TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– Two community projects became the subject of debate Tuesday night as Vigo County officials debate how to spend the last $2 million of federal funding tied to the pandemic.
For much of 2023, the Vigo County Council and Commissioners have worked together to fund more than $15 million in projects with money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Four more of those requests came before the council during its meeting Tuesday– and only two passed.
The ones that didn’t– $1 million for the United Way of the Wabash Valley to be distributed to local small businesses, nonprofits and childcare centers. That proposal was tabled.
The other one was a $50,000 request from the Vigo County Historical Society to help complete restoration work on the wall where the Coca-Cola Bottle mural currently stands, located in downtown Terre Haute. It failed to pass after a 3-3 vote. Councilmembers Nancy Allsup, Marie Theisz and Vicki Weger voted yes, while councilmembers Travis Norris, David Thompson and Todd Thacker voted no. Councilmember Aaron Loudermilk was absent.
Thacker, the council president, detailed his reasoning.
“There was some confusion on how much money we had left. I want to see us do some things for the employees. If we give this money, a large chunk, a million dollars, to the United Way we won’t have any left over to give our employees. So that’s my motivation,” he said.
The council recently got results back on a salary study, completed by Baker Tilly, that found many departments were paying employees under market value. While the council has worked to correct this, Thacker believes ARPA funds could’ve helped.
“These long term employees, the study came back, they have been underpaid for years, I think we need to reward them with a bonus,” he said.
The vote left county commissioners, like Mark Clinkenbeard, disappointed.
“We’re very frustrated,” he said after the meeting. “We appreciate everything the council has done up to this point, we just feel like we have a lot of good projects, but for some reason coming down here to the end, it just feels like it’s getting tougher. The bad thing is we feel like saw two worthy projects tonight that weren’t passed.”
Clinkenbeard believes both of these projects could be beneficial for local residents. He said the mural was “an iconic part of downtown” and thinks that childcare and local businesses were in need of assistance following the pandemic.
“We just felt like that million dollars going into those sectors was huge, and they gave a good presentation. We’re very frustrated with it, but it was tabled, so we hope that maybe we can work on it.”
While the United Way’s request will come back up next month, those on hand were unsure of the status of the mural project. Thacker said they had to double check the rules to see if a project can come back before the council following a 3-3 vote.
The two projects that passed included $75,000 for the Terre Haute Children’s Museum to do a feasibility study on a potential downtown addition, and $225,000 for renovations at the Swope Art Museum.
There is around $2 million left to be allocated from the county’s ARPA funding.