City council considers how to spend stimulus funds

City councilors batted around ideas Thursday about how to spend $5.96 million of pandemic stimulus funds that will be made available through the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Unlike funding from previous pandemic relief packages that restricted expenditures by local governments to reimbursements of pandemic-related expenses, "Biden Bucks" can be used for "about any capital expense." Some ideas discussed during councilors' annual budget retreat ranged from upgrading the infrastructure to housing the homeless.  

An idea that appeared to get some buy-in across the board was a significant investment at Love-Hatbox Sports Complex. Several councilors expressed support for investing in the fields, establishing a "state-of-the-art facility" that would attract regional competition. 

Ward IV Councilor Tracy Hoos said he believes there are some things that can be done to attract more people to the sports complex. The Muskogee physician said the facility can be better utilized with some smart investments. 

"If we could put an irrigation system in, that would help maintain those fields so when it is 110 degrees the new sod we put in is not burning up," Hoos said. "If we keep that facility really nice, people will migrate there, they'll be in our hotels, and they'll be eating in Alex's place." 

Ward I Councilor Stephanie Morgan agreed, saying using the money to upgrade a venue like Hatbox could save the city money in the long run because it could generate tax revenue.

"People spend a lot of money on their kids," Morgan said, citing the revenue producing potential of the sports complex.

Hoos said the city could save money on field maintenance with the installation of an irrigation system and other upgrades to concessions.

"People come and stay for the weekends — they're here on Friday and Saturday nights," Hoos said. "We've missed these opportunities for a long time."

Mayor Marlon Coleman said the sports complex at Hatbox is an example where investments have been too small to make the difference the city needs. He said a lot of investments go to waste because they don't go far enough to accomplish the intended goals. 

Other ideas included solar powered street lights, parking and library upgrades.

City Manager Mike Miller said the city will receive ARP Act funds in two equal payments, with half of it expected by June and the remainder a year later. All of the funding must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024, but guidelines for spending have yet to be released, and there will be extensive reporting requirements. 

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