A Mississippi city plans to spend most of its federal pandemic relief money on parks and recreation, and critics say elected officials are ignoring people who need housing.
Starkville receives $ 6.2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. Aldermen voted Sept. 21 to spend $ 5.5 million on parks and recreation, $ 500,000 to hire police officers and $ 200,000 to improve water infrastructure in a subdivision, the Commercial Dispatch reported.
Cate Van Hurdle, a representative for the Starkville Strong community action group, said homelessness and evictions were on the rise in Starkville.
“Because there is no money to help these people, the city may be forcing people to live in parks or sleep in them,” Van Hurdle said.
Federal guidelines say that pandemic recovery money can be spent on things such as tourism; water, sewer and broadband infrastructure; helping businesses and families disproportionately affected by COVID-19; and bonuses for civil servants.
Mayor Lynn Spruill developed Starkville’s spending plan with the help of city attorney Chris Latimer, with a strong focus on tourism.
“This is unique and important funding that will affect our city,” said Spruill. “I maintain my conviction that spending it on parks is the largest and best way to reach the greatest percentage of citizens. “
While Spruill has recognized roaming and other infrastructure needs, she said other sources of money can be used to address these issues.
The only city councilor who voiced opposition to funding the park was Hamp Beatty. Several residents in his neighborhood, especially on the Northgate Subdivision, have expressed concern about the water issues. He convinced the board of directors to allocate $ 200,000 for infrastructure to Northgate.
He said he wanted Starkville to strategically look at all the ways the money could help.
“Every time there is a hurricane, a pandemic, every time people are injured in a society, they are the most vulnerable people and they are the people who are injured the most,” said Beatty. “I just think those are the people who need this money.”