The City Commission met at Compass last night to determine the allocation of the Community Development Block Grant money for three city projects.  As expected it was a long and at times contentious meeting as the public and the Commissioners expressed their views on what the priorities should be and what percentage of the funds should be assigned to each.

Mayor Varela opened the discussion by expressing his view that a housing program was vital to combat our deteriorating housing stock and a key to revitalizing the west side of the city.  Commissioner Maxwell was opposed to any sort of housing program and stated his preference for concrete infrastructure improvements.  Commissioner Golden was also in favor of the housing program and pointed to the City Manager’s successful experience with these types of initiatives.  Commissioner Jennings did favor the housing program as well, but took care to look at the past C.D.B.G. projects that were previously funded but not completed and if they should be reprogrammed into this year’s projects or completed.  Commissioner Mulvehill, also supported the idea of a housing project, but expressed her leanings towards parks, including a dog park as well.

While it was clear from from the opening discussion that the the housing program would top the list, when it came to public participation it was also clear that the audience had other ideas.

Mary Lindsey produced what she claimed was an e-mail thread proving that the total amount of the current and unused C.D.B.G. amounted to closer to $740,000 versus the $600,000 stated in the backup material.  She accused the City of withholding information and asked how could they run a housing program if they didn’t even know how much money they had.  Her claims were completely put to rest by Community Development Director Wayne Bergman when he provided a chronological accounting of the funds that was confirmed by the county.

Other residents spoke for the need to put an addition on the gymnasium, the desire for parks in the Tropical Ridge neighborhood, improving the sidewalk situation around Highland Elementary as well as the need for traffic calming.  Many also spoke out against the housing program often stating that they did not think the City should function “as a bank” and that the additional staffing and administration required would be prohibitive.  It was also pointed out by the public and Commissioner Maxwell that the amount of money dedicated to a housing program would likely be too little to have a worthwhile impact. City Manager Stanton did her best to allay those concerns citing her prior experience with similar projects and by pointing out that the funds for the housing programs could be leveraged by private and public programs, sometimes as much as receiving 7 dollars for every program dollar.

At the end of public comment the Commission’s discussion turned to identifying three projects, resulting in the housing program, the addition to the gymnasium and traffic calming being chosen.

Next they turned to the amount of funding to be allocated to each.  With the $250,000 from the current funding cycle and 350,000 that could be reprogrammed from previous C.D.B.G. funding the task was to divide the resulting $600,000 in a manner that would assure successful outcomes for all three projects.

The cost of gymnasium was estimated to be between $125,000 and $200,000 dollars and the Commission debated the actual amount needed, with Commissioner Maxwell asking several time, what would happen if the allocated funds were not enough to complete the job.  Options such as using CIP funds and any unspent money from projects now in progress were suggested as a way to assure the proper completion of the gymnasium.  Commissioner Maxwell promised that if there was a problem with its completion there “would be a discussion, and it wouldn’t be pretty”.

After several failed motions the end result was that the $250,000 from the current cycle would be divided evenly between the gymnasium and traffic calming, and the remaining $350,000 in funding being reprogrammed to the housing program.

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