Mansfield City Council may reconsider vote on ARPA funding for trail

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Mansfield City Council voted not to approve $500,000 for a project to extend the cycleway to Trimble Road, apparently unaware that money was available from two other sources and the matter had already been discussed.

The vote took place at Wednesday’s meeting. City administrators have recommended committing $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to extend the Richland B&O Trail to Trimble Road at Akron Children’s Hospital.

General Councilor Phil Scott suggested withdrawing the money, noting that there were a number of other needed projects in the city’s parks system.

General Counsel Stephanie Zader agreed.

“It is important to respond to current needs,” she said. “I think that (funding ARPA) should be the best use of the money.”

The Council voted 8-0 to withdraw the funding.

State contributes $150,000 to bike path extension

In June, State Representative Marilyn John announced that the state would contribute $150,000 to the project. County commissioners have also found a way to help.

“These funds were used to secure the necessary balance from other sources,” Council Chairman David Falquette said in an email sent to council members. “The city must show a financial interest in raising funds.”

Falquette only votes in the event of a tie. He added that a conservatory developing land in this area expects the extension to make the trail more accessible to everyone.

“This ‘Walkable Mansfield’ project is part of a master plan to connect downtown to the outer areas, including the multi-entry bike path,” Falquette said in his email. “This master plan was presented by Mr. (Municipal Engineer Bobby) Bianchi and warmly accepted by council.

“The 10 foot walkway from Woodland Reservoir to Cook to Trimble towards Millsboro was part of this plan. Please consider bringing it back as the release is considered a release of all funds from these sources.”

He explained by phone Friday the importance of funding.

“One of the fundamentals of ARPA is that we give you that money. How about making more money?” said Falquette.

Council members support bringing the issue back for another vote

At least two council members sent emails on Friday saying they would support the vote another time.

“This ‘Walkable Mansfield’ project is much more complex and larger than I even thought, now that I know more about it,” councilor Aurelio Diaz said in an email to council and the media. “Having said that, I regret voting the way I did on Tuesday because I didn’t realize how much of an impact this could have on something that has been in the planning process for so long.

“I too would like to see this brought back to the council.”

Zader agreed.

“You know what would have been fantastic? If the administration had shared this information with us, so that we could make an appropriate decision,” she said in an email. “As discussed at the council, it is difficult to make good decisions without the facts.”

The cycle path extension is part of Mansfield Rising, an overall plan to prioritize downtown improvement projects.

“Bobby (Bianchi) has talked about it a number of times,” Mayor Tim Theaker told the News Journal by phone Friday morning, echoing Falquette’s thoughts.

Theaker spoke briefly about the bike path when addressing the council about ARPA funding.

He said on Friday he was unaware of the commissioners’ plan when he addressed the council.

“It’s not confirmed,” he told the News Journal on Friday, referring to money from the county. “I don’t and can’t speak on behalf of the county. That’s one thing I couldn’t say (Wednesday) night.”

Commissioners have a plan to help fundraise

Commissioner Tony Vero provided an update by telephone on Friday morning.

“We haven’t officially approved it yet,” Vero said. “We had money set aside for the project. Tim (Theaker) never called us to find out how we were going to do it.”

“It was their project,” he said of the city leaders.

Vero shared the details on Friday.

The commissioner said he met with county administrator Andrew Keller and county auditor Pat Dropsey to find a funding mechanism.

Noting that the city pays the county money to house inmates at the county jail, Vero said the proposal would be for the city to forgo $500,000 of those payments to free up $1 million for the expansion of Bikeway.

“We would make up for the loss of revenue from our jail fund with bailout law money,” Vero said.

To avoid further confusion, Vero said fellow Commissioner Cliff Mears would invite Theaker and Councilman Cheryl Meier to their meeting on Tuesday.

“All parties involved believe it’s good for the community,” Vero said. “It’s always on.”

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Twitter: @MNJCaudill

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