Letter: Public input needed on ARP spending

From: Amanda Villafranco


I am writing to bring attention to the American Rescue Plan (ARP) money being distributed throughout Indiana, how it is being allocated, and how we as Hoosiers should be able to effect its budgeting. Although my family and I have only lived in Columbus for two years, I am compelled to be involved politically to ensure that this is a community in which I’m proud to raise my daughter.

On June 8, I attended my first county council meeting via Zoom, partly to learn how they operate, but mostly because I wanted to have a say in the allocation of federal funds that Bartholomew County will receive (about $16.25 million) from the ARP. I wonder how many county residents know about the infusion of this money into our area? (The Republic has already reported that the city of Columbus will receive $7.7 million in addition to the county allocation.)

This public money, unsurprisingly, comes with guidelines about how it can be spent in addition to certain deadlines by which budgets must be approved and money must be spent. It also comes with federal guidance regarding who should be in charge of deciding how those funds are allocated. In fact, “[t]he US Treasury…urges State, territorial, Tribal, and local governments to engage their constituents and communities in developing plans to use these payments, given the scale of funding and its potential to catalyze broader economic recovery and rebuilding."

I was shocked and disappointed to witness local leaders’ intentions of ignoring the Department of the Treasuries’ guidance and instead exhibit behavior that suppressed their constituents’ input. No fewer than six individuals who joined in via Zoom expressed concerns or questions in the chat, but they were blatantly ignored. Public opinion was not valued, invited, or allowed; quite the opposite, it was explicitly suppressed. Instead of engaging their constituents, even when suggested out loud, local leaders literally scoffed at the idea.

Instead of a handful of leaders making decisions about such an important financial contribution to our communities, we all deserve a say! No matter their partisan leanings, our elected officials should represent what we, the community members, believe would be the best use of this money in our county and towns. To do this properly, leaders must be willing to hear from us.

Although the county council was not willing to consider public opinion last week, we can do something about it! We can come together to advocate for what we need.

With organization and numbers comes strength and power. Specifically, we can review the budget that the council sets. The members’ contact information is listed here https://www.columbus.in.gov/city-council/  and we can let them know how we want it amended (which is a possible and necessary step in the spending process) and steps that they can take to actively engage the public’s opinion.

If you want access to more information and more actionable steps, please feel free to email me at [email protected].