Block grant public hearing set for tonight

Critical federal funding for town social service organizations is poised to be approved after a public hearing set for tonight, Aug. 14.

The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room and there the social services agencies that are slated to receive funding will urge that it be approved and those that did not can make their final case to be included.

Overall $700,000 has been recommended to be spent in town through the federally funded Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Recommendations on how to spend the federal funds on the local level were issued last month by the town’s CDBG Committee but the final decision on the allocations will be made by First Selectman Peter Tesei, who will then submit it to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) for approval.

Mr. Tesei is likely, as he has in years past, to adhere very closely to CDBG recommendations. But the Aug. 14 hearing will be the last chance to sway him before that final decision is made. At the July 24 Board of Selectmen meeting, CDBG Advisory Committee Chairman Alma Rutgers and Princess Erfe, the town’s community development administrator, told Mr. Tesei and his colleagues where the money was recommended to go.

The $700,000 worth of grants came after more than $2 million worth of requests, which Ms. Rutgers said showed the great need in town and the unfortunate reality that the money given by the federal government is shrinking. The requests that did get funded by the committee include $10,000 for the Child Guidance Center of Southern CT Inc. for mental health services, $11,000 for the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, $10,000 for the Head Start program at Family Centers, $10,000 for Kids in Crisis, $5,000 for Meals on Wheels and the Transportation Association of Greenwich (TAG) and money for capital improvements at places like Greenwich Adult Day Care and Parsonage Cottage.

Among the groups that had requests denied were the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, the Friends of Nathaniel Witherell and Abilis, which helps developmentally disabled people live independent lives.

Ms. Rutgers thanked all 28 committee members, which includes representatives from the RTM, the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and the town’s Housing Authority, for their work in evaluating the requests, which included site visits.

“We have a very difficult job,” Ms. Rutgers said. “There was a lot of cutting to do which is very hard because every project looks worthwhile.”

Selectman Drew Marzullo asked how difficult that was and Ms. Rutgers admitted the necessity of looking at the job as one where you were required to cut which was a challenge since there were “so many worthwhile projects” in the area. There were three meetings and two public hearings before the committee made its recommendations and there were even subcommittees formed to go out and look at the individual requests and evaluate them through site visits.

“It’s a very good committee,” Ms. Rutgers said. “Our only problem is that when we do the site visits, we tend to become advocates for those particular agencies. This year the committee was very good in not doing that and trying to look at the overall picture.”

Amongst the more difficult cuts, according to Ms. Rutgers, were denying requests of $450,000 for vehicles and $9,341 for equipment for the Glenville Volunteer Fire Company. Ms. Rutgers said the committee felt the requests were “very worthwhile and very much needed” but that there was a unanimous feeling that the block grant wasn’t the appropriate way to fund the fire company. She said that of all the volunteer companies in town, only Glenville and Byram’s would even be eligible for consideration due to the census data for economic levels in those areas.

“We want the message to go out to the town and the BET that there should be some policy developed for things that seem essential to our public safety,” Ms. Rutgers said, later adding that, “We are concerned that their requests are for equipment that is really vital to the work that they do. We would have liked to have funded them in the sense that we deemed what they were requesting was very important but looking at it in terms of the agencies we fund we just felt this wasn’t the appropriate source of funding.”

The volunteer fire companies operate independently but do make funding requests from the town and Mr. Tesei said this was something that could be reviewed as part of the budget process and there was no reason he could think of that the Glenville company couldn’t ask for the money that way. Mr. Tesei said that he agreed with Ms. Rutgers and the committee’s decision on the request.

Certain projects were given a priority due to the emergency nature of them, such as $239,304 for boiler replacements at the town owned housing complex at Armstrong Court. That is the most sizable of the allocations in this year’s recommendations and Ms. Rutgers said it was important to get that done before winter. Since the request was ready to go and the need was clear it was given weight over some of the other requests made.

Ms. Rutgers said another emergency involved the Shelter for the Homeless Inc. which needed roof renovation, entrance repair and shower renovations at its Pacific House Emergency Shelter. There were requests of $48,750 and $22,300 made from the shelter for that and the money was allocated early through unused funds left from the year before, meaning it doesn’t even have to go through this process.

The committee’s work was highly praised by the selectmen.

“You do a difficult job very well,” Selectman David Theis said. “The hardest thing is to say no to people, especially when they’re organizations like these which are all so deserving.”

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