The Centralia City Council and staff spent nearly three and a half hours of a regular Tuesday, Feb. 28, meeting discussing how to spend the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
By the end of the meeting, funding was allocated to the Linda Lane sewer extension, Westside Connector planning, the Scheuber Road extension, two Centralia Police Department patrol vehicles, a police training simulator, a project at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds, a broadband grant program and the outfitting and delivery of an ambulance for Riverside Fire Authority.
While several ideas have been discussed over the last few months, most of the money has been left unspent while councilors deliberated where to put the one-time infusion of federal funding.
Centralia was initially given just under $5 million in ARPA funds and had a total of $4,551,452 left after purchasing a sandbagging machine and body cameras for the Centralia Police Department last year.
By the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the city council had allocated another $3,117,365 for eight other projects and items out of a list of 14 possible proposed funding options. This leaves the city with $1,434,087 in ARPA funds.
The city has until the end of 2023 to decide what to do with the remaining ARPA funds or it will lose the money. The city has until the end of 2025 to use the funds obligated to the eight initial items and projects discussed on Tuesday night.
How Council Decided Where Funds Should Go
There was a lengthy discussion among Centralia city staff, city councilors and other officials about details of the many ARPA funding requests as well as which they believed were the highest priorities. Many spoke up in support of installing turf at the fields at Fort Borst Park, Historic Fox Theater renovations and the Linda Lane sewer extension.
The council took a short recess after the discussion ended. During that recess, councilors ranked the 14 funding request proposals.
Upon reconvening, the council had an ordered list of which projects they wanted to fund using ARPA funds. Using that list, the council first decided to fund the top items, which totaled $3,045,000.
“I personally am looking at things that we can’t find other funding for, that are generational investments, that will help the future of our city in a fundamental way, which is one reason why I scored Scheuber Road very high,” said Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston.
The top seven items council funded first were the Linda Lane sewer extension, the Westside Connector planning, the Scheuber Road extension, two Centralia Police Department patrol vehicles, the police training simulator, the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds project and the broadband grant program.
These ARPA funding requests were approved 6-1, which left the city with $1,506,452 left in ARPA funds to distribute.
Several other motions on where to direct the remaining ARPA funds, including the Business Equity Center, Fort Borst Park field turfing and Historic Fox Theater renovations, were proposed but failed.
After a motion by Councilor Leah Daarud, council voted to allocate $72,365 for outfitting the Riverside Fire Authority’s ambulance.
Then, the council moved to hold on to the remaining $1,434,087 in ARPA funds while city staff further evaluated the Business Equity Center and Fort Borst Park field turfing requests to see which would be most feasible to complete with the remaining funds. The motion passed with a vote of 4-3.
The Proposals Requesting ARPA Funds
Here are some of the items and projects that were under consideration for the city’s ARPA funds:
• $150,000 for two police patrol vehicles.
• $65,000 plus tax and delivery for outfitting a Riverside Fire Authority ambulance.
• $20,000 for a police training simulator.
• $40,000 for a drone system and associated training for the police department.
• $20,000 for a drone system and associated training for the Public Works Department.
Nine different projects were also put forward for the council’s consideration to be partially or fully-funded using ARPA money including:
• $300,000 to $500,000 to pay for studies and planning necessary for the Westside Connector project, which is meant to add ease of transport between Centralia and the west Chehalis, Adna and Boistfort communities.
• $1.5 million for improvements to Scheuber Road, including paving, sidewalks, curbs and other associated construction costs while extending Scheuber Road between Galvin Road and Borst Avenue. City staff expect this project to cost a total of $2 million. Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston said these improvements will help lay the groundwork for the Westside Connector.
• Matching funds to make an .09 funding request application rank higher for a Mellen and Alder streets gateway connector improvements project. City staff have already submitted a request to the .09 committee for $1.85 million with a match of $250,000 from a yet-to-be-determined source.
• $375,000 for sewer extension project at Linda Lane to remove 22 septic systems from the aquifer and provide sewer service to a commercial lot on Harrison Avenue. The $375,000 in ARPA funds would be matched by the city with $375,000 in wastewater-focused capital funds.
• A maximum of $250,000 for a grant program encouraging high-speed internet connection within Centralia which would grant up to $25,000 per applicant for planning and engineering needed to expand broadband infrastructure.
• $250,000 to assist Lewis County with repairs needed at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds. The county has requested financial assistance to repair and replace portions of the underground water system at the fairgrounds.
• $1.6 to $1.9 million for the Business Equity Center project. This project involves the city’s purchase of the old Umpqua Bank building in downtown Centralia and allowing the Economic Alliance of Lewis County and other community nonprofits to become tenants there. The Economic Alliance believes the Business Equity Center could serve as a multi-faceted resource for the Hispanic business community, which it feels struggles to integrate into the mainstream business community.
• $3 million to install turf on fields at Fort Borst Park. City staff envisions turfing all or portions of existing sports fields to extend the playing season for both local teams and tournaments looking for fields to use. The Centralia School District has made an additional state Legislature funding request to turf the quad fields, which are on school district property. According to Centralia Community Development Director Emil Pierson, just the infields of the fields in question could be turfed in order to lessen the ARPA funding amount given. Other communities in Washington, such as Lacey, have successfully extended the seasons of their fields by only turfing the infields.
• Any amount of funding for the Historic Centralia Fox Theater restoration project, which has been ongoing since 2008 but is undergoing a new push toward completion. In early February, Joe Clark, vice president of the Historic Fox Theater Board of Directors, told The Chronicle the plan was to request $500,000 in ARPA funds to pay for protection and weatherproofing to the facade and exterior of the theater. At the meeting Tuesday night, Historic Fox Theater Board of Directors President Debbie Campbell requested $1.5 million.
“Something as simple as maybe some of us might think like the sound system and all of that that goes into making this a first class theater is around a million dollars,” Campbell said, later adding, “I’d say a million is good, but you know, another million-five would help us find an executive director to run the theater.”
She told the council that it would take a total of about $4 million to have the theater fully opened and operational.
The council also asked Campbell if she had an operational plan for the theater once it reopened, but she stated that had not been made yet.