City Council gives tentative approval to community block grant plan

rpulley@lsjournal.comMay 8, 2013 

Lee’s Summit City Council debated May 2 whether to cut money going to local projects funded by a federal grant to recover costs the city incurs from overseeing the grant.

Several members wanted to take $50,000 out of plan to spend about $286,000 on programming from Community Development Block Grant money in 2013-14 and use it for covering management costs of the grants. The money comes from an annual allocation from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

Councilmember Derek Holland, who identified himself as a conservative, said he still would be a spokesman for the “little people” and was against taking money away from programs like minor home repair for low income residents.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing...” Holland said. “We’re taking $50,000 from the least among us.”

Holland said he understood the city had a tight budget but contended there would be other areas where cuts would be preferable.

If the council insisted on cuts in the CDBG programs he said he’d prefer taking it from a proposed walking trail getting some funding.

The council voted to approve the full amount of about $286,000 budget and forgo the administrative fees. Council members David Mosby, Holland, Bob Johnson and Kathy Hofmann voted yes, Rob Binney, Ed Cockrell and Brian Whitley voted no and Allan Gray was absent.

The spending plan will have to be approved by a vote on a formal ordinance scheduled for May 16.

The decision came only after the council debated whether to take money out of the proposed amount of $150,000 for the city’s minor home repair program or from $53,494 to help build part of the trail between downtown and Harris Memorial Park.

Whitley moved to take the money from the home repair, but it was amended to take $50,000 from the trail. The final vote on Whitley’s proposal failed with Binney, Holland, Hoffman and Cockrell voting no.

The projects are among those intended to help low to moderate income residents. Other agencies, such as Lee’s Summit Social Services, Hope House Coldwater and ReDiscover also get grants from CDBG.

A cut to the minor home repair program would mean that 10 instead 15 homes could get repairs.

Federal rules would allow the city to take 20 percent for cost of managing the CDBG grant. In prior years the city has taken some money to use for staff training, said Bob McKay, director of the planning and development department.

The city staff estimates the city spends about $195,000 each year to administer the CDBG program, devoting 3,000 or as high as 5,200 hours, based on a survey of staff.

Heping Zahn, who oversees the program for the city, told the council that the city hadn’t pinned down the actual hours and he thinks the number is more likely between 3,000 and 4,000 overall.

Whitley said as a taxpayer he’d already been taxed once by the federal government to supply the CDBG funds and and having to use local taxes for administration mounts to getting “hit twice” as a taxpayer. He proposed dropping the minor home repair program by $50,000.

Cockrell, who said in the past he supported the city absorbing costs, agreed that because of the tight operating budget proposed for 2013-14 it should begin taking a share for administration. He noted that since there weren’t any applications already accepted for minor home repairs in the coming budget, no one was losing support they expected.

Mosby said he thought the hours being reported for administration were “inflated” as 5,000 hours amounts to more that two full time positions. “I don’t think so,” Mosby said.

City Manager Steve Arbo told Mosby he “didn’t appreciate” that comment. Mosby responded “It doesn’t make any difference to me if you appreciate it or not.”

Mosby said he stands by his thoughts on those numbers.

Hofmann, chairman of the CDBG subcommittee, said the city shouldn’t take money from the social service agencies.

“This is no time to take it from people in need, who are helping people in need,” Hofmann said.

Binney agreed that the city needs to consider how much local money it is spending on administration of the CDBG grant.

“We have to start recovering that administrative cost or finding a better way of containing the costs to administer that grant,” Binney said.

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