Mishawaka has $12 million in COVID relief money. Here's how people think it should be used
MISHAWAKA — The work to determine how Mishawaka should spend nearly $12 million in COVID relief money began Monday night, with ideas ranging from sewer work to a new community center.
Mishawaka officials will take their time in selecting projects to fund with the American Rescue Plan money, saying they have a one-time chance to have a long-term impact on residents.
The Common Council on Monday night heard ideas from community groups and Mayor Dave Wood on how the money could be spent.
Wood outlined a framework that would use half the allocation — about $6 million — to defray costs of sewer improvements, which are needed under a mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to separate storm and sewer lines and keep untreated waste out of the St. Joseph River.
Wood said the city has spent $200 million so far on storm water-sewer separation projects and is "99.5%" toward its goal of "zero" discharges into the river when storm water overwhelms treatment capacities.
He said the next phase of sewer work will cost about $25 million. Mishawaka currently is negotiating with the federal government over the mandate, asking for an allowance of up to four discharges per year.
Other suggestions for the federal money from Wood included:
• $1 million in premium pay for city employees. Wood said the city did not shut down during the pandemic, with employees working through mandates and guidelines. He said the extra pay could be spread over two years, with $500,000 earmarked for each year.
• Support for a proposed athletic facility in the city. Plans for a 350,000-square-foot indoor athletic facility are moving forward, with an estimated $50 million cost. The project would include eight indoor courts and two turf fields.
• Setting aside $1 million to offset any potential property or other tax revenue dips this year.
Other ideas Wood mentioned included supporting mental health initiatives by community agencies and setting aside a portion of the funding for an unknown future need.
Community groups offer ideas
Representatives from local groups also attended the meeting to present their ideas.
Laura Jensen, president and CEO of United Way of St. Joseph County, suggested a new neighborhood center in Mishawaka, similar to one now being built in South Bend.
The new Southeast Neighborhood Center in South Bend will offer early learning programs, health programs and senior services, among others.
Jacqueline Kronk, head of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County, and Kathy Guajardo, director of Head Start of Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties, supported the idea of a community center, saying their organizations could also offer services.
Kronk said the Boys & Girls Club already serves more than 570 children in Mishawaka. And Jensen pointed out that multi-service centers can offer a range of programs under one roof, with the goal of helping a broad mix of residents, from young children to seniors.
Meanwhile, Christina McGovern, of the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County, suggested that Mishawaka could use a portion of its money to support a planned new center for her organization in South Bend.
The agency offers 24-hour crisis intervention for teens and young adults. The organization plans to build a new shelter and center at Hickory Road and McKinley Avenue in South Bend, and has already raised $3.8 million of the $6 million needed.
McGovern pointed out that about 30% of the teens her group serves are from Mishawaka.
Council members said they would continue accepting ideas for the federal funding and want to ensure that voices from the community are heard.
"This is an opportunity to invest in people — the residents of this community," said Council President Gregg Hixenbaugh.
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Greg Swiercz at email@example.com.