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City plans use of CDBG funds

Photo by Janelle Patterson Lower west side residents discuss steps for requesting tree removal, sidewalk repair and CDBG aid in a neighborhood meeting in the park next to the railroad cars in Harmar Sunday.

Photo by Janelle Patterson Lower west side residents discuss steps for requesting tree removal, sidewalk repair and CDBG aid in a neighborhood meeting in the park next to the railroad cars in Harmar Sunday.

Three public request meetings, three public opportunities to educate and guide, and the reflections of those Community Development Block Grant meetings have drawn mixed conclusions.

“I am irate that Wayne Rinehart was there spreading misinformation, I think it’s an abuse of power,” said Councilman Geoff Schenkel of Monday’s final request meeting.

Rinehart is the city’s part-time (30-hour) code enforcement official who works to respond to blight and nuisance complaints submitted to the city.

He appeared at the final meeting and when more than 25 separately signed requests outlining the imminent threat of the city’s identified number two priority blighted property, 115-117 Gilman Ave., was submitted for a demolition request, told residents that such a demolition would not be eligible for the federally funded program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“No administrator should be using that forum to be discouraging requests and spreading misinformation,” said Schenkel.“I expect the law director to make that clear to the administration. I think that should be a (human resources violation).”

The use of the federal grant program to demolish properties was deemed not only legal, but also able to be reinvested after a cleared property is sold by the city so long as the program income received from a sale is then used for further blight removal through the same line item last year.

City Law Director Paul Bertram did not return the Times’ request for comment before press time Wednesday.

Other requests Monday included that of Peoples Bank Theatre Executive Director Hunt Brawley, proposing the investment by the city of $7,500 in CDBG funds to leverage as local match another $22,500 in grant funding from the Bureau of Workers Compensation for a hydraulic lift to gain ADA access to the stage of the theater off of the Third Street sidewalk.

“What we’d like to do is install a buried scissor lift on the Third Street side loading dock that when it’s not in use is flush with the sidewalk,” said Brawley on Wednesday.

Schenkel said he was in support of the idea, noting that the proposal more clearly aligns with the tenets of the HUD national objectives than many other requests which he’s been observant of over the last three funding request cycles.

Another request discussed Monday was that of a trash bin at the top of the boat dock ramp located on the west side below Fort Street and north of the closed Historic Harmar Walking Bridge.

Trash bins have been requested and denied before, through the CDBG process, because former Development Director Andy Coleman said the cost of a trash bin ran $522.25 per unit in 2018.

While technical difficulties plagued both the second and third meetings for Times’ requested participatory access and Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz’s access in the final meeting Monday, in review with Wetz following that final meeting, he noted that the requests for trash bins in the west side could be addressed in-house without the wait for federal funds, which are already almost a year behind in submission to HUD.

“I wish I could answer their requests (in real time) so I could talk with them about where they want it,” Wetz noted in the Zoom call with the Times. “Tanner (Huffman, foreman of public facilities) just found two (Monday) I’ll have him look for more.”

Any final requests meeting qualifications for the low- to moderate-income benefit, urgent need or aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight, as outlined by national objectives of HUD, are to be accepted by the city development department through 5 p.m. Monday.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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