Council wrangles over fed dollars for needy

CDBG action plan gets blow-back from conservatives

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – In normal times, the annual approval of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Citizen Plan is routinely passed by the Johns Creek City Council as the last step after public hearings.

This time, it was anything but routine, as council split over whether to return the $270,117 in federal money or use it for projects benefitting the handicapped, the elderly and families in financial or medical emergencies.

Councilmembers argued over accepting the money or returning it as an example to Congress that it must curb spending. The argument was whether accepting the money was contrary to true conservative values.

Council finally did vote 3-2 in favor of keeping the money with Councilmembers Kathy Stewart and Lenny Zaprowski opposed.

The Johns Creek CDBG Action Plan provides a basis and strategy for the use of federal funds granted to the city by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

The city’s plan focused on an analysis of impediments to Fair Housing Choice; ADA components in Shakerag Park; programs relating to limited clientele, such as assisting the visually and physically impaired in local libraries; individuals with special needs; services for the senior population; and entitlement grant administration.

The lion’s share of the CDBG funds, $230,117, is earmarked for ADA improvements for Shakerag Park. The remaining $40,000 is to be distributed among North Fulton Community Charities, Senior Services North Fulton and the Drake House.

North Fulton Community Charities provides food, clothing and other assistance to people in need or in crisis. NFCC makes emergency payments for rent, power and other necessities to keep families in their homes during a crisis.

NFCC has a mobile unit that serves Johns Creek exclusively and makes “house calls” to families who do not have the transportation to come to its office.

Senior Services North Fulton provides senior activities for active clients and oversees the Meals on Wheels program for the elderly who are housebound. They pay for meals on a sliding scale according to their financial ability.

Senior Services Director Carrie Bulware told council that for Johns Creek housebound Meals on Wheels clients, the daily visits from the volunteers who drive the meal routes are the only human contact they will have that day.

Stephanie Andres was one who spoke against the funding on conservative grounds.

“You have to take the emotion out of the equation. I oppose the aid to the Drake House, Senior Services North Fulton and North Fulton Community Charities. There are numerous government aid agencies already funded by taxpayers to do this job,” Andres said.

“We have $40 million for roads needed. The council should stand up and say no. I can’t donate [to charity] because people who don’t work [get] the money.”

That resonated with Zaprowski who said he had “a problem” with accepting the federal dollars to help those people when other agencies exist and are funded to do those jobs. He asked if the council could accept part of the grant but not all of it. He did not say which part or parts he would accept.

If the funds were returned, the money would go to Fulton County, which is the conduit for distributing the funds based on county population. It would then re-allocate the money – presumably elsewhere – next year.

Councilman Brad Raffensperger spoke up as a conservative who did support accepting the grant. He pointed out that this is not an entitlement fund, but Johns Creek’s federal dollars returning to the city, which in turn has a wide spectrum of area in which to spend it, albeit under HUD guidelines.

“This seems erratic to me. We are using federal dollars to build a roundabout at Bell Road and Boles Road and leverage the city’s budget to lessen it. We’ll do more here with that money than if we sent it back to the federal government,” Raffensperger said.

“If the government is out of control, it is D.C. on the Potomac, not Johns Creek on the Chattahoochee. We take millions [in federal money] every year for transportation. Who says no to that? Don’t tell me we won’t take money for roads and not people.”

Stewart said she acknowledges the role these nonprofits play in the community.

“I’m struggling as well. It’s the dependency and entitlement that concerns me. I am a passionate conservative. You don’t rely on others,” she said. “Government provides the services the people can’t provide for themselves such as schools and roads.

“Should government support charities? I see both sides, and it is difficult to make the best decision.”

Mayor Mike Bodker said he sees the CDGB grant as a “hand up, not a hand out.”

“CDBG provides a safety net. We do have problems with big government. But at the end of the day, I see our responsibility is to make the best use of the resources to help Johns Creek residents,” Bodker said.