SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall announces recommendations for $85M American Rescue Plan spending

The Salt Lake City and County Building. Photo Courtesy: SLC.gov

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Oct. 18, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Monday announced her recommendations for the city’s use of its $85 million in American Rescue Plan funding, which will arrive in two installments over the course of the next year.

Mendenhall’s recommendations were transmitted to the City Council last week and it will begin its process to consider these programs Tuesday, said a news release from the Office of the Mayor.

“This financial boost to Salt Lake City represents not just an opportunity for citywide recovery from the hardships caused by this pandemic, but also a chance to make an investment that can create lasting, equitable, generational change,” Mendenhall said. “For months my team has closely studied the federal guidance on how these dollars could be spent, and cross-checked those with the city’s very long list of needs. We drew on results of our citywide surveys, public comment in meetings, suggestions from the community, City Council priorities, and best practices identified by other cities.”

The mayor announced six major investments for the city, which are framed by four themes — Building Community Resilience, Community Grants, Homelessness and Public Safety, and Taking Care of the City.

Social Impact Investment

The mayor’s first announcement was a social impact investment in childcare, early childhood education, and workforce training to increase the skills and earning potential of parents.

“High quality early childhood education has lasting benefits to children that can change their trajectory for success, improving social, emotional and academic outcomes,” Mendenhall said. “Access to programs like this are an investment in each child, their families, and our citywide, even statewide economic strength. Our solutions have to be as dynamic as the hardships we are facing, and any successful intervention of this cycle needs to be targeted at multi-generational solutions.”

The city’s Economic Development team has worked with the University of Utah’s Sorenson Impact Center over the course of the last year to determine what would be the most transformational investment the city could do to improve access to opportunity and build lasting economic strength for its residents, the news release said. Phase 1 findings of that work have answered that question with recommended investments in early childhood education and workforce training.

“My vision for this investment includes centers located in city neighborhoods that offer childcare and early childhood education for our kids, and job training and workforce development opportunities for their parents,” Mendenhall said. “One-stop services to empower Salt Lake City residents to build careers and support their families.”

Mendenhall will ask the City Council to reserve at least $10 million of the city’s Rescue Plan allocation for investment in this program, following the Sorenson Impact Center’s phase 2 work which will develop specific success metrics and financial models for these programs.

“While Phase 2 research is happening, it is my goal to greatly leverage our 10 million dollars with private investment that can grow these programs even more, making this investment truly catalytic for our community,” Mendenhall added. “We can change lives and lifetimes with this funding.”

Salt Lake City Public Lands Park Rangers

The mayor’s second proposal is a $3.9 million investment in the creation of the Salt Lake City Public Lands Park Rangers.

“City parks are one of our most precious resources,” Mendenhall said. “With a growing city, and all the changes that naturally come with that growth — good and bad — now is the time for us to create a better level of parks stewardship to ensure they are welcoming, safe and positive places for all to enjoy. From City Park in Denver, to Central Park in New York City, and Griffith Park in Los Angeles, great cities across the nation rely on rangers to foster a welcoming place for residents, and watch over these precious public open spaces. And we are eager for this work to begin right here in Salt Lake City.”

The proposed rangers program would sit within the City’s Public Lands department and initially cover Liberty Park, Pioneer Park, Jordan Park and its parkway, and Fairmont Park with 16 park rangers.

Rangers would be visible in parks to help visitors with information on park history, area wildlife, natural resources directions, park rules, and public events. They would also serve an important role in safety in the parks.

“Every person in our city should feel safe spending time in our parks, and our rangers will play an integral role in creating an atmosphere of safety and reliability,” Mendenhall said. “Each ranger will be equipped to help resolve the safety concerns of park visitors. They will also have first aid training, and a direct line to our police and fire departments for urgent issues.”

Community Grant Pool

The mayor also announced her proposal for a $4 million community grant pool, which would be split between the City’s Community and Neighborhoods department, and the Department of Economic Development for grant funding for Community Based Organizations that can facilitate needs around nonprofit support and business assistance, respectively.

“Our residents and business owners have their finger on the pulse of our community needs, and from Tip Your Server, to Open Streets, and Raise Up SLC, Community Based Organizations and community members have been integral in helping us identify who and how we can help,” Mendenhall said. “As we continue to look for ways to mitigate the negative impacts on the long term health and well-being of our residents and economy, community involvement is a crucial component.”

If approved, the two departments will open up Requests for Proposal this fall looking for community based organizations that can demonstrate an ability to address a COVID-related issues ranging from legal services for eviction assistance, to access to healthcare, as well as grants and support for small, local, and art or artisan businesses.

Westside Community Initiative

The mayor’s fourth proposal would put $4 million toward a new city endeavor — the Westside Community Land Initiative — an Urban Land Fund that will help residents build a financial foundation through access to affordable housing and homeownership.

“While work on our city’s very first Gentrification Mitigation Plan will help us to balance the growth and preservation of our diverse community fabric, and ensure housing choice and equity for our residents, there is a complementary pathway toward affordable homeownership and community building that we are ready for our city to invest in,”  Mendenhall said.

The city’s Redevelopment Agency will lead the initiative with the express purpose of creating accessible, sustainable affordable housing, and helping community members build wealth and community stability and prosperity.

Through the initiative, the RDA will acquire property and land to be held in perpetuity in order to keep housing affordable over the long term. Revenue generated from the RDA’s ownership would be reinvested in the fund to go directly back into the community. The initiative will include a shared equity homeownership program, giving residents an affordable way to get into homeownership and allow them to retain their portion of the home’s appreciation should they sell, creating a stepping stone to financial independence.

Clean Neighborhood Team

Fifth, Mendenhall proposed $2.9 million toward the creation of the Community Commitment Program Rapid Intervention Team, which will work to effectively and rapidly respond with outreach and with intervention to offer resources to those in need, and help public spaces remain clean, safe, and accessible to all.

“Our city has stepped up, time and again, to provide for resources and emergency shelter needs, and while we continue to push for sister jurisdictions and other levels of government to do the same, we are also committed to continue seeking creative solutions in our city,” Mendenhall said.

The city projects that it will receive around 6,000 CitySourced reports through its SLC Mobile app asking for help with smaller encampments — triple the number of reports received in years past, and the Rapid Intervention Team will help address the need for frequency and speed in responding.

Additionally, the mayor’s proposal includes approximately $1 million for emergency winter shelters in Salt Lake County to be used to assist with operational costs, or fund other expenses such as public safety or neighborhood mitigation.

Taking Care of the City

Finally, the mayor proposed $55 million to ensure the financial foundation of Salt Lake City and its employees.

According to the U.S. Treasury, at the height of the pandemic, amidst a record number of job losses, communities across the nation have dealt with hiring freezes or layoffs, coupled with decline in revenue. Salt Lake City has been and continues to be impacted by the pandemic and will utilize the Rescue Plan funding as the federal government intends, to cope with the rising costs and falling revenues they have faced, the news release said.

“Salt Lake City’s residents need their city to be in a strong position to care for the many and growing day-to-day needs,” Mendenhall said. “And that means ensuring our city’s financial foundation is secure — that we are fully staffed, that our services are fully functioning, and that our employees are paid a living wage.”

This portion of the City’s Rescue Plan Funding will go toward employee compensation and revenue losses the city has and will continue to experience due to COVID impacts.

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