EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to reader-submitted questions through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.
MANSFIELD — How would you invest up to $85 million during a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a generational change for the better for north central Ohio residents?
We first asked this question of our readers on March 24. How would you invest this money for the greatest return on that investment?
To refresh your memory: Richland, Ashland, Knox and Crawford counties will receive $54 million combined from the American Rescue Plan. City governments in Mansfield, Ashland, Mount Vernon and Bucyrus will take in another $31 million.
The total for this region exceeds $85 million -- and that doesn't include smaller cities and villages and the dollars they will take from the ARP, such as $1.8 million in Shelby, $1.1 million in Ontario and $900,000 in Lexington.
Since then, we've received more than 50 responses from across the four-county community. Your ideas included high-speed internet access, more activities for the youth, affordable housing, and helping small businesses.
Check out a collection of your ideas below. And click here to vote for the next Open Source story we should cover.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity:
• How about addressing the sprawling, abandoned and deteriorating Westinghouse property near downtown Mansfield? - Anonymous
• Utilize the funds to repair our aging infrastructure. The goal should be to provide needed updates while minimizing additional costs/taxes. - Justin Nowicki
• Infrastructure for the community, such as projects that are decaying because of age, i.e., water rights. Also, internet for the community. - Anonymous
• Update/replace city water pipes. Don’t increase residents’ water bill. Clean up old/vacant property. Reduce property tax for seniors. - Anonymous
• In each of the counties, build beautiful, family oriented parks, like Tuscora Park, in New Philadelphia, Ohio! They will provide jobs, also! - JeriLynn Kinney
• Mansfield Rising projects. - Charles Hahn
• Investing in opportunities for our youth. - Ashley Howell
• Free breakfast and lunch for all school children. - Ashleigh Glassford
• Mental health - invest in mental health, addiction recovery, vocational rehabilitation. scholarships/loan repayment to get more MH workers - Amity Arnold
• Remodel, improve, and make affordable (through grants?) some downtown business spaces. Many sit empty but are not affordable for most. - Anonymous
• Endowment fund seed money for 501c3s. Helps non-profits stand on their own. Frees up funds on their return, too. - Anonymous
• Bring jobs in like manufacturing. Fix up some areas to bring construction jobs -- jobs that will be here for years to come. - Mike Palmer
• I would help community centers. Many of their budgets were drastically affected because of COVID, especially the small-town centers. - Anonymous
• A focus on affordable housing, our town has many needy families and homeless. Also, after-school programs for students such as day camps. - Ashley Johnson
• I would like to see a portion of the money to bring a badly needed second water tower to the Madison Water District to meet present requests. - Mel Schroeder
• Low-income housing should be one of the main priorities. Helping people fix up dilapidated properties on main streets, too. Job training. - Anonymous
• Hopeful that leaders are focused on investments that lead to business growth and a strong return. Industrial parks, site prep, spec builds. - Anonymous
• Helping small businesses directly affected by the pandemic like restaurants and bars. The remaining (money) belongs to the local taxpayers. - Steve Fleming
• Help home owners fix homes in the city, get rid of eye sores, fix parks, give people something to be proud of. Maybe give small businesses some. - Richard Jones
• I would like to see a recreational center for the youth, like the Hope Center in Willard. - Anonymous
• I would like to see something done for the kids. A nice pool/water park and park. - Trinity Oliver
• Solar panels, for red light, for street lights, in schools, wind turbines out at the airport, donate a greenhouse to the schools. - Anonymous
• Public high-speed internet. Provide the infrastructure for a public system of internet in the whole county/area. Provide public computer/internet sites. Big unused buildings could be made into internet hubs where computer hardware is provided as well. - Sherry Vaught
• Use it for my community and to help the people in need. - Anonymous
• Larger jail if needed. Build another prison if necessary. Stop with the slap on the wrist for criminals. Make a statement. Clean Mansfield up. - Lynda Taylor
• Invest to turn the county around economically. Entice big businesses to come. Look at the counties around us. What are they doing? - Andy Romoser
• I would love to see some of that money to help me get a building to reopen Children's Cupboard free after-school and Summer Fun Program. - Pam Rembert
• I would like to see them collect & preserve local historical records, & make them available to researchers to maintain a link with our past. - Anonymous
• For immediate relief I would clear up Richland County Metropolitan; two-year waiting list since housing is one biggest issues and going to get worse. Also I'm a social service worker, I would like a business to have 1 employee from each agency involved in one building, like a satellite office. - Shelia Carroll
• I would like to see something fun for our children. Something outdoors, whether it’s a biweekly carnival or some type of field day set up. - Anonymous
• Getting rid of vacant and deteriorating houses and putting in a community garden or something that benefits the neighborhood. - Anonymous
• South Park needs road resurfaced. Install pet waste elimination stations. Columns at entrance need cleaned & repaired. Start an arboretum. - Anonymous
• It was obvious before the pandemic, but became critical with remote learning, that rural residents need high-speed internet access. - Lee Baldwin
• Support affordable housing/apartment projects in the downtown area. - Ruthie Good
• Rehabbing some of the downtown buildings for rent assisted housing. Bringing in better jobs for the people in the area. - Benita K. Oldaker
• I would help all the local small businesses who suffered from reduced hours and/or temporary closures. - Anonymous
• Make transportation and child care available to those who wish to work but have those roadblocks. - Sam VanCura
• Fix the roads, all the sidewalks and bridges and give free money to open up small business, open up recreational room for kids. - David M. Hollinger
• Homelessness should be a priority as well as people struggling to pay their rent so that they too will not end up homeless. Social services. - Ralph Lowe
• Help schools with funding and reduce recent increase to property taxes. The continual climb makes it unaffordable to own a home. - Lori Rupert
• How about a shelter for homeless vets or at least something to help the vets who served this country? - Ryan
• Upgrading the Richland County Sheriff's Department with new equipment/vehicles and the remainder for road, water and sewage repair/upgrades. - Anonymous
• Workforce and economic development. Research shows that these are the highest ROI investments that a government can make. - Edward Akinyemi
• Recreational activities for all ages and community resources communication network. - Anonymous
• I would invest in our communities by cleaning up these boarded-up houses and turn them into shelters for homeless safe havens for children. - Janna Mora
• A large community swimming pool with a pavilion in a park like setting. Swing sets, slides, jungle gym and big play area for children. - Anonymous
• Start in the lower-income areas: give free WiFi to the city, clinics with a mental health therapist & doctor, supported housing, small grocery stores. - Anonymous
• Building new, affordable, low-income housing in Mansfield/Richland County. Also, invest in Harmony House and The DV Shelter. - Anonymous