Council debates merits of charities, holds off on CDBG decision

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published April 27, 2016

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — While the money comes from the federal government, local municipalities have final say when deciding who gets their money from the Community Development Block Grant program. 

And when that money is cut but more requests are made, that can place City Council in a difficult situation.

City Planner Liz Koto said the city has $806,988 in CDBG money to use in the city for the 2016-17 budget year. The city planned to budget $250,000 for the Homeowner Rehabilitation Program, which provides no-interest loans to those who qualify to make repairs to their home; $85,000 for Senior Center operations; $120,000 for administration; and $306,237 for street and infrastructure repair in qualifying areas. The city is also carrying over $120,000 budgeted in the prior year to make the first U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 108 loan payment for the renovations to the Senior Center, which has not come due yet. 

Koto said it is possible the city might be making the first payment this year.

“It will be carried forward until we have to start making payments,” she told City Council April 18. 

But that only left $45,000 for the city to be able to allocate to public service organizations. And while the city has less money, more organizations than ever before have applied for help.

After hearing requests from the organizations, the Planning Commission recommended that no new organizations receive funding and that organizations that had received money from the city in the past would get 68 percent of their total request this year. 

The agencies that would receive funding under the plan are Hope Center, Wigs 4 Kids, the Warming Center, the Macomb County Senior Chore Program, Turning Point, Care House, the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team, and the St. Clair Shores Player Hockey Enablement Fund.

The new programs that would not receive funding under the Planning Commission recommendation are Play Place, St. Vincent DePaul and The Lake House.

The only agency to be recommended to receive more money this year than last is the St. Clair Shores Player Hockey Enablement Fund, which pays for ice time and equipment for children who cannot afford it. Koto said the group served six children last year and felt that they could help at least 18 this year. 

The city received $812,000 last year and was able to fund every agency at their requested level, Councilwoman Candice Rusie said. 

“This is always one of the toughest votes we have to take,” she said. 

However, she said, an across-the-board reduction in funds disproportionately affects some of the groups that had asked for less money to begin with. Because of that, she said, she wasn’t sure about the allocation for the hockey fund.

“When you look at their allocations being reduced so much ... I’m not sure I’m comfortable with one organization receiving double,” she said. “I’d like to see that organization closer to what they got last year.

The hockey fund requested $15,000 from the city, and the Planning Commission recommended it receive $10,050. 

And Councilman Peter Rubino said he wondered about giving money to Hope Center —  which the city has allocated CDBG funds to for the last four years — because he could not find them on a list of charitable organizations on the Attorney General’s website, and so cannot compare how much of the donations actually go to the cause of helping the hungry.

“I’m a little bit reluctant to give them any money unless I have further details,” he said.

Lynn Misner, director of donors and community relations for the Hope Center, said the 501(c)(3) non profit organization is the largest client-choice food pantry in Macomb County. 

“We have a marketplace where they can select the food that works best for them based on their needs,” she said. “We also offer connections to a number of different types of social services that they might need.”

She said it was due to a technical glitch that Hope Center Macomb, which filed its paperwork under WW Community Connections Inc., was not on the Attorney General’s list. It is back up in the search results as of April 19.

“You need to submit documentation every year for a charitable solicitation license and we submitted all of our documents as appropriate, and then we learned that, in spite of submitting all of that and being approved for it, we weren’t on the Attorney General’s website,” Misner said. “We reached back to them and it was an error on their end and they immediately put us back up.”

Rubino also pointed out that the Hope Center brought in $598,696 with expenses of $450,000, but salary and benefits were listed at $253,596. 

But Hope Center Executive Director Steve Gibson said that the organization was heavily funded by outside donors like the United Way, which donated “quite a bit of money early on.” But, Gibson said, when he came in about 18 months ago, “we knew going in we were going to lose some funding.”

“When we lost funding, that skewed our numbers,” he added. “We went from an almost $800,000 budget to a $600,000 budget.”

Since then, however, he eliminated two of the highest paid positions and he said they are continuing to address the fact that with less fundraising and the same salaries on the presented budget working, “the numbers look skewed.”

Rubino said he also would have liked to see The Lake House, which is located in St. Clair Shores and helps people with cancer, receive funding. 

Councilman Ron Frederick suggested administrators shuffle some of the money around to find some money for The Lake House and the St. Vincent DePaul Society. 

City Council deferred a decision on the funding level, deciding to make a decision at the May 2 City Council meeting.