WHEELING - Despite yet another cut to the city's annual Community Development Block Grant allocation, Wheeling residents should see more streets paved and sidewalks repaired through the program this year than in years past.
Two main factors - a strategy shift by city officials in demolishing dilapidated buildings and the availability of a huge chunk of money tied up this year in building the playground at the J.B. Chambers Recreation park under construction in East Wheeling - mean the city will have more than $546,000 at its disposal for infrastructure projects during the 2014-15 fiscal year in addition to whatever it receives from the new municipal sales tax. By contrast, the city is spending just under $71,000 in CDBG funds on streets and sidewalks this year.
The city's CDBG spending plan, which is available for public inspection at the Economic and Community Development Department office on the third floor of the City-County Building, anticipates a total 2014-15 allocation of about $1.13 million, down from $1.15 million for this year and 30 percent less than Wheeling received just four years ago through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie, right, confers with Councilman Don Atkinson, center, and Building Codes official Frank Wilson during a recent tour of dilapidated property on 15th Street in East Wheeling.
"I think it may level off for the next couple of years, possibly," said Economic and Community Development Director Nancy Prager of the continued decline in federal funding, which has led to some difficult decisions for city officials in deciding what projects to fund.
Residents will have the opportunity to express their views on the proposal during a public hearing at City Council's 5:30 p.m. April 15 meeting.
While almost half of the CDBG grant will pay for streets and sidewalks, nearly 40 percent of it will go toward program administration and debt reduction, according to the plan.
Wheeling will spend $226,883 for administrative costs - 20 percent of its total allocation, the maximum share allowed by HUD. Another $204,000 will go toward paying off the city's $2.25 million Section 108 loan taken out in 2005 to bring the Lowe's store to Center Wheeling, on which it still owes about $1.38 million.
Meanwhile, almost 14 percent - slightly below HUD's maximum 15-percent threshold - will go to public service agencies.
Money set aside for city entities include $65,000 for directed police patrols in East Wheeling and on Wheeling Island, $33,000 for the Nelson Jordan Center recreation facility, $15,000 to pay for summer employees at the East Wheeling swimming pool and $10,000 for the city Human Rights Commission. Funding slated for non-city organizations includes $18,000 for Wheeling Health Right to provide medication for low-income clients; $4,500 each for Family Service-Upper Ohio Valley's meal delivery and senior transportation programs, the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling and the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless; and $2,500 for supplies at the Seeing Hand Association's workshop for the visually impaired.
This year, for the first time in recent memory, the city will budget no CDBG money for demolition, and instead will seek to pay for such projects through the general fund. As recently as two years ago, the city set aside $200,000 of its allocation to raze dilapidated structures - but city officials have grown frustrated with the red tape involved in using CDBG money to tear down buildings.
In 2013, when City Council voted to shift $100,000 from demolition to the playground project, Prager said the city still had money left over from previous years due to delays in getting the State Historic Preservation Office to approve federally funded demolitions.