KUDOS to Manchester’s Mayor Joyce Craig, her staff, and all the city employees and those who have partnered with the city in devising a plan for spending $43,000,000 in American Rescue Plan allocations. The plan is both visionary and practical, building on existing programs while also creating new initiatives to address important priorities.
The Board of Aldermen acted with foresight and in the city’s best interest in giving the plan preliminary approval. Hopefully, they will continue to move forward with alacrity, as this plan presents the opportunity for an unprecedented investment in the future of the Queen City.
The plan addresses a range of needs, including infrastructure, health, housing and quality of life issues. Every person in Manchester will derive a benefit.
One of the most exciting pieces addresses both educational opportunity for Manchester public high school students and building a sustainable local workforce. The city’s partnership with Southern New Hampshire University will permit students who might not be able afford college to graduate from two or four-year programs with little or no debt.
The city, SHNU and local businesses and trades will collaborate on career training for jobs in Manchester such as health care, technology, education and finance, providing job opportunities for our young people. It will provide trained workers for Manchester employers who might otherwise look to locate outside the state.
When surveyed on how best to invest the ARP funds, a third of responding Manchester residents said infrastructure, recreation and transportation. This plan does that, allocating $5,000,000 to qualifying water and sewer projects, enabling the city to fast-track priority stormwater drainage and other water quality projects. Another $1,600,000 will fund road and sidewalk improvements throughout the city. There is funding for additional street sweeping, increased trash collection in high density areas and additional street lighting.
In the area of recreation, a new program will make Manchester’s 2,000 acres of public parkland more attractive and user friendly. The Parks Division will hire rangers to provide increased programing and increased regulation enforcement.
The ARP funds will also permit the city to collaborate with its non-profit partners to keep and expand the Ready Set Launch Program, providing families with home visits to promote the health and wellbeing of Manchester’s newest, youngest citizens. Currently, funding for this vital program will expire in September. Aldermanic approval will keep the program in place for another five years.
The plan provides for the hiring of one community health worker for each of the city’s 12 wards, plus one dedicated to the elderly, establishing a presence outside of the existing Senior Center. The Health Department will coordinate with the Police Department to shift responses to “check condition” calls and other matters not requiring a law enforcement presence to these community workers.
In the last six months, there were approximately 1800 “check condition” calls. Many, if not most, involved the elderly. The use of ward-based health workers will free up the police to focus on their main missions of crime prevention, investigation and reduction.
The plan also provides for economic development, small business grants and housing assistance, including investments in affordable housing.
This is an exciting time for Manchester, and this plan positions the city as the type of forward-looking place people want to move to, and where businesses want to set up shop. In the next few weeks, the Manchester School District will be releasing its plan for the use of its $58,000,000 in ARP funds.
This being Manchester, there are naysayers. Negative Nellies complain of insufficient detail. Yet the bulk of the plan builds on or extends existing programs, and implements priorities previously identified by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. In other areas, such as the scholarship program, the plan borrows from successful programs existing elsewhere.
Others insist that the city drag out the process in deciding how to use the ARP money. But why deprive Manchester residents of services that will make our city safer, more accessible, and the best place to live in New Hampshire?
You can see the whole plan on the city web site, www.manchesternh.gov. I encourage everyone in Manchester to read the plan, and to contact the aldermen to ask for final approval.