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ARPA funds to enable generational infrastructure upgrades

The City of Franklin has been awarded more than $9.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) that will allow City Council and staff to implement generational infrastructure improvements across the city and bring in new people and resources to address the increase in gun violence in Franklin.

Amanda C. Jarratt

ARPA is President Joe Biden’s plan to provide direct relief to Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic, rescue the economy and contain the virus, according to WhiteHouse.gov.

Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt said the city received the first half of the more than $9.8 million on June 30, which the City Council appropriated into this fiscal year during its July 26 meeting.

“We will receive the second payment to the City of Franklin, we anticipate, on June 30 of next year,” she said during the July 26 meeting.

She told council members that city staff has spent an incredible amount of time over the last few months analyzing the ARPA guidance, which dictates what the city can and cannot do with the funds.

“We’ve received what we believe to be close to the final guidance, and now is the time to approve the plan of action for those funds,” she said.

After she gave a rundown of the plan, the council voted 5-0 to approve it. Ward 6 Council Member Robert “Bobby” Cutchins and Ward 3 Council Member Gregory McLemore were not present at the time of the vote.

In a memo to the City Council that was included in the July 26 meeting packet, Jarratt wrote that the plan, as presented, addresses a wide range of issues across the majority of city departments and allows for a large portion of the City of Franklin’s Capital Improvement Plan to be implemented.

“The American Rescue Plan Act plan of action, attached for your approval tonight, provides a substantial infusion of resources to rebuild the City of Franklin’s capital infrastructure, most notably in the city’s Distressed Census Tract,” Jarratt wrote in the memo. “The plan of action allows us to improve and provide additional recreational activities to the citizens of Franklin, promote and create tourism activities and allows us to hire staff and purchase supplies necessary to assist in proactively addressing increased gun violence.”

She stated that the plan of action will benefit the citizens at large, especially in areas most impacted by COVID-19 and increased social issues as a result of the global pandemic.

“We’re really proud of the plan that we’ve put before you tonight and the positive impact that it’s going to make on the citizens,” she said at the July 26 meeting. “I’ll briefly run through the projects.”

She started with those relevant to the Franklin Police Department.

“This (plan) will authorize two police officers and pay for their salary and expenditures for two-and-a-half years,” she said.

Adding these two officers will cost $350,000 across the two-and-a-half years, as stated on a listing in the council’s July 26 meeting packet.

ARPA funds will allow for the purchase of four police cars, a project involving $180,000.

The plan is to put $1.65 million toward a police department radio system.

“As you all know, this has been something we’ve discussed at numerous retreats,” Jarratt said of the radio system. “We’re considering a few options. We need to improve that system to not only cover City of Franklin’s city limits but our entire response area, and it’s critical that we keep our communications staff safe and able to effectively communicate back to the dispatch center.

“With the increased call volume associated with the increase in gun violence, as we’ve discussed at previous meetings, we’ll also be unfreezing one dispatcher position,” she added.

That one dispatcher position will cost $45,000.

The plan puts $150,000 toward the purchase of 14 cameras.

The concept of putting cameras up on streets considered to be hot spots for gun violence was a prominent suggestion at a May 26 community meeting in which Franklin Police Chief Steve Patterson addressed community issues with community members.

For these 14 new cameras, Jarratt said their installation “will be based on statistics related to gun violence and where the department needs those cameras to be placed.”

She noted the plan also allocates $53,500 for police officer body cameras, which are for the protection of both officers and citizens.

A total of $75,000 is designated for a police truck, which Jarratt said would be to “pull our mobile dispatch unit that we purchased with COVID funds previously.”

Lastly, $15,000 is earmarked for police tactical helmets, which Jarratt said are for when law enforcement officers are responding to increased gun violence issues.

Next, she moved on to eight parks and recreation projects.

“This is really when you get into the transformational-level projects and ones that we’ve just not been able to fund in the past,” she said.

The plan calls for $86,000 to enable renovations to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Oak Street.

Jarratt said the Riverwalk project has been long discussed, but the city has just not had the full amount of money to complete it. The project will receive $500,000 in ARPA funds.

“This will increase our tourism efforts, and with this funding — along with what International Paper and several other entities have committed towards that project — (it) should allow us to build that out,” Jarratt said. “That will include kayak launch access to the river, and we hope (it) will be a boost to downtown because of the additional visitors.”

She stated the city pool needs to be upgraded, and $75,000 is allocated to make that happen.

There will be $200,000 dedicated to Hayden Park upgrades.

“You all talked about these extensively at our last budget meeting, so this will allow us to have improvements to that Hayden Park area for athletic fields there,” Jarratt said to council members.

Armory Field will see $100,000 worth of upgrades.

“We partner very closely with Camp Community College for their softball teams and baseball teams, and there’s some improvements to the softball field that need to be made that we can do, utilizing these funds,” Jarratt said.

Upgrades to College Drive Park and Bruce Street Park will be fueled by $211,500 in ARPA funds.

“We’ve made some minor improvements to those parks, but they need additional equipment,” Jarratt said. “This will allow us to do that.”

A total of $50,000 will go to benefit Blackwater Park, and $40,500 will aid in Armory Park bathroom renovations.

“We have so much activity that happens at Armory Park, and the bathrooms are in desperate need of renovation, especially with the number of citizens that utilize that facility,” Jarratt said. “It’s truly a community facility, with the college and the high school and all the other entities that utilize that.”

Premium pay payments will be coming to city employees, with $400,00 allocated for this.

“We did not do COVID pay when we had the CARES Act money,” Jarratt said. “We had so many projects that needed to happen, it just wasn’t the staff recommendation at that time, but the localities around us did make premium pay payments to their employees.

“No one stayed at home,” she continued, speaking of City of Franklin employees. “We had the few one-offs of teleworking, but everyone came to work all day during the pandemic, interacting with citizens to make sure that we were keeping them as safe as possible and allowing the function of government to continue.

“So this would be a $2,000 one-time payment to full-time employees and a $1,000 one-time payment to part-time employees to recognize their commitment to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she concluded.

To aid tourism, $25,000 is designated for interpretive panels and $10,000 for painting at the Franklin Train Depot/Visitor Center.

“This will allow us to paint the exterior of the depot, to have the interpretive panels put up for true tourism-related activities,” Jarratt said of the $25,000. “As you all know, we’ve taken over the depot, have our tourism director there. This will really allow us to make it as it should be with an actual place for visitors that are coming to all of our new park facilities — a place to go and learn about the history of the City of Franklin.”

The plan of action sets aside $35,000 for Department of Social Services overtime pay.

“As we’ve discussed with you previously, the overtime laws have changed, and due to increased calls related to (Child Protective Services) and (Adult Protective Services) cases, we anticipate a huge demand on overtime in the Social Services Department,” Jarratt said, “and so this funding will allow us to offset that and not put pressure on the general fund because of what they’re responding to.”

Jarratt said she was really excited about the $500,000 going to address blighted properties. She noted the city has a list of properties that need to be demolished, and it has never been able to truly fund the work. She said she and city staff feel like this project becoming a reality is going to have a positive community impact on those who have to live next to these abandoned and blighted properties.

For emergency services, $50,000 has been designated for emergency operations software, $8,000 for bulletproof vests and $4,000 for tactical helmets like the police are receiving.

Franklin Municipal Power and Light will be getting automated gates, improving the facility’s security. This project is receiving $25,000 in ARPA funds.

“The other major focus of the American Rescue Plan, outside of responding to gun violence and COVID impacts, is infrastructure, and we have tremendous pent-up investments in our wastewater and sewer system,” Jarratt said.

For the city’s public works, $610,000 is designated for sewer cured-in-place-pipe, $500,000 for stormwater projects, $300,000 for Wastewater Treatment Plant sludge removal, $250,000 for dewatering equipment, $150,000 for electrical upgrades, $135,000 for a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) upgrade and $55,000 for a portable generator.

“The other one that’s honestly generational is paving — $2 million towards paving,” Jarratt said. “This does have to be in the qualified Distressed Census Tract, but it will free up general fund money that we had put towards paving to be utilized in the other census tract within the city.”

The Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. Business Center will receive $30,000 to help it make wireless upgrades.

Additionally, $344,892 is allocated to the city’s Information Technology Department for citywide wireless improvements.

“There’s a number of projects included in this that will make access to wireless internet for the general population much easier,” Jarratt said. “I think we all realize that the days of virtual calls and homework on Zoom are here to stay, so amping up the city’s wireless infrastructure will be a great advantage to a number of our citizens.”

Finally, $600,000 of the $9.8 million in ARPA funds is being reserved for contingency.

“We do anticipate, just with the ebb and flow of the market right now, some of these projects may go over budget, and then as we move through spending them, we may find other things that need to be added,” Jarratt said.

Multiple council members took moments to express their approval of the plan of action, and Mayor Frank Rabil made a point of praising Jarratt and city staff for such a comprehensive list that included items mentioned at past retreats with city leadership.

Jarratt noted that because the amount of ARPA money the city is receiving is in excess of 1% of the city’s operating budget, a public hearing will be held on the matter at the council’s Aug. 9 meeting.

“We have a tentative timeline breaking these projects up between this fiscal year and next fiscal year that I’ve circulated to the staff,” she said.