Monroe County citizens weigh in on how $144M in American Rescue Plan funding should be spent

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Advocacy groups asked for more money for the needy, emergency workers said they need some too and concerned citizens called for improvements to Monroe County’s infrastructure in a special forum Wednesday night.

In Greece, the county held its first public input session as it considers what to do with $144 million in federal COVID-19 aid coming to the county through the American Rescue Plan.

That brought out a long list of wish lists.

"It’s like a field trip,” explained Patti Donoghue with Corn Hill Navigation, operator of the iconic Sam Patch canal boat.

She’s asking the county for a new boat, a floating classroom to get local students out on the Genesee River to learn history and STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

"We want these kids to begin to enjoy learning,” she said. “And getting them out of the classroom sometimes will help them do that more."

That was one of a series of ideas proposed at the first of four public input sessions, as Monroe County executive Adam Bello considers what to do with $144 million in federal funds coming from the American Rescue Plan.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” exclaimed Lori Bajorek who drove from Pittsford to offer her input.

The county is considering spending on economic recovery, workforce development and public safety.

Local Ambulance companies say they need help.

“We have increased call volumes, we need new employees,” said Tom Kirchoff with Irondequoit Ambulance. “Help them with their training, help cover some of those costs that are not covered by our normal payment methods.”

Also infrastructure, which brought multiple appeals for better internet.

“Everybody’s looking around. ‘What’s Greenlight doing? What’s FirstLight doing?’” Bajorek said. “If you do not have reliable access to the Internet, it really kind of makes all the rest of these conversations a moot point.”

But public health and wellness brought out the most attention as advocates for the homeless took their appeals for more spending from demonstrations in the streets to discussions in this forum and asked for housing.

"Suitable housing for the homeless,” said Sister Grace Miller. “And when I say ‘suitable,’ I really mean an apartment, where they can have full services that they need, food provided."

There are parameters for how Rescue Plan funds can be spent and Bello says he’s hoping to turn this one-time windfall into long-term, sustainable improvements.

“What do we need is the public’s help,” Bello said. “Telling us where they think we can have the biggest bang for our buck in terms of long-term investment.”

The next of these forums will be in two weeks at Joseph Wilson school in Rochester on Nov. 10. Bello said he hopes to conclude this public input process by the end of the year.