Council votes down allocating relief funds to two organizations, approves one

UPDATED at 9:30 p.m. to make a correction.

The Seymour City Council voted down two ordinances but passed a third allocating American Rescue Plan funds to nonprofit organizations during a meeting Monday night.

Child Care Network was able to secure $200,000 in COVID-19 relief funding in a 4-3 vote from the council.

The organization was requesting funding to go toward the $450,000 the organization needs to finish renovating a former church into a child care center in downtown Seymour.

Councilmen Drew Storey, Bret Cunningham and Matt Wheeler cast the dissenting votes.

Funding requests from Community Diner, which was asking for $5,225.25 and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Indiana, which requested $72,204, were voted down by the council 3-4.

Councilman Chad Hubbard joined Storey, Cunningham and Wheeler in voting down those two requests.

A representative from Community Diner said at the council’s March 28 meeting the funds would go toward disposable containers the diner has used since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Indiana was hoping to use funds to hire a match support specialist and recoup funds it could have received from fundraisers canceled the past two years because of the pandemic.

The council’s finance committee consists of councilmen Jerry Hackney, Dave Earley and Seth Davidson. That committee was tasked at the end of the March 28 council meeting to come up with a plan to distribute some of the city’s ARP dollars after the three requests were presented for the first time. The council opted not to make a decision on those requests that night.

Hackney said the committee had come up with guidelines and a request form for the ARP funds based off of requirements set forth by the federal government. Each applicant would have a public hearing regarding their request and an ordinance that would allocate funds that would require two readings to pass.

Cunningham questioned the application process and wanted to know when it started because the city had not put out a news release about receiving applications.

“We were supposed to vote on something that somebody else already applied for that we didn’t even know was available,” he said. “What I am saying is there has been zero transparency with this.”

Cunningham suggested those requesting ARP funds should submit applications before a Sept. 1 deadline, and the council could then vote on who receives funds.

He asked if for-profit businesses or individuals could apply, and Earley said they both can apply and they’ll receive funds based on their requests meeting requirements.

Mayor Matt Nicholson asked Cunningham why he voted yes on an ordinance in March 2021 that established the ARP fund and specified the guidelines the council would use to decide how to allocate ARP funds.

Cunningham said he thought he voted on the ordinance because it established the ARP fund and didn’t consider that to be an actual plan to distribute the money.

Nicholson said decisions weren’t made until the three organizations had reached out to them about receiving money.

Storey said it was concerning that that’s when the conversation started.

Hubbard asked Cunningham and Storey if they were suggesting the ordinances don’t get passed during the meeting and the applications of the organizations are held until the Sept. 1 deadline. Both said yes.

Earley said he didn’t want to create a long application process.

This statement garnered a strong reaction from Cunningham.

“I get it. Easy,” he said. “Let’s just give it away. Let’s just make it easy. Let’s do it. Go ahead. Go ahead. Make your motion. Jokers.”

He apologized after being reprimanded by both Nicholson and Hackney.

Wheeler asked if some funds were going to be set aside to be used for city projects, and Earley said the committee can, but as “stewards of that money,” they felt the funding should go to qualified applicants.

If there was any money left over after distributing the funding to applicants, Earley said they would then use money toward city projects.

He talked about the committee’s thought process in creating a plan for distributing the funds.

“Two weeks ago, we said we would come up with a plan and situation, and it’s not to your satisfaction,” he said. “We have a plan in place and put together. We felt like the early birds that knew about this that did their due diligence, should we make them wait until Sept. 1 when the deadline is then go from there? (The money they’re requesting) is not a drop in the bucket, but are we penalizing them for doing their work?”

Storey asked if it was possible for the ordinances to be amended so the three applications could be held until the Sept. 1 deadline. Earley and Hackney both said they weren’t in favor of doing that.

Wheeler said he took an issue with that because all applications shouldn’t be assessed until all applications are in.

Kate Garrity, executive director of Child Care Network, asked the council if she should rescind her application after the ordinance that would’ve allocated her organization ARP funds failed. Earley said she shouldn’t.

During the meeting, she said not getting funding would “greatly impact” the organization and that construction could not continue again until funding is secured.