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Important opportunity faces city

Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico was right in calling the recently passed American Rescue Plan a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” It is imperative that the city make the best use possible of the estimated $41 million that Altoona will be receiving, to be spent by 2024.

Half of the money will be received this year and half, next year.

Based on the City Council’s April 12 discussion, officials did not express many ideas regarding how the money might be used.

More important, though, is that discussion about formation of a committee to consider project possibilities is now on the table, thanks to a suggestion by the mayor.

“It would be wise to form a committee of internal and external stakeholders,” Pacifico said.

He is correct.

Current city officials are well in tune with the city’s overall needs, but there are talented individuals in private business and industry — plus some individuals now retired — who could provide valuable input in the discussion and who would be excited about the opportunity to serve in that way.

The council should gear up quickly to extend a general invitation, asking that those individuals make their availability known.

What should be formed is a broad-based committee of manageable size, capable of putting forth ideas in conjunction with the available money, time constraints for getting work completed and determining possibilities for public-private partnerships to enhance what can be accomplished.

It is on city officials’ shoulders that the ultimate responsibility rests, but the advice available can help promote confidence that the decisions being made are correct, based on a long-term perspective.

Councilman Bruce Kelley was on target that there could be a problem getting projects done in time. Congressman John Joyce, R-13th, should be consulted in terms of how he might be able to help navigate situations like that.

It was noted at the council meeting that detailed rules for the money’s use have not yet been issued by Washington. However, the infrastructure program is right in not allowing the money in question to be used to reduce municipal indebtedness or to open a window for tax reductions, or for pensions.

Such uses would erode the goals of improving communities’ overall conditions and, along the way, reduce unemployment.

According to Kelley and Councilman Jesse Ickes, the rescue plan’s volume of work is likely to create a demand surge that will raise the cost of projects.

However, the council will have the option to make it known that excessive cost quotes will not be approved.

The committee Pacifico proposed, if “constructed” correctly, could be a valuable resource for helping determine whether the council should accept a bid, or whether to re-advertise in hopes of obtaining a more acceptable price for the work planned.

Communities sometimes get in trouble without such a system in place — especially when something big and far-reaching is at stake.

Discussion at the council meeting provided less substantive information than some city residents might have anticipated, but the council showed that it is gearing up for the major task ahead.

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