More public input sought to help plan CDBG funds

Marietta residents have increased opportunities this year to help the city spend approximately $350,000 in federal tax dollars from its annual Community Development Block Grant entitlement.

“We want as many citizens as possible to attend these meetings that are designed to gain public input that’s a valuable part of the planning process for using the block grant funds,” said Andy Coleman, development director for the city of Marietta.

In past years the city has conducted two public hearings each summer to receive public input, which is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that administers the CDBG funding.

“That may be a HUD requirement, but we would do this regardless,” Coleman said. “And we’re planning for at least three public meetings this year, and I would really like to do a fourth.”

The next public input session will be at 7 p.m. July 7 in the basement of the O’Neill Center on Fourth Street. Coleman said he’s making arrangements for the third meeting, but a final time and place has not been determined at this time.

In an effort to beef up attendance at the meetings, the city development department is using various forms of media, including social media, to spread the word.

The first public hearing was held at the Gilman United Methodist Church on Monday, but attendance was extremely light, according to Marietta Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward.

He said only two people attended who weren’t city officials, Brooks Harper and Chuck Swaney from the Historic Harmar Bridge Company.

They requested $15,000 for repairs to the pedestrian walkway that runs along one side of the well-used 150-plus-year-old railroad bridge that connects downtown Marietta with the Harmar District.

“The plan would be to improve or upgrade the section of the walkway from the Marietta approach, approximately 150 feet,” Harper and Swaney said in a letter requesting the CDBG funds.

Vukovic also submitted a list of 11 projects that he and constituents would like to see completed in the 4th Ward. The top two projects included the rebuilding of George Street from Lancaster Street to the Anchorage, and repair of the drainage ditch system at Lord and Fearing streets.

He said both of those projects have been on his list for years.

“The George Street rebuilding will have to be done. When the Anchorage reconstruction is completed that street will provide access for tour bus traffic,” Vukovic said. “And it’s been six or seven years that we’ve been asking for funds to repair the drainage at Lord and Fearing streets.”

Albert Sarver, whose home is located on Fearing Street near the stone walled drainage ditch, has attended annual public CDBG meetings in the past, asking for funds to repair the drainage system as water from the ditch backs into his basement during periods of heavy rain.

“The water still gets into our basement when there’s a lot of rain, but he’s not able to take care of it like he used to,” said Albert’s wife, Janice Sarver, who added that her husband has been facing some health issues recently.

She said city crews do come out occasionally to clean debris out of the ditch, but storm water continues to drain toward the Sarvers’ home instead of flowing eastward into the Muskingum River like other storm drains in the Harmar area.

Vukovic said he’ll continue to request CDBG money to fix the drainage, a project he estimates would cost around $15,000.

“The project has not been completed, and where else are we going to get the money to do it?” he asked. “These projects take years to get done because we don’t have enough money to go around, and we’re getting less federal dollars. I may get about $10,000 to $15,000 for my entire ward every year. If HUD wants to see improved low to moderate income areas of our city, then give us more money to work with.”

Vukovic noted a portion of each year’s block grant entitlement goes toward ongoing expenses, including administration of the grant by the city development department, support of housing programs and the community bus lines, as well as helping with installation of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps during the city’s annual streets paving program.

Still, he believes citizens should be attending the public CDBG hearings and voicing their opinions about how the grant funds should be spent.

“If they’re coming to the meeting and expecting to get their wish list granted next year, that’s not likely to happen,” he said. “But this at least gives us an idea what the public wants.”

Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, agreed.

“This is an opportunity for people to help decide where $350,000 of their tax money will go,” he said. “Even if a project they suggest is not funded, the more input we have, the better. And we’ve been cited in the past for not having enough public input.”

Kalter said every year the development department submits the list of requested projects to the council members who use that list to help formulate the CDBG budget that must be submitted to HUD by Nov. 15 this year.

Coleman said every project request for CDBG funding that the development department receives is placed on a prioritized and submitted to HUD each year.

He noted the more people who request a certain project, the higher that project is prioritized on the list.

Also during this year’s public meetings, Coleman said the development department will be handing out survey forms for citizens to fill out that will help give council members direction in setting a three-year consolidated project plan the city will submit to HUD for 2015 through 2017.

“It’s the public’s money, and we want feedback about how the public wants it spent. And we want as much public input as we can get,” he said.