During its open public session on Aug. 16, Cherry Hill Township Council formally accepted more than $11 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to help in the economic recovery from the ongoing pandemic.
Via unanimous passage of a resolution, the seven-member body smoothed the way for a $11,361,785 cut of the United States Department of the Treasury Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.
“This resolution is not to allocate. This resolution is to approve the acceptance of those funds,” noted Council President David Fleisher. “It’s going to be a process. It’s going to take time, with lots of opportunity for people to share their thoughts and recommendations.
“We look forward to an ongoing process and dialogue.”
The main objective for township officials is to use the funding to boost programs and organizations that have the greatest impact on residents within the goals and the requirements established for the recovery fund.
Per Fleisher, there are three main goals: allocation to programs and organizations wherever possible that are already in existence, which would also minimize administrative costs and delays; ensuring there is flexibility to the allocation, so funds can be shifted to areas, programs and organizations that demonstrate the greatest need; and making sure appropriate operational controls are in place and funds are allocated in a fiscally responsible manner.
The township has established three different categories for ARPA funding that may include, but may not be limited to: social services such as the continuation of the rental and housing assistance program and/or affordable housing for seniors, veterans and those with special needs; infrastructure and other capital investments; and relief for nonprofits through direct grants.
Fleisher stated that $750,000 would be earmarked for the rental and housing assistance program. Disbursement would be reassessed based on need, since it is not a one time allocation. In addition, $2.1 million is headed for replacement of a failed sewer pump at the Erlton Pump Station, and $675,000 is expected for repairs to the HVAC system at the Carman Tilelli Community Center, a designated cooling center and emergency shelter.
In response to expected interest from residents over how CARES Act funds will be distributed, Fleisher offered several options on Aug. 16: a public comment period at future council meetings; emails to Mayor Susan Shin Angulo, Fleisher, Council Vice President Brian Bauerle and other council members; and meeting council members face to face within their respective communities to offer feedback. No other options for smaller gatherings with residents and township administration in a town hall format were mentioned.
Township Director of Communications Michelle Caffrey offered further clarification on the public comment issue in a conversation with the Sun on Sept. 1, saying: “It’s a complex law, regarding the funding and how it can be applied.
“It’s almost ‘inappropriate’ to go to the public to ask how it should be spent,” she added. “Granted, we still want input and feedback. We just didn’t want to have a town hall to give off the impression that this is free money and we can use it however we want.”
Caffrey said the township wanted to craft a response that was more in line with respect to the rules governing the allocation, and then present that response during a future council meeting, which township administration sees as a bimonthly town hall setting.