Cuyahoga councilwoman Cheryl Stephens pledges stimulus money for pet project, without a vote
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County has not approved — or even officially announced — setting aside $66 million in U.S. bailout money to create discretionary funds for each of the council members to go without. projects of their choice, but a part is already promised.
Councilwoman Cheryl Stephens promised city officials in her district that she would try to use $120,000 of her planned $6 million share to revive a long-discussed Cedar Road repaving project that University Heights Council recently rejected. as being too expensive.
The project was initially estimated at $1.8 million, but then soared to $2.3 million, and board members were unwilling to make up the $129,420 difference. They voted to drop the project until they received assurances from Stephens that she would help cover the shortfall, then they reversed their decision.
“I promised them I would figure out how to bridge the gap,” Stephens confirmed to cleveland.com on Wednesday. “Plan A is funding ARPA.”
The pledge was first revealed at a March 23 special University Heights Council meeting, where South Euclid Community Services Director Keith Benjamin told members he contacted Stephens after learning a few days earlier that the project was in jeopardy. Thirty percent of the planned project covers a section of Cedar Road in South Euclid, which is partnering with University Heights for work and costs.
Banjamin and Stephens have reached an agreement.
“I resolved this challenge by contacting Cuyahoga County and County Councilor Cheryl Stephens, who represents University Heights,” Benjamin said at the meeting. “I used my positive connections to guarantee University Heights the additional $129,000 so that we could move forward with this project as planned without University Heights having to spend additional taxes.”
The Cedar Road Resurfacing Project extends from South Green Road to the Cedar Center neighborhood in South Euclid, and from that neighborhood to Washington Boulevard in University Heights. It also includes the addition of stamped concrete crosswalks at South Green and Cedar Roads in South Euclid, and at the intersections of Washington Boulevard and South Belvoir Boulevard in University Heights.
University Heights Councilman John Rach had proposed eliminating crosswalks for a $200,000 savings to keep the rest of the project on track, but other members argued they were necessary to make the passage safer for pedestrians.
County Councilor Stephens said she thought it was a good plan and wanted to help them see it through as it was originally conceived. She puts it on her list of recommended ARPA expenses that she will eventually present to her colleagues.
“But nothing is done yet,” she said, pointing out that all project expenditures still need to be approved by the full board, as is the creation of the actual discretionary fund from which they will draw.
There’s no timeline yet for when that might happen, and the county has yet to officially announce the existence of the fund, but Council Chairman Pernel Jones previously confirmed to cleveland.com that would happen.
Once that’s done, Stephens sees the Cedar Road project as an example of the good council members can do with their $6 million stipend, which she denied was a slush fund.
In her district, she said project proposals will require detailed explanations of the work to be done and the benefits it will bring to the community. She will then confirm that the projects fall within the parameters of how federal funds can be spent before recommending them to her colleagues.
“I know people acted like we were just throwing this money away, but some of us are very careful,” she said. “A street that needs to be finished to the best possible level of planning is not slush.”
Other council members are apparently working on their own spending wish lists.
“You should wait and see what we do with it,” she said.
Combined with a similar $20 million discretionary fund being created for executive Armond Budish, and the two accounts account for more than a third of the county’s $240 million federal aid earmarked to help revive communities after the coronavirus pandemic.
The county previously outlined 27 other specific initiatives on which it plans to spend $85 million. An additional $50 million is expected to be saved for the next county executive to distribute.
How the county plans to spend the remaining $105 million — including $86 million in discretionary funds — is expected to be announced next week.