N.J. city bails on plan to give households $500 in COVID relief funds

Trenton officials have indefinitely tabled the city’s proposal to send every household in the city $500, as part of a $15 million program from its federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The move comes as the city has recently revised how it plans to spend its American Rescue Plan funds. The city is receiving $72.9 million in federal funds in two payments, and has already received the first payment of $36.5 million on May 19.

“We ran the idea by council and there was no appetite to pass it,” Mayor Reed Gusciora said of the $500 payment proposal. He said the city can revisit the idea when it allocates the rest of the ARP funding next year.

“Nonetheless, it’s one of the continuous comments that I get from the public, that $500 would go a long way to having them catch up on everything from tax payments to water bills,” he said.

Other Trenton residents disagree, and would like to see the funding used for long-term investments, including in youth services and programming.

“Because the most important thing for me on this money is to get a return on the investment,” said Michael Ranallo, a resident who is running for an at-large council seat this fall.

Ranallo said crime and violence are two of the biggest issues facing the city right now, and investing in programs that are aimed at kids and teenagers will help improve those areas.

“So you want the maximum impact for every dollar that you spend,” he said. “This is probably the biggest amount of money the city will receive or will probably ever receive at one time.”

Councilman Jerell Blakeley said he would also like to see funding go toward youth engagement opportunities, along with physical infrastructure upgrades.

He supports “narrow, tailored cash payments,” that are specifically aimed at struggling residents, instead of every city household, but is generally more in favor of quality of life upgrades for everyone through city services and public utilities.

Other revisions to the city’s ARP funding plan include more money for the Trenton Free Public Library. The city’s original plan earmarked $500,000 for the library’s renovations, but the revised plan calls for $4 million in repairs and improvements.

The library will undergo extensive repairs, including a new HVAC system, a new roof, exterior masonry repairs, and a rehabilitation of the library’s interior spaces, according to the city.

The revised plan also calls for $1.9 million in improvements at recreational fields across the city and $4 million to fund the water main replacement project in the Olden Ave business district. The water main project was originally proposed to be funded through a bonding ordinance, but will now be funded through ARP. The project will start in the fall of 2022.

Other funding items include $4 million to upgrade the city’s police department 911 emergency system, $7 million for replacement revenue for government services, and $500,000 for repairs and improvements to the West Trenton Community Center.

The plan also allocates $2 million to establish a booster vaccine program, $200,000 for repairs at the former Briggs Branch Library, and $200,000 to expand the Trenton Animal Shelter.

ARP funding must be appropriated by the city by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to address long-standing issues in Trenton,” Blakeley said. “This type of infusion of federal funds is something that doesn’t happen often.”

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Brianna Kudisch may be reached at [email protected]. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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