April 13, 2024
Funds

Augusta to use $75,000 in ARPA funds for cleanup of homeless encampments


AUGUSTA — The city will use $75,000 of its remaining pandemic relief funds to cover the cost of cleaning up encampments setup by people who are homeless.

City councilors voted unanimously, Dec. 21, in favor of a proposal from City Manager Susan Robertson to use $75,000 from the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover the cost of hiring contractors to clean up encampments left on city property. Some of the funds, $33,000, will cover costs already incurred cleaning up trash and other items left behind at homeless encampments, while the rest will be set aside to cover the cost of future such cleanup efforts.

Robertson said the city spent a little over $33,000 since April, hiring contractors to remove items left behind at encampments. That’s up from about $13,000 the city spent last fall. Robertson said the number of encampments in the city has increased in the last couple of years as the number of people who are homeless has increased.

Robertson said some of the cleanups have involved “hazardous material,” so the city hired specialists to clean up the sites instead of having city staff do the work.

No members of the public commented on the proposal, nor did councilors discuss it at their Dec. 21, 8-0 vote in favor of it.

When councilors previously discussed the proposal, at their Dec. 14 meeting, debate focused largely on how much money to dedicate to cleaning up encampments, not whether to fund the proposal at all.

Linda Conti, whose term as the Ward 1 Councilor is up at the end of 2023, said she heard from many people complaining about debris and trash in the city, so much so it made walking around the streets of the city unpleasant.

At-Large Councilor Courtney Gary-Allen suggested a lower amount than the $75,000 ultimately agreed to by councilors, around $50,000, to save funds for potential other needs, including continuing dedicated downtown police patrols. However she agreed to go with the $75,000 amount recommended by Robertson.

Robertson said the ARPA funds can be used to recover the cost for cleanups back to April 1. She said the city has until the end of next year to allocate its ARPA funds and up to two years to spend them.

She said in mid-December the city had about $227,000 in ARPA funding that had not yet been allocated. However she said some of those funds may not be needed for the purpose for which they were allocated, so the city may have around $290,000 in ARPA funds to spend, within federal guidelines.

Robertson anticipated the number of homeless people camping out would decrease in the winter months, in part due to the low-barrier Augusta Overnight Emergency Warming Center opening for the winter season at South Parish Congregational Church.

Robertson expects there will be a continued need for cleanups and said that while the city has ARPA funds remaining, it can use the funds to cover cleanup costs rather than spending local tax dollars.


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