Christmas may be over, but local agencies that feed Wheeling's hungry, care for its sick and house those who have nowhere else to go are just now compiling their wish lists for the city's Community Development Block Grant program.
For city leaders, the coming decisions aren't about who's been naughty or nice, but how to have the most impact on the greatest possible number of people with an increasingly smaller pool of resources.
Non-profit organizations have until Feb. 7 to apply for a portion of Wheeling's CDBG allocation from the federal government for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The city received $1,156,000 this year - only 15 percent of which it may distribute to public service agencies.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Nancy Prager, director of Wheeling’s Economic and Community Development Department, reviews paperwork in her office at the City-County Building.
The city has seen a steady decline in its entitlement amount, to the tune of about $500,000 over the last three years. Officials were pleasantly surprised this year with a modest increase of about $34,000 over the previous year's allocation - but that was a one-time shot in the arm, the result of unspent disaster relief funds.
"We have really no idea what to expect" in 2014, said Nancy Prager, director of Wheeling's Economic and Community Development Department, which oversees the city's CDBG program.
As Wheeling's annual CDBG allocation has dwindled over time, so has the number of applications that cross Prager's desk each year.
In years past, it wasn't unusual for the city to receive more than 20 requests for funding, but Prager now expects to receive no more than seven or eight. With an increasingly smaller pool of funds to be distributed, many agencies have decided that applying for CDBG money isn't a productive way for their grant writers to spend their time, she said.
That's not to say choosing who gets funded and who doesn't has become any easier. Even with drastically fewer applicants, the ratio of total funding requested to money available is "five to one, easily," Prager said, noting it comes down to choosing the programs that will have the most impact on the greatest number of people.
"It's a very difficult decision. It really is. ... Everybody's worthy," Prager said.
Wheeling's CDBG spending for public services in the current fiscal year includes $50,000 for directed police patrols in East Wheeling and on Wheeling Island, $33,000 for the city-owned Nelson Jordan Center recreation facility, $28,000 for Wheeling Health Right, $14,000 for the city Human Rights Commission, $5,000 each for the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling and the Greater Wheeling Homeless Coalition and $4,250 for the Seeing Hand Association.
Prager said she was relieved when Congress earlier this month reached a two-year budget agreement, the first such measure in several years. At the very least, she said, that should mean the city will learn its entitlement amount by January or February.
Earlier this year, the budget impasse in Congress put City Council in the unusual position of having to pass a CDBG spending plan without knowing how much Wheeling would receive. The budget had to be approved in May to meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development deadlines, but officials didn't learn the city's true allocation until June, less than a month before the fiscal year began.
Residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on the community needs they believe the CDBG program should address during a public hearing set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 11 in council chambers on the first floor of the City-County Building.