The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday January 30th

Chapel Hill launches initiative to encourage community input on programs

Rae Buckley, of the Chapel Hill Town Hall manager's office, administered surveys on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. The surveys cover a range of topics to be covered in future town council meetings. "The most timely topic is how to distribute the federal funding we are getting from the American Rescue Act that is provided to help municipalities recover from covid," Buckley said.
Buy Photos Rae Buckley, of the Chapel Hill Town Hall manager's office, administered surveys on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. The surveys cover a range of topics to be covered in future town council meetings. "The most timely topic is how to distribute the federal funding we are getting from the American Rescue Act that is provided to help municipalities recover from covid," Buckley said.

The Town of Chapel Hill recently launched "Let’s Talk Town," an initiative to increase public engagement with Town programs throughout January and February.

So far, Chapel Hill has hosted over 30 "Let's Talk Town" events on Zoom and at parks, the public library and other locations around town. Updated listings of the week's events can be found on the Town’s website.

Sarah Poulton, downtown special projects manager for Chapel Hill, said the Town began the project to draw attention to several plans that required simultaneous community input.

These plans include the American Rescue Plan Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Peoples Academy, Board and Commission applications and Chapel Hill Public Housing.

“It became clear back in early November that all of these were going to need publicity and public outreach and engagement all at the same time in January and February, so it just occurred to us — why don’t we do them all together?” Poulton said.

Poulton said the events are located where people go on a daily basis in Chapel Hill.

The Town staff at these events provide community members with information and collect surveys to get a better understanding of what the community wants.

“This was really just an effort to get a lot of information, depending on what is relevant to the individual that comes to talk to us, to them, and connect them with either surveys or registration forms or applications that are relevant to their interest in the community,” Poulton said. 

She said Chapel Hill staff running the program are monitoring responses to ensure they cover all demographics in the town.

They have also put door hangers and flyers in neighborhoods and on the EZ Rider buses to make sure they receive feedback from the community members who are most affected by the programs.

American Rescue Plan Act

Poulton and her colleague Amy Oland, business management director for the Town, presented the results of the surveys so far at last Wednesday's Chapel Hill Town Council meeting. 

They specifically focused on the American Rescue Plan Act, a law that helps towns and cities recover from the pandemic. The law was passed in March and updated in May.

The updated plan allows for the $10.7 million awarded to Chapel Hill to be used more broadly than the original rule permitted. According to the Town of Chapel Hill website, Chapel Hill can use the money for things like economic relief, education, food assistance and job training.

“The final rule provides much more flexibility on how the Town can spend these dollars, but one thing to note is that this additional flexibility can make project selection much more difficult,” Oland said during the Town Council meeting.

In order to streamline the selection process, Oland said project suggestions by community members will be carefully reviewed for eligibility and equity.

Furthermore, the Town will create teams to review and choose the way Chapel Hill will use the money it received from the federal government.

“Those teams will apply an equity lens to proposed projects to ensure that we are directing as much of the funding as possible to the underserved community members and those that were most affected by the pandemic,” Oland said.

At last Wednesday's meeting, Town Council members commented on the plan and made suggestions that may help make the distribution of funds more fair and simple.

“I really would like to see this as an opportunity for us to be transformative and not piecemeal,” council member Paris Miller-Foushee said at the meeting. “I would really like to communicate to our community stakeholders that collaboration is a great way for them to come together and be transformative.”

Surveys remain open for all of the coming projects, including ARPA. Virtual office hours and in-person "Let’s Talk Town" events will continue throughout February. 

Poulton said she hopes the "Let's Talk Town" program and setup can be used in the future. She added that the website and email will remain active so that community members can continue to have input in Town projects.

“This data is being used actively and daily to inform decision-making, it's not just out there to check a box in our outreach process,” Poulton said. “We really authentically want to hear from the community and definitely UNC students because they are a big part of our community.”

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@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com 

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