Community Development Block Grants: Public hearing set for Monday on funding

For years, the Community Development Block Grant program has been providing assistance to local social services agencies through federal dollars. And next week a public hearing will be held on next year’s allocations.

On Monday, Aug. 5, in the Town Hall Meeting Room, a hearing will be held to hear comment on proposed funding for the 2014 program year. Once that hearing is concluded, the town’s Community Development Department will report back to First Selectman Peter Tesei for his final decision on what money is going where.

The funding for these agencies, which are in Greenwich or serve Greenwich residents, comes from the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) program, which allocates money to local governments to be given out. At the July 11 Board of Selectmen meeting, Princess Erfe, the town’s community development adviser, and Alma Rutgers, chairman of the town’s Community Development Advisory Committee, outlined where the money is slated to go. The public hearing before the advisory committee on Monday will allow for comment before Mr. Tesei’s signoff.

“This all went through our process and I believe these are very sound recommendations,” Ms. Rutgers said at the meeting.

In total, there is slated to be $680,000 in recommended funding for services and rehabilitation projects. Among the highlights of the 2014 allocations are $10,000 for mental health services for Child Guidance Inc., $10,000 for senior services and comprehensive education for Community Centers Inc., $5,000 for Head Start pre-school at Family Centers Inc., $10,000 for the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County Inc., $10,000 for domestic abuse services at the YWCA, $101,000 for a kitchen renovation at the town’s Adam’s Garden housing complex and $90,000 to help with the renovation of the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center.

There is also a recommended allocation of $30,000 for the installation of a generator at Abilis, which serves adults with developmental disabilities in town. Mr. Tesei praised this personally at the July 11 meeting, saying that Abilis “smartly” was taking steps to make sure, in the event of a storm or incident that caused a power outage, it would be able to serve its population as an emergency shelter.

“This is something I think we would all embrace,” Mr. Tesei said. “The committee has awarded them funds before but clearly they are in need of more funds.”

But these allocations remain less than requested by these agencies and some projects that requested funds, including food service and substance abuse and HIV outreach at the Shelter for the Homeless, a playground for Family Centers Inc. and renovations for Stamford’s Laurel House, could not be granted at all. While $680,000 will be given out through this program, more than $1.6 million was requested and, because of the limits of how much federal money the town has access to, there were difficult choices to be made.

“A lot of cutting was necessary and it was hard work and thoughtful work,” Ms. Rutgers said, thanking her committee, adding that site visits were made by the volunteers to all the agencies requesting money.

The money was boosted this year by $130,000 left over from the 2013 allocations after the town received more money than expected. Ms. Rutgers said this allowed the committee to recommend going forward on the Adam’s Garden project ahead of schedule since it was originally supposed to be considered next year.

The allocations are based on a projected $680,000 grant. That amount is not official yet, but it is considered likely based on Ms. Erfe’s projections. While it is likely that the town could end up receiving more than the projection, as it did last year, Ms. Rutgers admitted it was more likely it could be less. If that happens, Ms. Rutgers said the committee has already voted on reductions in all the allocations to compensate.

“Hopefully we will at least get what we are anticipating,” Ms. Rutgers said. “We won’t know that until next year.”

Until recently there has been rather stable funding from CDGB, even throughout the national economic downturn, but recent issues in Congress regarding spending have left the future of the program in question. Mr. Tesei said he personally reached out to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th), a Cos Cob resident, to stress the importance of the program in Greenwich.

“We are hopeful that this will not only be maintained, but actually increased,” Mr. Tesei said. “This program has proven to be very effective because it’s applied to populations within society that need direct assistance. The allocation process is very heavily regulated. You can see the direct benefit of this. It doesn’t go to overhead or administration costs. … It’s done a lot of good things here in the town of Greenwich and there’s bipartisan support for its continuation.”

Changes are not expected to come out of this hearing, barring something dramatic. The 30-person Community Development Advisory Committee includes members of the town’s Board of Estimate and Taxation, Representative Town Meeting and Planning and Zoning Commission as well as town agencies serving specific at-risk populations. Because of this, Mr. Tesei said there had already been “fairly thorough and comprehensive review.”

While Mr. Tesei has the final say in what the recommended allocations are, he admitted he is not likely to go against anything that the committee has put forward.

“This committee should be thanked for all the work it’s put in over the last few months to build consensus on this,” Mr. Tesei said. “In the past, and this will be the sixth year I’ve done this, only once did I alter the recommendations of the committee. We will certainly look forward to the public hearing.”


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