Vote for CDBG grants administration thorny

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — While the Johns Creek City Council formally agreed Aug. 4 to cede administration – but not control – of the city’s Community Development Block Grant program, by a 4-0 vote, members voiced their qualms about how such funds could be used.

At council’s last work session, members heard the proposal brought by City Manager Warren Hutmacher to grant Fulton County the right to administer the CDBG grants program. Johns Creek would still retain the authority to decide which projects the city would fund.

However, Fulton County administers a variety CDBG programs and retains a great deal of expertise at finding ways to adapt the needs of unincorporated Fulton County and the cities it already oversees to the criteria demanded of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal regulations.

With three city councilmen absent – Brad Raffensperger, Steve Broadbent and Bob Gray – and Councilmembers Kelly Stewart and Lenny Zaprowski reiterating their philosophical concerns about using public dollars for “charity,” passing the measure it discussed two weeks ago led to spirited discussion.

In the end, all four voted to pass the measure along with Councilwoman Cori Davenport and Mayor Mike Bodker. But Zaprowski and Stewart wanted absolute assurances that Johns Creek would have the final say over what sort of projects would receive the city’s CDBG allocations.

Hutmacher also repeated assurances that the sole reason for relinquishing administrative control to Fulton County was to avail the city of the considerable expertise that Fulton County staff has to weave through the ins and outs of federal bureaucracy.

In particular, there are programs that will allow CDBG money to be used for repaving streets where residents meet CDBG qualifications such as low income.

“The cost and expense to train our personnel would be saved by allowing the county to do it,” Hutmacher said.

Other programs allow for the rehab of homes where the individuals met income or age qualifications, and the neighborhoods also met CDBG criteria.

Fulton is entitled to use 20 percent of CDBG dollars for its administration of the funds, but Hutmacher said it is well worth it because of their expertise in navigating these programs.

“Our smaller staff does not possess that expertise or ability,” Hutmacher said.

Whatever Johns Creek CDBG funds are lost to Fulton’s administrative costs should be made up through qualifying for programs eligible under CDBG guidelines that the city simply did not know about or did not know to go about qualifying for them.

“This will require real work. We don’t have hard demographic information below the Census Block level. Fulton County can go into individual neighborhoods and poll the information needed to qualify certain neighborhoods that meet CDBG standards,” Hutmacher said.

Zaprowski said he understood that charities such as North Fulton Community Charities qualify for CDBG funding.

“But there may be charities that Fulton County supports that I don’t necessarily want Johns Creek money to support,” Zaprowski said. “Do we have a say in that?”

Hutmacher said nothing has changed in the approval process. Johns Creek City Council retains sole authorization for the amount and to which uses CDBG funds are put.

“Fulton County will administer the program, but the authority remains with the city,” Hutmacher said.

Stewart said she would support relinquishing the administration of funds to the county. But she said she would not support the use of the city’s CDBG funds for charities.

“I do not believe it is the government’s role to support charities,” Stewart said. “If there is additional programming for paving of streets or rehabbing houses, that I can support. Programs that benefit the elderly and bring up neighborhoods are good for the entire community.”

Bodker said gaining Fulton County expertise to improve Johns Creek as a community is exactly why he supported giving over administration of the CDBG program to Fulton County.

“It will allow us to do a better job of using the money we qualify through population to use as we see fit. It is our tax dollars coming back to us. If we can raise up neighborhoods and pave more streets, then I am all for it,” Bodker said.

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