The Town of Union has four months to finalize plans to use a $1 million federal grant for community development, and at a hearing Wednesday, the public got to make a pitch for the money.
This year, the town is receiving $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funding. For 38 years, the grant has been awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to the town planning department, spending cuts implemented by Congress over the past three years have led to a $500,00 reduction in the town’s share of CDBG funds.
The only speaker in a crowd of 25 who attended Wednesday’s public hearing was Sandra Ohlsen, Division Director of youth services at Broome County Catholic Charities. Ohlsen said the agency received $17,500 of the town’s grant last year for three weekend staff to help youths in the Teen Transitional Living Program, which operates two apartment residences in Endicott and one in Binghamton.
“The cuts we see will affect our staffing and in the end, our clients don’t receive as much support,” Ohlsen said, adding at-risk homeless youths housed in the program depend on extra staff to help them become self-sufficient.
“We rely on a number of funding sources,” Ohlsen said, “but CDBG funding from the town is especially important because of the apartments we have in Endicott.”
Following Wednesday’s hearing, the town planning department and a seven-member advisory board will review other projects to fund. Town Planning Director Paul Nelson said the grants fund street reconstruction, improvements in parks, public services and facilities, housing rehabilitation and economic development.
“The villages, town departments and public service agencies will also submit their project applications, and we won’t know until after that what’s going to be funded,” Nelson said. “We have to review each request and make sure they’re eligible under the program.”
In order for a project to gain approval, Nelson said, it must either benefit low-to-moderate income areas, prevent blight, or if conditions pose an immediate threat to community health or welfare and other funds are unavailable.
That’s why public input plays a key role at this stage, said Town Supervisor Rose Sotak.
“There’s always something we may not be aware of, or someone’s funding needs might have changed,” Sotak said.
The town must submit a final plan to HUD by mid-August, Nelson said.
-Written by Anthony Borrelli
Press & Sun Bulliten