Under the American Rescue Plan, Hudson County is set to receive $424,614,802 in federal funding. Of that, the county government will receive $130.4 million and $294 million will go to municipalities including $39.2 million for Bayonne, the second highest amount in the county behind Jersey City.
At the March City Council meeting, a discussion of the federal funding wa prompted after outspoken resident Melissa Godesky-Rodriguez asked the city council to discuss how the relief funds would be distributed and if any could be allotted toward the school district.
“We just can’t do whatever we want with it,” City Council President Ashe-Nadrowski said. There are guidelines, which the city is currently poring over.
“Once we accept the money, the council no longer really has a lot of say,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “It’s just like a budget. We pass a budget and we get it and we have intentions to be spent on something but the administration in the end can spend that money on more hires or whatever they want.”
The city is looking to address a number of different things with the federal funding.
“There is infrastructure stuff we can do such as helping our water system,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “I’d like to see some of the money go to that.”
The funding may also support the installation of 5G in the city. Ashe-Nadrowski said the city is looking to help people without Wi-Fi.
“We’re making our whole entire town available for anyone, no matter what your home life is like, that you can have Wi-Fi even if you don’t have service at home,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “A lot of our students have that issue where they don’t have good internet at home.”
Police communications can also be upgraded, but Ashe-Nadrowski said the city has already bonded for that so she thinks the funds wont be necessary there. She said that the relief funds cannot go toward tax relief and that the city cannot subsidize people’s taxes with it.
Ashe-Nadrowski said she is not sure if the city can distribute the funding to the school district. “Of course we always work with the school district and try and give as much as we can to the programs,” she said.
There are also funds available for affordable housing, which Ashe-Nadrowski is particularly interested in for Bayonne. “A lot of people have been affected,” Ashe-Nadrowski said of COVID-19 financial hardships. She hopes to upgrade some of the affordable housing in the city to make it nicer.
Forming a committee
Ashe-Nadrowski said the city council is looking to forming a committee to handle the relief funding distribution. Included on the committee would be First Ward City Councilman Neill Carroll and Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa.
Carroll said he appreciates the idea of the committee and would gladly be a part of it.
“I would love to serve on it and I think you hit on every issue that would be a top priority, especially helping small businesses and providing some kind of direct relief on top of what’s been provided by the federal government,” Carroll said. “I think it’s of key importance”
City Councilman at-Large Juan Perez said that the funds would be well spent in the aforementioned topics, but also was especially interested in affordable housing.
“Not everyone in Bayonne can afford a $1400, $1500 rental unit,” said Perez, noting that affordable housing is what the city needs for the future. “We’re a blue collar town.”
Ensuring equitable distribution
There’s a component of the funding of which the city can give to businesses that have been impacted, according to Ashe-Nadrowski. That will be handled by the new committee. After the committee forms, Godesky-Rodriguez questioned how the committee will distribute the funds equitably.
“I see your point and I think for the sake of equity and making sure that this happens in an appropriate fashion, there would have to be some sort of application process like there was last time,” Carroll said.
Previously, the city worked with the county when came to distributing relief funds. Carroll said that when the committee forms, it will explore how to ensure the funds are distributed equitably.
Carroll said he hopes that the committee will partner with a group who has worked on this in the past and has experience because he doesn’t think the committee by itself should determine which businesses are a “worthy cause.” The process would directly involve the community and businesses owners.
Getting everyone a slice of the pie
Ashe-Nadrowski added that every business that applied for relief funds in the past got something and the same will likely occur this time around.
“We lowered the amount to make sure no one went without,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “Anyone who applied really did get something in Bayonne, if they were eligible.”
And now, the eligibility requirements are up to the city now, so people who aren’t necessarily eligible but need the financial assistance may able to get relief funds.
Godesky-Rodriguez asked that members of the public be involved in the process, especially small business owners or advocators. Ashe-Nadrowski said that the committee would be internal within the city council and would definitely meet with members of the public for their input. However, the final say is ultimately up to Mayor James Davis and his administration, she said.
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