to everyone.”
Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-LD-3) said the requests were “valid,” yet she questioned the process by which the proposals were brought forward to legislators.
“We assigned money to broadband, and we can certainly rethink that decision, open it all back up, and invite everyone to participate and provide a proposal,” she said. “The challenge is that that never happened. No one knew they could apply for this funding again.”
The leftover $711,000, Wagner said, “belongs to the people of Cortland County.”
“We received $9.2 million of which the county took right off the top for what we wanted,” he said. “These (municipalities) were never given a thought.”
Wagner said he was in favor of reserving the leftover money for broadband, or for something better that could come along.
“Our villages need help,” he said. “Broadband is a reality and many companies are getting into it. The price will go down in the future. I feel justified that we need to help our villages.”
Legislative Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-LD-2) said the county helped municipalities with ARP money, such as the village of McGraw and the town of Cincinnatus.
“They all had that opportunity. We went through the process. It was for everybody in the county,” Harbin said. “We have made that money available. That is where the money has gone. Let’s just hold (the leftover funds) back and figure out what we are going to do with this last little bit.”
Prior to the final vote, Wagner expressed frustration.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he said.