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Here’s how Salt Lake City’s mayor wants to spend millions in coronavirus relief

Child care, park rangers, neighborhood centers, affordable housing and homeless services — along with bolstering the budget — top Erin Mendenhall’s list for $85M in stimulus money.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall gives remarks on her proposal about new federal stimulus spending for the city at a news conference at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

With its portion of federal stimulus money, Salt Lake City could help moms cover child care and get new job training. It could put rangers in city parks. It could help the homeless get shelter this winter. It could help put families in their first home.

On Monday, Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced her plan for spending most of the city’s funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion bill passed by Congress in March to boost an economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of that money went directly to taxpayers in checks, some propped up struggling industries, and a chunk went directly to states and local governments.

In total, Utah will get $1.5 billion in federal money. Salt Lake County will get $225 million. Officials haven’t released plans for that money yet.

And Salt Lake City will get about $85 million, some coming this year and the rest next year.

Mendenhall’s announcement is the start of the process. Her recommendations will go to the City Council, which will refine the plan, add details, and vote on it in the coming months.

“Our solutions,” the mayor said, “have to be as dynamic as the hardships that we’re facing.”

The biggest share would go to shore up the city budget, a cornerstone of the federal program. Right now, Mendenhall is setting aside $55 million not only to plug holes but also to boost the pay for city workers, which she said she’ll be able to maintain with ongoing growth in sales tax collections.

She identified six other efforts she’d like to fund during a news conference Monday at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center. The biggest amount — $10 million — would be split among early childhood education, child care programs and workforce training aimed at single mothers.

This is part of the city’s social impact program, in collaboration with the University of Utah’s Sorenson Impact Center. This money would create new programs or help fund existing ones. This follows the impact center’s recommendations. If backed by the City Council, the city and the impact center would fine-tune these plans over the next six to nine months. While that happens, Mendenhall would solicit contributions from businesses and philanthropies that would expand what the city could do with this $10 million.

She envisions “neighborhood centers” scattered throughout the city where parents could drop off their children and get job training, among other assistance. Costs would be on a sliding scale; some residents would be able to get help for free.

She said that Horizonte “is an example of the types of community-centric locations that I envision housing the program that we’re talking about.”

“We can make an impact that creates an intergenerational cycle of progress, a pathway that truly enhances equitable growth for our communities,” she said. “We can change lives and lifetimes with this funding.”

The mayor wants to put $4 million into a community grant pool. This aid would go to community groups that pitch a way to combat COVID-related problems. This could be everything from eviction assistance to access to health care. If approved, the city would accept applications as soon as this fall.

Mendenhall would put another $4 million into affordable housing, including seeding a new program within the city’s Redevelopment Agency that would buy properties and hold them in a land trust, then rent them out at affordable rates. She called it the “west-side community land initiative.” Money the city made from rents would be reinvested in the program to buy single-family and multifamily properties. The mayor would look for ways to shift more funding to this program, including some of the tax revenue expected from the inland port in the city’s northwest quadrant.

A portion of the stimulus would also go to a program to help people buy a first home. Those who participate would then share the equity in that house with the city.

Additionally, Mendenhall is asking the council to use $1 million of this stimulus money to help fund an emergency winter shelter for the homeless anywhere in Salt Lake County. The money would go to providing services or operational costs, but not to buy a property. This comes after the mayor temporarily banned new permanent shelters in Salt Lake City to stop a potential permanent overflow shelter from opening in the Ballpark neighborhood.

The mayor would put $2.9 million into a rapid intervention team, which would respond to encampments of people who are homeless. It would provide outreach and assistance. The team also would seek to make any public spaces accessible to all city residents.

Lastly, the mayor wants to create a city park ranger program with $3.9 million in federal funds. This money would go toward hiring 16 people, who would become experts in the parks. They would be on the grounds daily and help identify and respond to safety concerns. To begin with, the rangers would focus on Liberty, Pioneer, Jordan and Fairmont parks, as well as the Jordan River Parkway.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall unveils a new city park ranger program as she gives remarks on her proposal about new federal stimulus spending for the city at a news conference at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

Other cities including New York and Denver have ranger programs.

“Every person in our city should feel safe spending time in our parks,” Mendenhall said, “and these rangers will play an integral role in creating an atmosphere of safety and reliability.”

Unlike earlier federal coronavirus aid, the American Rescue Plan has more flexibility and a longer timeline. The city must formally decide how it is spending all of its money by the end of 2024 and have it spent by 2026.

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