Much of the multi-week continuing discussion regarding how to spend $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds revolves around individual council members advocating for programs and services they feel will have a direct and timely impact on constituents, especially in economically challenged areas.

by James Coleman — 

Prepared for another round of discussion about how to divvy up some $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, the Memphis City Council’s Budget Committee has proposed the creation of a set of “guiding principles” to bring order to the out-of-season budget chaos.

Much of the multi-week continuing discussion regarding how to spend the money revolves around individual council members advocating for programs and services they feel will have a direct and timely impact on constituents, especially in economically challenged areas.

“I think it would be better served, instead of kind of shooting from the hip, to have somebody or a group of individuals … to maybe put a guiding principles document together. That way, we’ve got something to start from,” said Councilman Chase Carlisle during the committee’s meeting on Tuesday Oct. 5.

“I don’t know if having an open discussion, kind of free flowing is really going to be that productive.”

Committee chair Worth Morgan zeroed in on the real goal of the committee – to settle on what to do with the council’s share of the money.

“Eventually, somebody’s going to have to put together a proposal that will include $20 million … and try to find at least seven council votes,” said Morgan.

“That’s what’s going to rule the day and be passed. At some point we need to allocate that money and report it to the federal government.”

The “guiding principles” not only would reflect the guidelines for the ARPA money spelled out by the Federal government, but also fit within the principals of what the council is trying to accomplish.

For example, it could be a one-time expenditure, go to organizations with a long track record in the community or to nonprofits.

Morgan asked Carlisle if he was volunteering for the job. “I’m happy to do it,” Carlisle said.

He committed to have something to Morgan by the end of the week. He also recommended council members put in their proposals or concerns, so they can be reflected in the document.

“Hopefully, between now and the next Oct. meeting we can have something to be presented and discussed for the public’s consumption,” said Carlisle.

Councilwoman Patrice Robinson proposed two options for allocating the money. The first was an across-the-board reduction for every member. The other option was to divide the sum by 13.

“Then let everybody apply those funds to the projects they would like it to be used for,” said Robinson.

Carlisle called the money a unique opportunity. He also said the council should operate like a “board of trustees” and “come together with a facilitator, have a retreat” and reach a consensus on priorities