Final requests made for block grant funding

Alma Rutgers, chairman Community Development Advisory Committee, outlined the allocation recommendations and spoke about the difficult choices that had to be made.

Alma Rutgers, chairman Community Development Advisory Committee, outlined the allocation recommendations and spoke about the difficult choices that had to be made.

Before any final allocations of money are made through the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), the impacted groups had a chance for a final say.

Under the program, which distributes federal funds to local social services agencies, there are slated to be $700,000 worth of grants distributed out of more than $2 million in funding requests. The initial recommendations of what money goes where were made last month by the Community Development Advisory Committee, but the final call rests with First Selectman Peter Tesei who submits the list to the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and Representative Town Meeting (RTM) for review and approval.

Mr. Tesei typically adheres very closely, if not exactly, with the committee’s recommendations but on Aug. 14 it was the last chance of groups that did, and did not, receive CDBG grants to make their case to him before those decisions are made.

A number of committee members attended the hearing including its chairman, Alma Rutgers, and vice-chairman, Christopher Von Keyserling, who is also a member of the RTM. Committee members Sean Goldrick, a member of the BET, and Samarpana Tamm, who is on the RTM, were also there. Ms. Rutgers spoke briefly and said that all the requests that were made for very limited dollars made for a lot of difficult decisions for the committee this year.

“It’s very hard cutting so many worthwhile requests,” Ms. Rutgers said. “Every agency is deserving. I think the committee this year did a very good job.”

Mr. von Keyserling added, “This is one of the more hard-working, insightful groups we’ve had. There is not one of the groups that made requests that wasn’t legitimately deserving. Anybody that was left out wasn’t left out because they weren’t deserving.”

Mr. Tesei thanked all the committee members for their work on this as well as Princess Erfe, the town’s community development administrator, and said he would take their recommendations “very seriously” before making his decision.

“If one takes a look at just this one page and sees the proposed requests and subsequent recommendations they might not know that behind those requests and recommendations is a considerable amount of regulatory compliance work and making sure the various requests qualify and are in conformity to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standards,” Mr. Tesei said. “It’s important to note that while this looks like it’s just one piece of paper, behind each of these is a considerable amount of work and due diligence.”

The $700,000 figure for funding from the federal government is only an estimation right now made by Ms. Erfe based on all the knowledge she currently has about the situation, so the final total might differ. Last year the committee ended up getting more money than it expected through the CDBG program. It was able to be applied early to this year’s request by the town’s Housing Authority to replace the boiler at the town housing complex at Armstrong Court as well as to a request from the nearby Shelter for the Homeless for roof and entrance repair. The BET has already approved those funds and the RTM is set to consider the allocation at its September meeting.

That freed up money to be used elsewhere this year since the boiler request, which was considered an emergency, had already been funded. And the groups that attended the hearing offered hope that if ultimately the town again got more money than anticipated from the federal government they could receive some of it.

A change in the program suggested by Mr. Goldrick could potentially free up money as well. Mr. Goldrick had suggested that the town look at assuming the administration costs, which are slated to be $140,000 this year, for the CDBG program under the municipal budget rather than have the government’s allocation pay for it. Mr. Tesei indicated this was a worthy idea he was continuing to look at, but Mr. von Keyserling said it likely could not be done under town charter since the BET at the time of the program’s implementation in the 1970s had set it up in a way to get “all of the benefits and none of the expense.”

Anthony Johnson, executive director of the Greenwich Housing Authority, thanked the committee for its quick work in approving the funds for the boiler.

“These funds will go a long way toward improving the housing that we run and manage,” Mr. Johnson said. “It will continue to improve the backbone of the basic structures of the buildings. You’d have to see this boiler to know it’s being held together by string, glue and a lot of other stuff.”

Among the others who spoke were Adele Gordon from the Franklin Street Community Health Center, which is slated to receive $5,000 for its senior dental program, which benefits those below the poverty line and who otherwise might not be able to afford to go to a dentist.

“There are a lot of seniors who are going to be in better health and be able to eat better because of this,” Ms. Gordon said, adding that she expected the program to be able to help close to 200 people this year from this funding and other sources.

Raquel Virgo, from Inspirica, also thanked the committee for allocating $45,443 for bathroom renovations at its emergency shelter and transitional housing facilities and $21,900 for safety renovations at its residence for those suffering from HIV and AIDS.

“We serve an extremely vulnerable population,” Ms. Virgo said. “We serve individuals and families who are homeless throughout Fairfield County… Our McKinney House serves men and women who have HIV/AIDS. They are a particularly vulnerable segment of the homeless population we’re serving.”

Money also is set to go to other sources like the YWCA of Greenwich’s domestic abuse services program, Family Centers Inc.’s Head Start programs in town and Meals on Wheels but also to out of town agencies.

“This program provides funding for agencies that may not necessarily be domiciled in the town of Greenwich but provide support to citizens of the town of Greenwich,” Mr. Tesei said. “Without that explanation the casual observer might not understand what this program actually does. The money doesn’t just go to agencies in Greenwich but also to Stamford, Darien and New Canaan to provide support to people from town.”

The hearing was also a chance for groups that did not have funding requests approved to bring their case directly to Mr. Tesei.

One of those who spoke was Bobby Walker Jr., the new executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich. The club had made a $10,000 request for its after-school program but the committee did not allocate funds for it and Mr. Walker asked for that to be reconsidered so the program could continue to grow.

“The after-school program at the Boys & Girls Club serves an incredibly vital role, I believe, in the town of Greenwich,” Mr. Walker said. “It gives students a place to go after school. It’s a place where they’re not only going to get academic support at times they need it but sometimes, as one young man said to me, ‘Mr. Walker, it’s my home away from home.’ It’s a place for academic support and physical fitness and we’re very proud of our character development programs. We’re working very hard to get these young students to become the kind of people we want them to be. … Instead of creating a program that’s just good enough or one where we’re getting by, we really feel the young people of Greenwich deserve a place and a program that is all about excellence and is really giving them what they need.”

Britt Particelli from GADC River House in Greenwich also spoke. That program, which provides activities for seniors during the day, received $15,000 under the committee’s recommendations to help pay for repainting and waterproofing of the facility. That will help go toward phase one of the project, but Ms. Particelli said the cost estimate for the project is expected to be high since it is a historic building. The original request to the committee was for $59,000.

“If there are any additional funds please consider allocating them toward this project,” Ms. Particelli said. “GADC River House is a medical model adult day center and is really important to the community. We served 155 different people last year and they would have been placed in nursing homes or assisted living without our help. This way they can remain in their homes.”

Mr. Tesei said the goal is to have his decision on the committee’s recommendations made within a relatively short time frame so it can be before the BET in time for a November review and then RTM in December. He also urged citizens to “step up when possible” to help programs like these because of the increasing diversity of Greenwich’s population and the need for social services agencies that are looking for funds.

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