Yakima council debates how to spend coronavirus relief funds

YAKIMA — Yakima City Council members like the idea of using federal coronavirus relief to address mental health, homelessness and domestic violence.

But they disagreed about a proposal to use some of the money for an arts center.

The city will receive a total of $26.2 million from the federal government under the American Rescue Plan Act. The funds will be distributed in two installments, City Manager Bob Harrison said.

The first payment was received in May 2021, and the second payment will be received in May 2022.

Harrison said the city wants to use $11.9 million to reimburse lost revenue because of the pandemic. The city proposed the remaining $14.3 million go toward mental health and homelessness, a new day use shelter for women and families, hiring a domestic violence advocate and funding an arts center, among other projects.

Council member Brad Hill said he did not support the use of $1.25 million for an arts center. He said the money should be completely rolled into the homeless shelter and domestic violence advocate projects or sewer investments.

“All of that sounds like stuff that we need more than an arts center,” he said.

Council member Kay Funk said she wanted to develop a comprehensive behavioral health plan and have the city present more information about the art center before moving forward with the proposal.

“I don’t see an art center as a kind of strategic priority, either for the council or for the public,” Funk said.

Council member Soneya Lund said she fully supports the arts center. She said the arts contribute tourism dollars and a higher quality of life.

“There’s definite data there to prove that art and culture revitalize areas, cities, communities quickly,” Lund said.

Council member Eliana Macias agreed with Lund and said the project may also provide an outlet for people who participate in gangs or gang violence. Mayor Patricia Byers said having art in the community is a vital part of quality of life, which is something businesses consider when moving to the city.

Yakima YWCA Executive Director Cheri Kilty said that American Rescue dollars will go a long way in the community. During public comment, she said the proposed amounts would be helpful in expanding the YWCA’s domestic violence housing.

Harrison said the city would come back to the council with more information about the projects in time for the first 2022 budget study session in early October.

Source: Wenatchee World