116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Marion’s $6 million in federal pandemic aid would go to housing initiatives, transit improvements and businesses and workforce needs, under a plan presented to the City Council.
Marion is set to receive its share from the nationwide total of $1.9 trillion in American Rescue Plan Act funds. ARPA, signed into law last year by President Joe Biden, provides $350 billion in assistance for state and local governments to meet pandemic response needs.
After incorporating feedback from a January meeting of the Marion City Council, Assistant to the City Manager Amal Eltahir presented an updated preliminary spending plan Tuesday night to the council.
“Since then, we got to work with MEDCO, the Chamber and Main Street on the business assistance side. Council wanted to see creativity in the industry assistance category,” Eltahir said.
Since the council was meeting in a work session, it did not vote on approving the plan, but instead provided feedback — opening the possibility the plan would be tweaked.
“I think we made much progress on where we were two months ago,” council member Steve Jensen said. “I’m comfortable with this mix and I think it puts money in every sector of the community. It’s good progress.”
“I’m in favor of this general framework recognizing there are details to the line items to be worked out,” council member Grant Harper said.
Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said he was “least excited” about a plan to devote $100,000 toward career acceleration grants. “I just think there are bigger needs,” he said.
The plan will come back for formal approval and adoption.
Over $1M for housing initiatives
The plan proposes $1.1 million for housing assistance programs.
Over half of the housing funds, or $565,000, would be used in assistance for land acquisition to support low and moderate-income families. The city owns property in the Central Corridor of Marion, which was acquired to complete the Sixth Avenue road project. The dollars would be used to assist with acquiring adjacent parcels to create an affordable-housing development.
Another $325,000 would go toward creating a home rehabilitation program to assist Marion homeowners with rehabbing homes near or close to Uptown Marion. The program would assist five homeowners a year for three years for a total of 15 homes, or until the dollars are expended. The program would be administered by the East Central Iowa Council of Governments, a planning organization governed by elected officials and citizens.
In addition, $50,000 would go toward a match program for housing rehabilitation. The Housing Fund for Linn County has applied to Linn County to create its own housing rehab program for 20 homeowners countywide, excluding Cedar Rapids.
With this program, it is estimated that 20 percent of that assistance may be provided to homeowners in Marion, according to the city plan draft. To ensure the program and city-sponsored program are similar, city staff proposed that matching dollars, up to $10,000, be provided to homeowners in Marion who receive assistance from Housing Fund for Linn County.
Another $60,000 would be used to create an immediate assistance housing program for homeowners experiencing difficulties making necessary repairs. The program also would be administered by ECICOG.
Lastly for housing, another $100,000 could be used to scale up the city’s Community Build partnership, with students from local schools remodeling and selling houses.
According to the plan draft, the investment would allow the program to deliver two affordable housing units to the community each year and could potentially expand the program’s partners.
$500,000 to help business and workforce
To help local industry and workforce, city staff proposed spending $400,000 to establish Business Innovation and Support Grants.
Grants would be up to $15,000 and come with five hours of mandatory business counseling and coaching by an approved business coach. The hope would be to give out 23 to 40 small business grants, according to the plan’s draft.
All awarded businesses would be required to remain in Marion for two years or repay the awarded grant funds.
Another $100,000 was proposed for career acceleration grants. Grants of up to $2,000 would fund tuition and books for students pursuing a “high-demand” career as defined by Future Ready Iowa at Kirkwood Community College. Students would have to reside in Marion to qualify. Need or income-based qualifications would support students who otherwise may “slip through the cracks,” according to the plan draft.
Qualifying students would be partnered with a local business mentor to support career exploration.
Over $200,000 to purchase buses
About $240,000 would be used to improve Marion’s public transit service. Earlier this year, Marion announced it was exploring moving forward with a “micro-transit” service instead of its current transit agreement with the city of Cedar Rapids.
The council had directed city staff to formalize a timeline and prepare documents for the partnership with Horizons, which already provides after-hours rides in the city. The city was waiting for resident survey results to fully commit to the plan.
The decision came after Cedar Rapids told Marion it would be increasing the cost of its agreement by over $100,000 to about $535,000 annually. With the after-hours service, the total cost would be $567,205 for Marion.
When Marion makes the switch, it will cost $525,352, including the after-hours service. The ARPA money would be used to purchase three buses for the program.
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