May 4, 2014 01:00AM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — The allocation of the city’s Community Development Block Grant has faced some scrutiny from the mayor in recent days, but officials appeared to have reached a compromise late last week in advance of a meeting Monday to discuss the more than $840,000 in federal funding.
The program, administered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is meant to provide “communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs,” according to the HUD website.
There have been some differences of opinion in how to allocate the money with Mayor Manny Santos suggesting tweaking the proposal by reducing some funding designated to nonprofit organizations and directing the money toward sidewalk improvements.
“I would have liked to have seen more of those funds go to economic development initiatives or other infrastructure facilities,” said Santos, a Republican. “There was a presentation to allocate a lot less (to sidewalks) ... I suppose that will have to be good enough.”
The City Council Health and Human Services Committee supported by a 4-0 vote allocating $69,986 for sidewalk improvements, while $118,500 will be used to fund non-profit services and programs. At one point, the committee discussed allotting about $57,000 for the sidewalks, but Democratic Chairman Miguel Castro said a “compromise” was reached that will result in a higher figure. Castro added that nonprofit organizations need the funding to operate and noted that $400,000 is in the city budget for sidewalk improvements.
“I’m satisfied with the compromise. Everybody didn’t get what they wanted, but we reached a compromise,” Castro said. “I did want to see the funding go further with local non-profits so they could offer an even higher level of service that the community deserves. The little we give them, they do a lot. I was hoping to walk that extra mile.”
Minority Leader Dan Brunet did not take part in the vote, leaving before a recommendation was made. While Brunet said he had concerns about dropping sidewalk funding to $57,000, he noted that Santos’ proposal was also too high.
“I’m satisfied with the CDBG money,” Brunet said. “I wasn’t in favor of the mayor’s proposal, I wanted it to stay with the nonprofits. When Miguel proposed ($57,000), I thought that was too extreme.”
Funding increases were recommended by the committee for the Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis Project Real Strength program, the My City Kitchen healthy cooking class and the Women and Families Center REACH (Reaching Every Adolescent to Create Hope) program, according to grants administrator Florence Villano. Originally, Beat the Street Community Center was among the agencies slated for a financial cut under Santos’ plan, which did not sit well with Director Larry Pelletier.
“You can cut funding, that’s fine, but you’re going to be spending in other areas because of that,” Pelletier said. “Overtime for police is going to go up because the kids will be out of these constructive, disciplined and structured programs, which are a lot better than them being on the street where they’re going to get in trouble.”
Pelletier said the program was awarded $10,000 last year and hoped the funding would remain level this year. He added that if non-profits see cuts, however, providing the programs through different methods will be far more costly.
A total of $107,937 in grant funding is directed toward a loan program that helped pay for the demolition of Factory H. Also funded are multiple staff positions for code enforcement, administration of the grants and for planning staff. Santos said he was concerned by the amount that goes toward staff and administration, which equates to nearly $545,000.
Castro, however, said staff is needed in order to enforce codes compliance in the inner city, help with improvement and administering grants.
“If I’m going to take out staff, who will implement the program?” Castro asked. “If we shift that cost to the general budget, it will increase taxes.”
While Santos could choose to veto the resolution, time will be of the essence. The funding allocation must be voted on and submitted by May 15, Villano said. Santos has seven days to veto a resolution, meaning a special meeting would be needed should the veto take place in order to approve or deny fund allocation.