City Commission scheduled to make CDBG funding priority decisions on May 15

Staff presented their recommendations for funding priorities for this year’s Community Development Block Grant allocation and on May 15, the Great Falls City Commission is scheduled to vote on the city’s priorities.

The city’s allocation is $776,621 this year, up from last year. That’s significant, Planning Director Craig Raymond said, because the trend in recent years has been decreasing allocations and the federal grant program has been in jeopardy.

City staff making CDBG funding recommendations during Tuesday’s commission meeting

That’s why staff is proposing a mix of grants and loans to build stability into the city’s CDBG program. Some CDBG funds can be used for a revolving loan fund and those funds come back for reuse and can generate interest.

The city is also anticipating $285,831 in HOME funds.

Raymond said that means the city will be able to fund an “unprecedented level of new construction.”

Representatives from the Indian Family Health Clinic spoke during the last meeting to encourage commissioners to consider using CDBG funds to support the clinic.

Commissioner Tracy Houck lamented the old city process for reviewing and awarding CDBG grants.

“It was an non-efficient program,” she said during the May 1 meeting. She said that often money was allocated but couldn’t be spent for various reasons and that “caused a complete hair pulling. We’ve had some hard times recently. I’ve trying to stay out of it.”

Houck did not stay out of it last year when she wrote a letter to city staff complaining about conflicts of interest in the grant award process when her agency, Paris Gibson Square, did not receive funding.

Conflict of interest concerns plague this year’s CDBG allocation decisions

The city redid grant reviews for the public facilities portion without the review committee member who had a conflict of interest with PGS that she did not initially disclose.

Commission rescinds, votes again on CDBG funding

In the second round, PGS did receive funding.

City staff propose changes to ethics policies, creation of ethics board in response to conflict of interest issues

The issue prompted more conflict of interest concerns, review by city staff and led to a review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which owns the CDBG program.

HUD declines funding for Paris Gibson Square in controversial CDBG process

HUD declined to fund PGS and through further review, deemed several other local agencies ineligible for CDBG funds.

More CDBG funding suspended as HUD continues review of city’s process

Raymond said the staff’s goal is to be more aggressive in achieving goals quickly and that’s the purpose for spending the majority of the CDBG funds in specific categories this year, versus spreading the funds out in past years. Staff has recommended that 50 percent be used for public improvements. That’s $666,000 toward enhancing public infrastructure, city facility accessibility and playground equipment to enhance ADA access. The public improvements category would also include a minimum of 20 percent, or $266,000, of the total budget toward retrofitting ADA access projects, under the staff recommendation.

City sent response letter to HUD on conflict of interest issues, awaiting response

Staff is recommending that 45 percent of the funds go toward residential housing rehabilitation. That could include low or no interest loans for property owners, assisting very lot to moderate income individuals to bring properties up to code and upgrade the city’s housing stock to provide safe, affordable housing. This category also includes funding toward housing education and counseling.

Staff making recommendations for revised Great Falls CDBG process; grant funding

Staff is also recommending 5 percent, or $66,000, toward public services that focus specifically on addressing homelessness and senior services, or alcohol and drug treatment. To qualify for CDBG funds, public service projects must be new and/or expanding services that benefit low-to-moderate income persons.

Raymond told commissioners that the percentages could change from year to year to address the most pressing community needs.