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Marietta City Council to review CDBG requests

Demolition continued Wednesday at 615-619 Putnam Ave. in Marietta, following the citizen-driven request in 2019 to remove the blighted property with the federally funded Community Development Block Grant. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

After three weeks of request collection for Community Development Block Grant funding for the 2021 federal fiscal year, Marietta city officials will begin a review of those requests this evening in a joint council committee meeting.

That meeting, combining Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee with Finance Committee, was scheduled by PZAH Chairman Geoff Schenkel to begin at 5:30 p.m. in room 10 of the Armory, 241 Front St.

In the request forms and other submitted letters supplied through a public record request submitted by the Times to Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz and Development Director Mike Gulliver, 104 individuals were represented in the 229 total request forms provided.

Of those 104 individuals, 65 are residents of Marietta specifically advocating for requests in low-to-moderate income areas of the city, as identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as the priority locations within which to expend the federal dollars.

An additional 33 individuals representing volunteer, agency, or nonprofit organizations or businesses, make up the second-largest demographic of requesters this cycle.

Then five individuals either directly deriving a paycheck from or benefiting from a city paycheck made up the third demographic represented in documents provided.

And finally, one council member, Finance Chairman Mike Scales, provided a singular request as submitted by a city legislator this cycle.

However, by the tallies noted in a spreadsheet provided by Gulliver, between 21 and 23 additional documents representing requests Gulliver said represented city administration, the development office or engineering office, were not yet included in the records provided.

Additionally, there were missing documents for Gulliver’s spreadsheet tally of requests concerning: a redevelopment of pedestrian access to Buckeye Park from the Ingleside and Kenwood avenues’ intersection, which has been closed since approximately mid-2017; and missing documents to match up with the number of requests Gulliver noted for the Historic Harmar Bridge (which for multiple years has been deemed an ineligible spend for funding without clear deliverables in past proposals), and the number of requests Gulliver noted for a wheelchair lift for the Peoples Bank Theatre.

“I’ll work on getting those documents in the morning,” said Wetz on Wednesday. “I don’t remember filling out a request for anything, maybe the mayor did, but I don’t know that.”

Wetz confirmed that the process for how government entities, employees or other agencies are to request the federal funds has not been made clear this year, since he has been in office, noting that the question has been asked of Gulliver at multiple public meetings by both the Times and citizens attending and while Wetz met with Gulliver and the Times on Monday.

But, depending on how administrative, organizational/business and non-resident requests are to be weighted in the grading metric for requests, a total of between 250 and 252 request documents should be reflected in today’s discussion and further discussions by council before moving forward with recommended expenditures of the federal funds.

“At first and second passes, there are a lot of good and reasonable recommendations,” Schenkel noted this week when reviewing the public records provided to the Times. “There seems to be an increased emphasis on blight, which shows a good recognition of the community needs and what citizens are bringing to our attention.”

Schenkel also noted that Gulliver’s initial recommendation for $4,500 in the 2021 funding to be used to upgrade Americans with Disabilities Act compliance for the newly renovated city harbor building is not only within the realm of HUD’s secondary priority for accessibility but may also provide other potential benefits.

“That seems a reasonable fit to HUD guidelines and the dollar figure seems frugal,” he said Tuesday.

However, both Wetz and Schenkel again reiterated this week that the scale by which requests are weighted begs multiple questions.

“If we require our citizens, our most vulnerable living in those low-to-moderate income neighborhoods or trying to do business in those areas to fight fair and in public, then others shouldn’t have special access to power,” Schenkel explained.

Among questions remaining going into today’s meeting:

What are the requirements for a member of the city administration to request CDBG funds?

Which kinds of requests carry the most weight in the CDBG request process? What is the grading scale?

What are the requirements for outside agencies, nonprofits and organizations to request CDBG funds? How are they to be notified of their requirements if they are pursuing more than one year of funding?

How will the three-year consolidated plan for fiscal years 2021-2023 be determined? (Gulliver provided a one-page spreadsheet to the Times and Wetz Monday, which he stated was the three-year plan for the city’s CDBG allocation. The last consolidated plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2018-2020 was 167 pages and can be downloaded from the city website at bit.ly/18-20MttaConsolidated).

Wetz and Schenkel noted the importance of attendance tonight of not only Law Director Paul Bertram, Development Director Mike Gulliver, Development Clerk Lisa Forshey and Code Enforcement Official Wayne Rinehart, but also all individuals who submitted requests or would wish to show support for requests submitted.

Schenkel said he plans to conduct the meeting through direct reflection of the initial recommendations Gulliver submits to council today, with directed questions to those who have submitted requests and to the city officials listed above.

Out of the committee meeting, the following options may also be pursued:

– Legislators, or Schenkel alone as chairman of Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee, may require the city law director to draft legislation for introduction on Aug. 20, adding oversight, measurements of requests and further declaration of requester roles before proceeding with consideration of the development office’s recommendations for the 2021 CDBG budget.

– According to city ordinances, Marietta citizens may also seek by formal petition the same.

The meeting is open to the public but will be subject to outlined agenda and speaking requirements outlined by the chairmen conducting the working meeting.

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