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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Schenectady City Council to make changes to COCOA House ARPA funding allocation


SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady ‍City Council is making‌ a significant change to the ⁤American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) award for the COCOA House nonprofit. Instead of using the funds for ⁤infrastructure, the council is considering allocating $200,000 in annual salaries ‌for the group⁤ in ⁢2022.

The original $500,000 ARPA‌ allocation that the council ​approved‌ in September 2022 was initially ⁣meant ‌for the expansion ⁢of the ‌COCOA House site at⁤ 869 Stanley St. to enhance programming for at-risk‌ youth.

COCOA House Executive Director William Rivas recently presented⁢ the potential amendment to the ARPA allocation during‍ the council’s committee meeting, explaining that the infrastructure expansion​ had been completed and the organization⁢ was ​now requesting to ⁣utilize the $500,000 in ARPA ​funding for salaries.

The ⁣proposed amendment includes‍ a ‍$70,000 ‍salary for Rivas as a full-time executive director, a $50,000 salary for a full-time⁤ program director, $30,000 annually for a part-time program assistant, and⁢ an additional $50,000 per⁢ year⁤ to be split among three part-time staff members.

If approved, the $200,000 in annual salary commitments ‍would cover the organization ⁤through 2026, at​ which time the city’s ARPA allocation would run out, and the ⁤group would need to ⁣find outside‌ grants or raise funds to pay for⁢ their employees’ salaries.

The organization currently receives its annual payroll of $30,000 through grant⁤ funding.

The proposal was advanced during the council’s City Development​ & Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday, with a full council vote now needed to amend the ARPA ⁢allocation.

“This is one of the organizations who ​had come in and asked for money⁢ to do some ​construction work,” City Council President Marion Porterfield said on Wednesday.⁣ “Because the money ‌did not go out the door because they found other funding, they ⁤now have a need to staff their programs in ⁣order to expand it in order to increase‍ their capacity.”

Rivas⁣ said on Thursday that​ the ARPA award would⁣ be utilized to ⁤bolster COCOA House’s ‌offerings by fortifying its ‍staff.

“The goal is‍ to⁢ hire full-time and part-time​ staff that can better meet the needs of the youth in the community,” Rivas said. “We’re thankful to the city for ⁣accepting our amendment‌ and it was‌ something that we took a long time to think‍ about what was most ‍important to‍ the program and the community as a ‌whole. ⁣As ​we’re expanding and building⁢ a teen empowerment center ⁢next door, we took into consideration that we have a very different element in ⁤the community and that we’re making ‍sure that we’re doing⁢ everything that⁢ we ⁣can to meet the needs of our community.”

Rivas told‍ the council ⁢in October that the organization has never had ​a full-time staff ⁣during its 25 years of operation,⁤ relying on local volunteers to carry out its ​mission to serve youth ‌in‍ the⁤ city.

“I’m ⁤in favor of⁢ this,” City Councilwoman Carmel ‍Patrick said of the amendment during the Tuesday ​meeting. “The idea ⁢is that they’re trying to ‌do an expansion of ‌their programming. It is about salary, but they’re doing it because they ​want to expand the options that they’re providing to the youth that they ⁣serve.”

Porterfield said if ‍COCOA House were not able to fill all the positions ⁣listed in the group’s payroll proposal that a portion of ⁢the money ⁤would then have to be returned to the city.

Rivas said on Thursday that ‍the group expects to ‌fill all six​ positions ⁣that would be funded through the ARPA allotment.

“We believe that ‌we‌ have ‍a host of volunteers that we’ve already been working with and we ⁢definitely⁤ believe that it’s not going⁤ to be an issue to bring in full-time staff,” ⁤he said.⁣ “We’re⁢ expanding from not⁤ just from early-childhood education but we’re expanding into a teen program and it’s going to be a ⁤different set​ of needs and requirements.”

City Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro said on ‍Thursday that she is opposed to the idea of using the $500,000 in ​ARPA funding strictly for COCOA House salaries.

“I’m not in favor ‍of ARPA money going⁤ for ‌salaries,” she said. “If⁣ there⁤ was another ​capital​ project ⁣that they were working on or something else, they did purchase the ‌home next ⁣to them and ‍work on that, but I’m not ⁣in ‍favor of it going toward salaries.”

Schenectady Director of Development Alexandria Carver told the council ‍during Tuesday’s meeting‌ that the Miracle on Craig Street project to reopen the Carver Community Center in Hamilton Hill would not be ⁣moving forward,⁤ with the Craig Street property set to be ‌transferred to ​the ​city.

The move potentially opens up $1.25 million in ARPA funding ⁤to be returned to the ‍city.

“Alex [Carver] is looking at other scenarios and we’ll try to see⁣ what the‌ future of that building is,” Mayor Gary McCarthy​ said during Tuesday’s​ meeting.

Porterfield said an outside group could potentially work‍ with the city to carry on the Carver Community Center project.

The council voted on Sept. 11 to give a four-month extension to⁤ the Miracle on Craig Street for the project through Dec. 22.

The group was awarded $1.25 million in ARPA funding ​for the project, with the organization ⁢informing the council ⁤in September that the project cost had ⁤risen ⁣to approximately $3 ⁢million due to soaring construction costs.

Kiara Thomas
Kiara Thomas
I uncover quirky and compelling stories. Always on the lookout for the 'why' behind the 'what'.
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