YOUNGSTOWN — The Mahoning County commissioners on Thursday awarded $250,000 of the county’s $42 million in American Rescue Plan funds to the Mahoning County Community Improvement Corp. to assist with redevelopment of Riverfront Park in Lowellville.
Riverfront Park was created along the Mahoning River in partnership with the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said it is exciting to see redevelopment “from Struthers all the way down the river. I couldn’t believe the improvements,” she said of her impressions after attending a celebration there this week. “It’s just beautiful.”
She said it’s “unbelievable what Mahoning County is doing. These trails are what we need, whether it be walking trails, biking trails. This is what we need to bring everybody back to where we should be — in nature. Let’s go out and breathe the fresh air.”
Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said there a pavilion will be added near the kayak launch and another park that overlooks the river. A dam was removed nearby to aid in the redevelopment of the river.
Commissioner David Ditzler recalled the dams’ origins. “They were put in to cool the mills all along the river when they were making steel,” he said. “In the 1970s, we had more than four integrated mills just in Youngstown. And now there are only three in the entire United States.”
As for recreational trails, Ditzler said he helped promote construction of the earlier phases of the Mill Creek MetroParks Bikeway in Austintown years ago and was the only elected official who lived on the bike path.
“What a great, great addition it has been,” he said.
He mentioned the current controversy at the Ohio Supreme Court over whether the bikeway should continue into the southern part of the county south of Western Reserve Road in Canfield Township.
“To stop the progress there and keep millions of people from riding the bike path and going through is just a sin,” he said.
Stephanie Dyer, environmental program manager for the Eastgate, said Tuesday the remaining dams pose a drowning hazard because of hydraulic activity beneath them, which can create dangerous whirlpools. They also have a negative impact on the environment and create “a water quality impairment” by allowing sediment to unnaturally pool, which makes it harder for fish to lay eggs and birds to find food, she said.
She noted that five of the seven remaining dams, including three in Youngstown, have received Ohio Environmental Protection Agency funds to be removed, a process that remains in various stages of progress.
The commissioners also awarded $148,500 to the private, nonprofit Alta Care Group Inc. behavioral health organization to help finance construction of a 2,600-square-foot addition to the Alta facility on Belmont Avenue just south of St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital. The organization serves children, adolescents, young adults and families.
Joseph Shorokey, Alta CEO, said the additional space will be used for behavioral health-oriented group activities and therapeutic rooms for children and adolescents.
“It will have a large activity social recreation area and two group therapy rooms,” he said. Neither of those types of facilities exists there now, Shorokey said.
A contract has been awarded to Declan Construction, “and we are hoping to break ground in the next 30 to 45 days,” Shorokey said.
The total project will cost about $600,000; grant money and fundraising over the past 18 months to two years will pay for the rest. Alta Head Start is in the county’s Campus of Care complex on Countyline Road in Austintown, serving as the federal Head Start program for Youngstown and Mahoning County.
Shorokey told the commissioners Thursday that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the need for children’s mental health has “increased astronomically. We have a waiting list longer than we have ever had for the past two years.”
He said the county commissioners “are so focused and committed I think to the mental health of children. You can see it in the Campus of Care” and the support they are giving to the expansion at the Belmont Avenue office.
The commissioners also awarded an additional $1,139,100 of federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds to MYCAP, the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership Emergency Home Services Program. MYCAP, which is at 1325 Fifth Ave., will use the funds to aid people with emergency rental and utility assistance.
The Emergency Rental Assistance funds came before the federal American Recovery Plan funds and after the federal CARES Act funds, said Audrey Tillis, county administrator. All are COVID-19 related federal funds.
The commissioners also distributed an additional $500,000 to Catholic Charities on Thursday to distribute for emergency rental and utility assistance.
Shelia Triplett, chief executive officer for MYCAP, said the funds will make it possible to provide funds to the “many, many individuals in Mahoning County who are still suffering because of COVID.”
She said some people question why agencies such as hers are “still helping people with rent two years later, but you have a lot of individuals who suffered a lot of hardships during of COVID.
“They are getting themselves together and getting on their feet. They are working, doing all of the right things, but they had two years of not being able to catch up on their bills and not being able to pay their bills and not pay their utilities,” she said.
Tillis said the funds remain with the county and are distributed to agencies such as MYCAP and Catholic Charities when the agencies run out of the funding from previous allocations.
Triplett said MYCAP has been distributing about $1 million per month over the past 15 months for rental assistance, mortgage and utility assistance, using funds from the commissioners and the federal government.
“We are seeing 39 percent of the individuals who are receiving assistance have never come to MYCAP before. They have always been able to pay their bills and do the things they needed to do to support their family. So that just kind of demonstrates the need that is out there,” she said.