By Scott Schaefer

Ballots have been mailed, forums have been held, campaign signs are out and voters are deciding on seven local candidates on the ballot for four positions on the Des Moines City Council for the Nov. 2, 2021 General Election.

The Waterland Blog sent out seven questions to the seven candidates, and today we’re presenting their answers to the fifth one, in order of position numbers and names (and photos) as listed on the King County Elections website. Each candidate’s name also links to their statements on the Elections website.

Here’s question #5:

How is the city handling its $9 million ARPA funding?

Positon No. 1

Harry Steinmetz

It is surprisingly difficult to figure out how to spend a $9 Million windfall. Every interest in town wants some of the windfall and everyone has an opinion on how to spend it. I was aware that there a lot of lobbying going on to get various projects funded. Mr. Martinelli published on Facebook how successful he was at a meeting with the City Manager in getting funding to help renters and landlords get back on their feet. A result I was also pushing for. There were lot of those meetings going on. I have heard some people saying that the city staff simply presented the council with a list that was rubber stamped. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While in hindsight it could have been improved, the decision deadlines seemed somewhat artificial and the meeting could have been more organized, the processed worked as it was supposed to work and the end result is just.

Position No. 3

Gene Achziger

The whole process was rushed, and there was not enough time to score the various proposals.

The Council should have worked to establish needs rather than wants and then weighed the proposals.

Rather than considering the submissions and scoring their appropriateness to reaching a goal, the Council simply started doling out money in order of request. No wonder they ran out of money so quickly. There were three sections of proposals: staff, Council, and public. Rather than considering all the proposals and giving proponents a chance to argue for their ideas. Those who arrived first (staff) ate their fill, the Council fought over the crumbs, and the public proposals got nothing.

There was no need to hurry to make these decisions, and other cities are actively seeking citizen input. It doesn’t count as citizen input if you simply invite someone to participate and then ignore their participation.

Priscilla Vargas

As you may know, there were multiple aspects for the disposition of the ARPA funds.  These included enhancing social services, mental health, addiction resources, eviction protections, in addition to finding ways to assist the police in partnering with social services to reduce the police demand for involvement in domestic violence incidents. This will allow the police to be more involved in violent crime prevention. Finally, additional resources went to small business grants and capital projects. I appreciated the council’s efforts to diversify the allocation of these funds to enhance the quality of life for all residents in the city.

Position No. 5

Traci Buxton

After that City Council Meeting, I posted the following, very helpful overview, that I believe is sufficient here as well:

Last night, our City Council worked hard through difficult constraints to approve the allocation of about $9 million into our community.

That is incredible.

It wasn’t perfect, but it is truly an amazing gift – no matter how it would have been disbursed.  One colleague offered a proposal to allocate the entire thing to marina infrastructure.  And, if we had done that – given it all to one thing – our city would have received an incredible gift.

    • I want to thank all of you who offered input – whether by phone, facebook, email,blog, or other. I kept track and made a spreadsheet of every offering I saw, heard, or read. In the end, almost everyone got something.  I don’t think anyone got everything.  And, some of the requests are being met outside of ARPA.

In comparison, we made allocations that are very similar not only to our sister cities, but to cities all across our region.

With regard to human services funding, many people are not aware of how much our city already does, especially with regard to affordable housing and homelessness.  As a result of State legislation – HB 1590 and 1406 alone – the residents of Des Moines already offer $464,000 per year into regional AH&H.  In addition, we contribute $200k per year into an array of social service agencies that serve our residents.

Over the next three years, through ARPA and tax dollars, our city will contribute approximately $3.5 million in human and social services to our residents in some of the following ways:

    • Healthcare, dental care
    • Addiction support
    • Crisis line
    • Food bank
    • Employment service
    • Workforce training
    • Domestic violence services
    • Emergency housing
    • Meal vouchers
    • Tenant eviction services
    • Student job support services
    • Utility vouchers
    • Childcare
    • And more

And, we were able to do much more with ARPA than this.  Through a strategic array of distributions to non-profits, businesses, students, law enforcement, our infrastructure, and our economy, our city is staged to succeed through this crisis, and be prepared to thrive in the coming years.

Thank you to a tremendous staff who is always ready to serve this city well, and thank you to my colleagues for working hard to represent a myriad of voices while coming to the table.

Tad Doviak

When a big pile of money is dumped in the middle of the room, everyone has an opinion about how to spend it and wants it done their way. The large number of public comments on this shows that we do have citizens engaged in our community. The input that struck me the most is the support for our parks system. It is very important that we maintain our parks to be usable by the people who live here and are attractive to those who visit. The number one priority should be to maintain our greatest asset as a community and that is the marina. I know this is a polarizing subject, but the fact is that it’s owned by the city and the city has to maintain it. As the state of the marina goes, so goes the state of our downtown core. The current construction there is a wonderful thing as it will strengthen the marina for a good long time. The amount of boat traffic generated by the marina is great for Des Moines. The gradual improvements being made will serve the entire city through business revitalization, increased tax revenue (to beautify those parks!) and what will be a nice, cohesive main street to waterfront vibe.

As for the actual allocation of funds, is it perfect? No. It’s a start, though and it’s nice to have the extra money to do some nice things.

If you appreciate our independent local journalism serving Des Moines since 2008, please…

Position No. 7

Matt Mahoney

Once we knew we would have $9 million to spend and understood the uses and timelines that came with it, we began conversations about how it could be used, and how the process could be transparent. Multiple conversations occurred that included residents, business owners, city staff, our City Manager and members of the Council discussing various needs and qualifications for the ARPA dollars. This wasn’t a rushed process, and many conversations took place amongst multiple people discussing many worthy ideas. Once feedback was obtained and recommendations came forth, meetings took place to finalize what we should do.

It is a given that we would never be able to satisfy every individual and/or group throughout the community. With all that, I feel the money was effectively allocated to cover many areas of need in our city.

Money was spread over a variety of items and venues. Among many things:

We added police to combat the rise in crime

We bolstered our support concerning the effects of the pandemic, to include support for public and mental health needs and services.

We added funding to support parks and recreation and inevitably our children.

We supported monies to rental assistance for those struggling to maintain residency.

We allocated grants to businesses, charities and funded programs that will feed our seniors.

We added to infrastructure improvements like the Marina as an alternative to bonding additional debt.

We will be adding safety measures and improvements throughout neighborhoods like sidewalk improvements and speed controls to accommodate safety of our families and those with disabilities.

We provided funding to subsidize Metro transit to the light rail station

Soleil Lewis

I did a video response at the September 16th City Council meeting discussing the ARPA funds. Now everything has been finalized, I will add in new recommendations:

  • I mention the importance of having an administrator who can manage or track money through reporting of money being spent.
  • Moreover the letters sent in for public comment on October 14th are reflective of a plea for equitable usage of the funds to benefit the 48% and our LGBTQIA+ community. It is evident that with the proposed decisions to place 25% of funds related to the police and marina, seems like a misuse of funds that should be going to the funding of COVID-19 related support systems. It’s noted in the ARPA that the funds are: ““to meet pandemic response needs and rebuild a stronger, more equitable economy as the country recovers.” Allocating 25% to these areas is not safely securing or protecting this community from the unknowns of a continuing pandemic.
  • Also the decisions to allocate the money without consideration of our current state, as a state of dealing with COVID-19. The reality is these recommendations are so out of alignment with the required protocols that, have been entrusted with “FEDERAL MONEY”. Money that comes in through the federal level has clear set guidelines, requirements, and accountability on cities that receive this money. The proposed allocations being made jeopardize the legitimization of our city. In this aspect, the question becomes: “Can our city receive money from the federal government and be honorable in following the guidelines set place?”
  • The request for a third party to vet how funds will be used in alignment with the guidelines set. In turn says alot of how people in this community want accountability and transparency with they’re city administration’s response to correctly utilizing these funds. In turn they are not wasted unnecessarily on recommendations that don’t address the guidelines and needs of our community.

TOMORROW: We’ll get answers from candidates on how they feel about transportation options currently available in our city (including the proposed new passenger ferry).