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City Leaders Look to Revamp CDBG Allocation Process

Photo by Eric Ayres – City officials in Wheeling awarded a number of Community Development Block Grant Funds to several local charitable agencies this past week, but some expressed a desire to revamp the way the city allocates these funds in the future. From left are council members Ben Seidler, Rosemary Ketchum and Jerry Sklavounakis, City Manager Robert Herron and Mayor Glenn Elliott.

WHEELING – Nearly a dozen local entities were awarded Community Development Block Grant funds from the city of Wheeling this week, but some officials are looking to re-examine the formula used to allocate these federal funds to charitable organizations each year.

By a majority vote, members of Wheeling City Council this past week gave final approval to a lengthy list of ordinances, each awarding CDBG funds to local charitable agencies, service organizations and other eligible entities.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides CDBG funding to the city for distribution for applicable community improvement programs. This year, the city received more than $1 million in CDBG money, which is designed to be used in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. The city’s allocation over the past two decades has roughly been cut in half.

“These are funds that we get from the federal government each and every year, and we’ve come up with formulas to provide funds to different agencies throughout the city,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “We’ve done this for years and years and years, and especially during these challenging times, the city is pleased to be able to help the many non-profit organizations that provide many valuable services to our community.”

However, the mayor indicated the process of awarding these grant funds has become so routine, agencies can basically budget in their annual allocation and almost rely on it. He said he would like to see this change.

“I’d say going forward, rather than city council giving sort of small dollar amounts to a handful of different agencies, I’d like to see us work with the city staff and work with council to come up with an approach which actually has one or two larger grants and a process that’s a little bit more competitive, where we encourage organizations not to use these funds as sort of just their bottom line but to come up with innovative programs and really get them in the spirit of what that block grant was intended to do.”

For example, Elliott noted that instead of an agency building $5,000 of an expected CDBG allocation into their bottom line, they can pitch a proposed use and compete for a $50,000 allocation that could make a bigger impact.

This year the awarding schedule was “a little bit compressed,” according to the mayor, particularly because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the typical operations.

“I recognize that this year, the process was pushed back for a variety of reasons, and I don’t think that it’s time to revisit it this year, but I think going forward, this is something I’d like all of us to work toward,” Elliott told members of council this week.

This is not the first time city council has examined how CDBG funds are allocated. During Mayor Nick Sparachane’s term, the council decided to stop treating allocations from the program as annual budget supplements, much as is being considered now.

Councilman Ben Seidler said he agreed with the proposal, and went further to vote against the CDBG allocations this week in a move he described as a “symbolic gesture” that he believes signifies the need for a change in how the funds are distributed.

“I appreciate the incredible services that these non-profit organizations provide to our community,” Seidler said. “The services they provide make a positive impact to our residents each and every day.”

The motion was passed by a vote of 6-1.

“I voted no because I believe that some of these organizations would have more runway to positively impact our community with more funding, and perhaps some of the others don’t need the amount of funding that we have allocated for this round,” Seidler said. “Moving forward, I’m requesting that the city reevaluate the criteria used to determine the CDBG allocations and require additional documentation to justify the proof of need, including requiring organizations to provide their most recent the IRS 990 forms, in the interest of disclosing the full financial position of each organization.”

One separate and unique CDBG-funded project that was supported by city council was a $40,895 allocation for a contract with Play and Park Structures of Chattanooga, Tenn., for improvements at the Belle Isle Playground.

“Belle Isle is such a beautiful neighborhood, and I’m thankful to have the last of our playgrounds here on Wheeling Island refreshed,” Seidler said. “Neighborhood beautification is just one of the many ways we are cleaning up our neighborhoods and making them safer.”

Seidler said these types of projects push back against the stigma that causes many neglected neighborhoods to stay stagnant or even get worse over time. He said these projects help reduce blight and improve the quality of life for all residents, especially families with children.

“This is just one of the many incremental wins that will contribute to the overall very targeted and very intentional restoration of our Wheeling Island community in the coming years,” Seidler said.

When the ordinance for the Belle Isle Playground funding was introduced, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman noted that this was the city’s 17th renovation of a recreational facility, and that this project exemplified Wheeling’s continued commitment to improve the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the city.

“The previous city council made a commitment to invest in our neighborhoods, and one way we have done that is with the renovation of more than half of the city’s playgrounds,” Thalman said, noting that city leaders intend to continue these efforts into the future.

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