Chapel Hill launches initiative to encourage community contribution to programs

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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 more than 30 “Let’s Talk About the City” events on Zoom and at parks, the public library and other locations around town. Updated lists of the week’s events are available on the City website.

Sarah Poulton, Chapel Hill’s downtown special projects manager, said the city launched the project to draw attention to several plans that required simultaneous community participation.

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

“It became clear in early November that all of these elements were going to need publicity, awareness and public engagement at the same time in January and February, so it occurred to us – why not do them all together ?” said Poulton.

Poulton said the events are taking place where people go to Chapel Hill on a daily basis.

City staff at these events provide community members with information and collect surveys to better understand what the community wants.

“It was really just an effort to get a lot of information, depending on what’s relevant to the person who comes to talk to us, to them, and connect them with surveys or signup forms or apps that match to his interest in the community,” Poulton said.

She said Chapel Hill staff who run the program monitor responses to ensure they cover all demographics in the city.

They also put up door hangers and flyers in neighborhoods and on EZ Rider buses to ensure they get feedback from community members who are most impacted by the programs.

US Bailout Act

Poulton and his colleague Amy Oland, the city’s director of business management, presented the results of the investigations so far at Chapel Hill City Council’s meeting last Wednesday.

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

The updated plan allows the $10.7 million granted to Chapel Hill to be used more widely than the original rule allowed. According to the City of Chapel Hill website, Chapel Hill can use the money for things like economic aid, education, food aid, and job training.

“The final rule provides a lot more flexibility on how the city can spend those dollars, but one thing to note is that this added flexibility can make project selection much more difficult,” Oland said during the board meeting. municipal.

To streamline the selection process, Oland said project suggestions from community members will be carefully reviewed for eligibility and fairness.

Additionally, the City will create teams to review and choose how Chapel Hill will use the money it has received from the federal government.

“These teams will apply an equity lens to proposed projects to ensure that we direct as much funding as possible to underserved community members and those who have been most affected by the pandemic,” Oland said.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, city council members commented on the plan and made suggestions that could help make the distribution of funds fairer and simpler.

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

Investigations remain open for all upcoming projects, including ARPA. Virtual office hours and in-person “Let’s Talk About the City” 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 community members can continue to contribute to city projects.

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

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