Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
The Washington City Council heard comments from members of the public Tuesday night regarding plans for the city’s uncommitted funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA.) Speakers suggested the city use the relief money on improvements to the Wellness Park.
Kiwanis Club Member Jonathan Ward said the money should be used to install a playground at the park, with a rubber-based pavement for handicap accessibility costing around $300,000.
“We were thinking kind of along the lines of mental health with this,” Ward said. “It’s essential for kids to be able to get outside and have a safe place to play at. We’ve got a nice wellness park out there, so having a playground area that could be a safe playing environment for kids would be great, especially during another pandemic.”
The proposal was backed by Washington Parks Superintendent Nick Pacha.
“I think it would help make the Wellness Park more of an actual park instead of a sports complex,” Pacha said. “With COVID and everything, parks were super busy, I don’t know the numbers on increased usage, but it was very increased usage.”
Pacha also suggested installing additional bathrooms at the park.
“There was two restroom structures originally planned, but obviously budgets had to be met, so we X-ed out the one that was leading up to the ballfields,” he said. “Currently the only restrooms out there are the ones in the middle of the ballfields. Those are typically locked unless there’s ballgames up there, for vandalism, safety reasons.”
While council members heard the requests and asked questions about the, Mayor Jaron Rosien urged them not to deliberate proposals too much for the time being.
“I don’t want to see us litigate since we have time on our side, we wanted ideas to be submitted,” he said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to argue the merit of ideas that are presented at tonight’s meeting … I don’t want us to get in the weeds.”
It remains unclear whether park spending would be an acceptable use of money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The U.S. Treasury Department outlined six eligible uses for the money in its interim final rules: supporting public health responses, replacing lost public sector revenue, water and sewer infrastructure, paying essential workers, broadband infrastructure, and addressing negative economic impacts.
While restroom installation could classify as water and sewer infrastructure spending, speakers at Tuesday’s meeting did not explain how a playground would qualify for the ARPA funds.
While the interim final rules do mention mental health, they don’t do so in the context of recreation, instead listing out eligible uses, such as “mental health treatment, substance misuse treatment, other behavioral health services, hotlines or warmlines, crisis intervention … and services or outreach to promote access to physical or behavioral health primary care and preventive medicine.”