Johnstown City Hall

Johnstown's City Hall is shown on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – City Council held its first public discussion about how to spend the $30 million it received in COVID-19 pandemic relief through the American Rescue Plan.

The plan, presented by the city’s administration, is preliminary and will change with feedback from City Council.

As presented Wednesday, the largest single item in that preliminary plan is $10 million for socially distanced outdoor dining space, green space and new parking meters for Main Street.

But overall, about two-thirds of the funding is allocated to social services.

Councilwoman Marie Mock and some of her colleagues stressed that social services are the council’s main priority.

Individually, board members expressed desires to spend more money in particular areas addressing the community’s needs.

Councilman Michael Capriotti said he’d like to see more funding devoted to helping people with home repairs. That area was allotted $2 million in the plan.

“I love the Main Street corridor, but I would love to see more of that funding go into the city’s neighborhoods – Moxham, Prospect ... all neighborhoods should reap some benefit,” Capriotti said.

Councilman Ricky Britt said he wanted to see more funds for early learning and child care programs that are often unaffordable for families and difficult for providers to operate on tight budgets.

The plan the administration put before council included $1 million set aside for qualified child care center applicants. That funding was under “Individual aid,” a total of $2 million together with $1 million for food insecurity.

“I know there were day cares that closed down on account of the pandemic – they need to be looked at more,” Britt said.

Supporting free dental and health clinics and addressing homelessness was a priority that Councilwoman the Rev. Sylvia King wanted to see addressed by the plan.

“We keep skipping over the homeless issue like it doesn’t exist in this town – and it does,” King said. “We need to put our heads together and do something about it.”

Mock said she’d like to see that the plan takes care of business owners who didn’t receive help from previous COVID-19 relief programs.

With the feedback from the council, Assistant City Manager Alex Aschom will revise the plan and present it again at the council’s October meeting.

Johnstown Community and Economic Development Director John Dubnansky said the Main Street “green street” project would check a lot of boxes – beautification, storm water management, and supporting economic development including residential development downtown.

Dubnansky said the project would have pedestrian-oriented features.

“It would make Main Street an attraction,” he said. “You’d see the impact of spending money there long-term, 20 years from now.”

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

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