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Mount Airy officials are mulling a list of projects proposed for funding from the municipality’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which total $2.9 million.

It mainly is eyed for major building and equipment needs in a list compiled by City Manager Stan Farmer, containing 18 line items altogether.

The $3.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding designated for Mount Airy was included in a $350 billion financial aid package approved last year for all 50 states at the statewide and local levels as a relief measure in response to COVID-19.

In addition to the $2.9 million eyed for city government projects, requests for ARPA funding were requested earlier this year from local non-profit organizations to support various efforts.

That resulted in 16 different groups submitting requests for $2.4 million altogether, meaning some tough decisions are facing Mount Airy officials.

The biggest single expense on the city government’s to-do list is $400,000 for the indoor pool HVAC/air system at Reeves Community Center, new pickleball and multi-use courts at Riverside Park ($200,000), building repairs ($89,000) and bridge repairs on the Emily B. Taylor section of the Granite City Greenway ($100,000). It was completed about 20 years ago.

“That has been a need,” Farmer said of the bridge repairs during a recent budget planning retreat at which potential uses of the federal funding were discussed.

A big-ticket item, $470,000, targets City Hall, where building repairs are envisioned along with seal coating and striping of parking lots.

Farmer disclosed Wednesday that this does not include a proposal made last fall to upgrade the communications capabilities of council chambers, where the city commissioners meet.

It included possible high-tech additions such as multiple projectors, large wall-mounted and drop-down display screens, new microphones with integrated speakers, digital mixing equipment, ceiling tile speakers, new camera equipment, video-audio transmitters/receivers and more.

The expense was put at well over $100,000, which officials have said could be paid for with the federal funding since the upgrades would allow the public to better monitor meeting proceedings from homes in times of pandemic.

But Farmer advised Wednesday that he and Assistant City Manager Darren Lewis had reviewed the proposal “and do not recommend that costly scope of work.”

Instead, Lewis has launched a video improvement project involving an install which will happen soon within the present budget year, according to the city manager.

“We are not recommending audio improvements now,” Farmer added. “Our investigation revealed that if the public speaks into a microphone provided in chamber then the public listening at home, etc. can hear the proceedings just fine.”

Other city projects

Also on the list for consideration are building repairs and a street sweeper replacement at the city Public Works Building ($392,000), along with building repairs for the library, police station and the Mount Airy Fire Department, further proposed for new radios (a total of $612,000).

Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said the radios would update models now used, allowing better communications among department personnel.

The Surry Arts Council, meanwhile, is proposed for $265,000 worth of building repairs/restroom upgrades at its building and other restrooms for an amphitheater nearby.

“Those bathrooms are embarrassing over there,” Farmer said of the Surry Arts Council building.

“Probably we need two sets of bathrooms,” Mayor Ron Niland said of those proposed, since persons attending concerts at the amphitheater now must use facilities in the nearby Municipal Building and library which are inadequate for mass gatherings.

Commissioner Tom Koch questioned the Surry Arts Council funding proposal, pointing out that it has received hefty building-related sums from the city in recent years in addition to a yearly $87,500 allocation to support its general operations.

“I applaud Tanya, she’s incredible,” Koch said of council Executive Director Tanya Jones. “But we have to look at the big picture,” which could include examining the $87,500 appropriation, he added.

Farmer responded that the proposed expenditures on the list reflect the fact that the municipality owns the structures involved.

Koch also questioned another item included, $210,000 eyed for repaving/striping of the Franklin Street public parking lot downtown.

The North Ward commissioner suggested that parking lot needs should be funding through a special Municipal Service District tax levied on downtown properties to provide facilities benefiting all, including lots, rather than funding from the city.

Another $50,000 is proposed for wayfinding signage downtown to better guide visitors, although local travel/tourism revenues could be the best source for such items, based on discussion at the meeting.

Farmer also is proposing that $125,000 be aside for fire-suppression grants to provide for sprinklers and related needs in cases where the upper floors of downtown buildings are developed for housing, a proposal floated earlier.

Looking at the federal funding available and factoring in the requests from non-profits, Lewis, the assistant city manager, said further studies must be done before final decisions are made.

“We will have to prioritize some needs.”

There is still plenty of time for that, according to the discussion, since rules say the ARPA money must be spent by December 2026.

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