Emily Roberts looked down Friday afternoon at Bella, a 1- or 2-year-old pitbull mix that had recently been picked up as a stray by the Cortland Community Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The brown dog looked up through the chain link fence on the door of its kennel and growled.
“We need to have a safe way to let him out,” said Roberts, the shelter’s manager, pointing out the difficulty in moving the uncooperative dog outside to be walked.
The SPCA is hoping the Cortland County Legislature will approve its request for $97,500 to replace the broken and inadequate kennels, replace the roof and improve the drainage in the shelter building that dates back to the 1940s or 1950s.
“It would be everything to us,” Roberts said. “The shelter hasn’t seen a major renovation since the 1970s.”
The SPCA is among the groups that have applied for some of the $9.2 million that the county received from the American Rescue Plan.
Nineteen months into a pandemic that temporarily — and in some cases permanently — closed businesses across the nation and Cortland County, a countywide business-development group is also seeking some of that money for its effort to get small businesses in particular back on their feet.
The Business Development Corp. is looking to spruce them up, and encourage them to re-invest in their own futures. But it needs money to do that, and is looking for a share of the American Rescue Plan.
So are nearly two dozen other groups in Cortland County.
$2 MILLION TO DIVIDE
The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on the people, businesses and organizations in Cortland County.
Theaters couldn’t use their stages; child-care programs took a beating because parents stayed home with the kids.
The way people work transformed, and the programs to help them with their careers needed to, too.
When the county received $9.2 million in American Rescue Plan funding, officials decided to let residents weigh in on how $2 million of that money should be spent — whether it be outdoor classrooms for kids, new storefronts for small businesses or environmental conservation
The county has received 22 requests from groups seeking ARP funding. So far, the county’s Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee has heard 10 presentations and will meet with the remaining groups this week before deciding which projects will win its support with the full Legislature, said Democratic Conference Leader Beau Harbin (D-Cortland).
“There’s a lot of variety for these projects from across the community, but the overarching theme is one of need from local businesses, nonprofits and municipalities who are looking for help to move their missions forward,” Harbin said.
“I’ve never seen so many deserving people or groups, and for some of these projects everything is so well thought out, but we only have so much money to do this,” said Legislator Kevin Fitch (R-Homer, Preble, Scott) at the ad hoc committee’s Oct. 8 meeting.
The ad hoc committee is still debating how they’ll pick which projects to recommend for funding, Harbin said.
“I believe the best plan of action for us will be to agree on a common yardstick by which we can measure these projects, solidify our goals as a committee on how we want to evaluate the requests, and determine what our overall funding level will be,” Harbin said.
The county has allocated about $2 million for community proposals. This includes the $500,000 already allocated to the Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex.
Another $500,000 project was proposed by the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Agency, which the advisory committee is considering recommending to the Legislature, Harbin said.
The BDC proposed a three-part project: a facade-improvement program that would help fund storefront renovations; a small-business expansion assistance program to help fund equipment, software, furniture and other expenses; and a retail-focused downtown business assistance program to offer grants for general expenses.
“These special grant programs would be offered over and above current services the BDC provides to the local business community,” said the organization’s executive director, Garry VanGorder. He said he hopes that providing grants and assistance will support businesses that may have faced challenges because of the pandemic.
Other business-related proposals include building renovations for the Center for the Arts of Homer and the Cortland Community Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, upgrading and marketing the Cortland Works Career Center, and funding to hire staff for the Family & Children’s Counseling Services and the Early Child Development Center, a joint project between the Cortland YWCA and CAPCO.
NOT ALL COVID
Although the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act was created because of the pandemic, several proposals submitted focus on non-COVID-related improvements. The Homer Intermediate School Community Association requested funding for picnic tables for outdoor learning and the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District submitted two proposals, one for stream rehabilitation and one for restoring Little York Lake in Preble.
The stream maintenance project would help landowners and communities implement sustainable stream restoration projects, said district Manager Amanda Barber.
The second proposal requests funding to purchase equipment that will be used to remove weeds and sediment from county lakes on a regular and long-term basis.
“The goal is to restore the ecosystem to a more natural state and provide better fishing and better access,” said Don Fisher, treasurer of the Little York Lake Association. “Up at the north end, near the boat launch, that’s where a lot of the weeds that break off get blown to by the wind. So if you’re trying to fish off that dock, oftentimes you’re fishing in a big mess of weeds and so we’re trying to get rid of all that stuff.”
The restoration project would be a long-term investment in an important water resource and an increasingly popular tourist venue, Barber said.
“Canvassing the entire community for ideas of how to use the recovery funds is the best way for decision-makers to understand and evaluate their options and the priorities in the community, and I commend them for it,” Barber said. “I also think the process has created a sense of hope and opportunity and will provide some ownership for the decisions to the community as a whole.”
COUNTY HAS TIME
The county has until the end of 2024 to allocate the ARP funds, said County Administrator Rob Corpora. The U.S. Treasury said it will pay a first installment within 60 days and the balance a year later.
“We have until 2024, so we don’t have to make a decision on how to spend it immediately — we can keep some of it in the bank — but for economic development, the sooner we can get that in people’s hands, I think the better it’s going to be for the community,” said County Administrator Rob Corpora.
Harbin called the American Rescue Plan Act a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and said this is the county’s chance to provide funding for projects that didn’t have the finances to get started.
“But with the ARP funding, we have the chance to hear from local groups who are doing great things, get more information about their projects and see if we can help support their goals for the good of the whole county,” Harbin said.
Funding proposals allocated so far:
- Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex — $500,000 Funding proposals being considered:
- Cortland County Business Development Corp. — $500,000
- Cortland YWCA and CAPCO $500,000
- Center for the Arts of Homer $150,000
- Family & Children’s Counseling Services — $100,000
- Homer Intermediate School Community Association — $35,000
- Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District — $1.3 million
- Cortland Works Career Center $130,000
- Cortland Community SPCA $97,500
The ad hoc committee will hear more presentations at:
- 10 a.m. Monday
- 11:30 a.m. Tuesday
- 10 a.m. Thursday
The committee will discuss proposals at:
- 12:30 p.m. Nov. 2