One City Sets an Example for Tracking Local Pandemic Spending
By Katie Furtado
April 13, 2022
As American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds begin to be dispensed, constituents and non-profits are increasingly asking local lawmakers for more details on how their tax dollars are being spent. In too many places, it’s difficult for the public to learn where the billions are going.
One locality though, seems to understand the importance of tracking this money in an accessible format. Last week, Mayor Ben Walsh of Syracuse, New York (population: 148,000) unveiled the city’s new ARPA spending dashboard.
“ARPA is a once-in-a-generation investment in our City. We want to ensure that we are using it as an opportunity to pioneer data-driven culture to City Government, a key tenet of Mayor Walsh’s priorities,” said Chief of Data and Innovation Nicolas Diaz in a press release from the Mayor’s Office.
The tracker breaks down the city’s spending by category and allows users to drill down to see project areas and how much has so far been spent in each. According to the site, one project has been completed, 39 are in progress, and 21 have been planned. Syracuse has so far budgeted $48.2 million and spent $13.9 million of its $123 million allocation.
As users drill down, they’ll see notable neighborhood investments the city has made with residents in mind, such as funding allocated to newly constructed homes for first-time buyers and rental assistance for residents who experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic. The city is also allocating $5 million for a pilot program that will provide high-speed internet access to at least 2,500 households.
Syracuse is not the only city providing public information on ARPA spending. Larger places such as Boston, Denver, and Baltimore also have online dashboards. Syracuse shows smaller communities can also be transparent with their spending.
Non-profits and think tanks are also attempting to track the spending activities of smaller localities, including Brookings and the Southern Economic Advancement Project. But this task is too big for any one organization. Smaller localities are best positioned to provide this disclosure to residents themselves.
Syracuse’s tracker isn’t perfect. While the spending is broken down into categories, it doesn’t provide data on a granular level; for example, showing how much funding will be allocated to specific entities. But it’s a start, and as projects progress, a greater level of detail will hopefully follow.
As we’ve said numerous times, state COVID dashboards and trackers are essential to the transparency of pandemic spending. It’s no exaggeration to say that between the CARES Act and ARPA, communities received historically unprecedented levels of money that can enhance the lives of millions of residents. Ensuring the money is wisely spent requires accountability, which starts with the sort of transparency Syracuse is attempting.