Summary by Sara Holmes
The Ferguson City Council held a Special Meeting Tuesday April 13th in order to hear proposals from non-profit organizations seeking ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding through the city. This was the final meeting of a series of public engagements held by the city since December. Previous meetings allowed residents to bring ideas and suggestions forward for possible uses of the funding.
City Manager Eric Osterberg started by briefing the council on the most recent change on the federal rule allows the city to claim about up to $1.8 million out of the $4 million allocated as revenue recovery for the purposes of providing city services without being required to do a revenue calculation.
Osterberg reviewed that the use of ARPA funds must fall under one of three categories: 1) Direct response to the pandemic itself; 2) Recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic, including nonprofits, private sector, local businesses, and the city itself; and 3) Addressing health disparities that were uncovered by the pandemic. Should the city elect to provide funding to nonprofits or businesses it will be the city’s responsibility to ensure that the funds help them and/or the community recover from the pandemic and that it is justified under one of the three categories. Any nonprofit or other entity receiving funds would be required to report at the end of the year.
The mission of EarthDance is to advance food justice by training organic gardeners and farmers of all ages, providing connection to healthy food in the land and cultivating vibrant community. Over 400 participants have gone through their program between 2009 and 2020. In response to the pandemic they now have live online classes in addition to hand-on opportunities and they also started the “Pay What You Can Farm Stand.” They also have a long relationship with Ferguson Florissant School District, ranging from school districts to working with teachers in developing curriculum.
They believe ARPA funding would solidify and reinforce the programs they have designed for local residents and for students in local districts and are asking for $103,000 to enable them to continue the Farm to School program. They do have a pending grant from USDA, but it is not clear that they will be receiving that.
Friends of Jeske Park
Jeske Park has a seven acre sculpture park free and open to the public all year round. It has operated since 2014 in partnership with the city of Ferguson. Initial funding was received from the Lions Club and Emerson; however, Emerson’s contributions have fallen off since the beginning of the pandemic. They have a two year rotation for displaying sculptures to keep things fresh and artists are paid for the loan of their artwork. Recently, they have had a visiting artist program in which a Jordanian sculptor spent two weeks living and working in North County to make a piece for Jeske Park.
They ask for funding of a foundation program and two potential “upgrade” requests. The foundational support would be $40,000 for support for two cycles of exhibits, bringing 20 artworks and artists to Ferguson. Upgrade Option A would be $50,000-$60,000 to re-imagine the bridges and/or railings of Jeske Park. Upgrade Option B would convert the underused T-ball field into a one-of-a-kind Sculptural Playscape for “children of all ages” as a community asset serving all of Ferguson and drawing new families to the neighborhood. The playscape might be something similar to the work of City Museum Bob Cassilly. This project would potentially link to ARPA funding as providing more recreational access and providing healthy options for recreation for people of color and addressing disparities.
Unstoppable Extended Hands
This nonprofit began in Chicago in 2008 and now serves Ferguson, St. Louis metro area, and East St. Louis. Locally, Unstoppable Extended Hands serves Bermuda and Griffith elementary schools, parents, and community members. They assist by providing clothing, shoes, books, hygiene supplies, gift cards, and scholarships.
They seek to adopt families at Griffith Elementary School, expand scholarships for cosmetology and barber academy, and establish housing for displaced families and request funding of $100,000.
Ferguson Neighborhood Improvement Program (FNIP)
FNIP seeks to improve the quality of life and foster a spirit of community among residents of Ferguson. They fulfill this mission by increasing livability of neighborhoods and the appearance and value of homes. As housing is one of the common complaints of residents, they feel improving housing quality would be a beneficial use of ARPA funds. There are over 100 houses likely beyond repair in Ferguson. FNIP recommends allocating $300,000 toward demolition of 30 houses. The larger size of demolition would have a better per dwelling cost due to reduced equipment mobilization costs if work is focused on one area. In conjunction, FNIP recommends an identification program so that the side lot program can be used to transfer properties to neighboring property owners. FNIP could administer the this expanded demolition program.
Additionally, FNIP recommends an exterior repair program for owner occupied homes. This could be an extension of FNIP’s Neighborhood Improvement Matching Program. Code violators could be targeted and offered this grant as a way to assist their needed work. FNIP proposes a $1000 grant per home, to be reimbursed upon completion. Eligible homeowners would need to be up to date on tax payments. FNIP recommends setting aside $500,000 for this proposed program so that it could be used for up to 500 homes.
For these proposals FNIP is not asking for the city to turn funding over to them, but rather for them to administer the programs if and when the city should spend money on them.
Ferguson Youth Initiative (FYI)
FYI was started in 2010 to offer teen led programming for Ferguson teens. Current programs include eSports, SLAM, and recreational space and games. A six week Job Readiness Program for youth 15-19 covering soft and hard skills, mock job interviews, and placement in jobs is planned. Fundraising has been down due to the pandemic.
FYI asks for $50,000 for transportation so multiple trips are not needed for programs, and so that they can incentivize the job readiness program.
JADASA (Journey Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse)
JADASA serves the St. Louis Metro area, but heavily active in North County, including Ferguson and provides anti-violence education workshops and services. The pandemic required their support groups to move to zoom sessions and they started a podcast. They have assisted in getting survivors and their children resettled in other areas when needed. Sheltering in place required some to stay with abusers, and for JADASA to adapt by helping file online when courts were shut down. Presently, JADASA seeks improve agency response in North County by partnering with governments, police and fire departments, dispatchers, and community members to provide training and ongoing support for domestic violence awareness and to continue to provide resources for emergency hotel stays, supplies, transportation, and escape plans. They also have the DevelopHer program, which trains young girls to learn coding and become empowered women.
They seek a total of $100,000 over two years for a part time crisis advocate and to support continuing services.
Operation Food Search
Operation Food Search and Metro Market merged in 2021. The Metro Market is a city bus turned into a farmer’s market on wheels, selling groceries at a reduced cost. With the pandemic they had to change food delivery by creating produce bags to pass out to individuals.
Their funding goal is $90,000 to hold mobile markets at Griffith and Bermuda elementary schools so that families and children have access. They would be open to rotating to other schools if requested.
Jobs & More
The mission of Jobs & More is to offer training to the unemployed and under employed. All services are provided for free and cover modules such as self-esteem, financial skills, resume writing, and interviews.
They are asking for $5,000 to help with bus tickets, phone service, and miscellaneous expenses.
PAKT seeks to assist those in need by uniting Christian congregations, corporate foundations, and individuals in both secular and Christ-centered social service organization. The group began in 1965 and incorporated as a non-profit in 1971. Programs have been need-driven and designed with cooperative partnerships. They have been mostly closed due to the pandemic and are now in “Re-Imagining” status.
They seek a total of $100,000 for both short-term and on-going projects. These include administrative re-organization; youth services programs including a literacy program and projects for youth STEAM; bill pay assistance for food, utility bills, rent and mortgage assistance, and home improvement.
Council Discussion and Proposals
Linda Lipka suggested the possibility of a pilot program for food co-ops. Especially in Ward 3 there are food deserts. There might be the possibility of rehabbing a vacant home as a co-op building and using adjacent land as a garden for small-scale farming. Her overall priorities for proceeding are to determine how much has already been spent and how much can be an economic recovery amount for the city. Lipka also sees tear-downs and the exterior home improvement grant as top priorities, along with improving safety with better street lighting.
Fran Griffin agreed with the food co-op idea using a vacant home property. She also spoke of Metro Market bus being able to come into any area and working with school children to understand how to grow food.
Toni Burrow also added that she often receives calls concerning people who have suddenly become homeless and have nowhere to go. She suggested that if there were a couple of homes available, they could be used for residents in crisis situations. She also noted that Ferguson has multiple food pantries and that there is discussion to open three more blessing boxes around the city where people can access food readily. Burrow also agreed that street lighting and the exterior home grant are important.
Naquittia Noah asked about the city’s street sweeper and whether it needs repair. She also spoke about the Human Rights Commission and their outreach efforts.
Heather Robinett spoke with appreciation for all ideas brought in the community discussions and tonight by the nonprofits.
Ella Jones spoke of Nesbit-Newton Park needing new playground equipment. She also supports mobile Covid testing and vaccination sites and giving $500-$1000 Visa gift cards to low income to moderate income residents and having them fill out a response form, using the St. Louis City direct cash assistance program as a model. She also noted that traffic enforcement was a top choice in the Flash Vote done earlier.
Lipka also noted that at Nesbit Newton the cameras are not working and need repair or replacement.
Burrow noted that we need a plan for park upkeep. She also spoke about her concern of expecting people to tell stories about why they needed money of the cash cards were used. Her concern is in protecting personal dignity.
Noah spoke about the Community Center fees.
Eric Osterberg noted that since the city has an existing demolition program, funds used towards that would need to be part of the city’s revenue recovery portion, although a new project like using a vacant home for a food co-op would not be under that cap. Osterberg also noted that $190,000 of the funding has been used so far, including some expenditures for the public engagement campaign for ARPA fund usage. He noted that justifying the street sweeper under ARPA would be harder, it’s more of a capital budget expense. Osterberg noted that waiving or reducing fees for Park and Rec programs came from the citizen forum previously. He also noted if there is a cash handout that we have a requirement to report back on use of funding. Every year there will be a report required. He also noted that the federal rule may be revised to allow broader usage, but the city needs to assure that appropriation is properly done.
Linda Lipka asked if State Representative Raychel Proudie could respond concerning a rumor or a possible grant matching fund from the state for municipalities. Proudie responded that unfortunately that was just a rumor.
St. Louis County also has some funds for each district. Rita Heard Days proposed $2.5 million for food insecurity. This would not go directly to any municipality.
Osterberg spoke on the Hereford/Chambers/Elizabeth roundabout and the desire for County to cover more of the project. He encouraged members to reach out individually to Sam Page and make the case that County increase their share. Ella Jones said that $3 million was being spent by County for Airport from the interstate to South Florissant. She thought the city should argue that they aren’t being expected to pay part of that project and thought it should be extended for this work.
Lipka returned to the County food insecurity funding and questioned if some of the nonprofits approaching tonight could approach County. Jones said there would be an application for state funding later this year for small businesses and nonprofits. It was noted also that County us still waiting on survey results to determine use of their funds.
State Rep. Proudie asked to speak again and was given the floor. Proudie explained that the Airport Rd. project began with the Mayor of Berkeley requesting her assistance to petition County and she was involved because it’s within her current district. Proudie said she’d be happy to work with Page’s current chief of staff to get Hereford/Chambers included if the Council gave her permission to speak on their behalf. It was unanimously agreed to allow Proudie to make their request to County.
Also on the agenda was discussion for in-person Council meetings.
Ella Jones made a proposal to return to the council chambers, but restrict attendance to family of council, city staff, and council only, with Zoom being used for others. Linda Lipka disagreed and suggested the Community Center be used so that there would be more space for social distancing and attendance would be first come, first served. Toni Burrow questioned whether Chief John Hampton had been consulted and expressed concern that as people gather again there could already be a rise in cases. City Clerk Octavia Spencer raised concerns about audio issues at the Community Center. It was agreed to check first with Chief Hampton for his advice before making a determination.