County fathers leave most in dark about $750,000 CDBG residential rehab grant
Columbia County, FL (Posted Feb 02, 2011 11:11 am / last line updated 12:55 pm)
Thousands of Columbia County residents are eligible for the CDBG grants. A few showed up by invitation or as a result of poor publicity to hear what the County had to say.
Need Residential Rehabilitation - new windows -
a Water Pipe in Ellisville.
Apply for a Federal Grant • here is the application
Last night in Mason City, Columbia County held an informational meeting. The purpose: To explain that some folks may be eligible for CDBG grant money to repair their houses (and mobile homes) and that there is also money available for water meter hookups in Ellisville. No one knew how much money was available; there weren't enough applications for the attendees; there were no handouts; there was no power point or presentation explaining the program and there wasn't a map, which would have explained who was included in the unincorporated area of the county. Of course, no one explained how much money was being shifted from the $750,000 Federal Grant into the coffers of the NFRPLC and away from the rehab project.
Commissioner Stephen Bailey opened the meeting. He explained that the North Florida Regional Planning Council was the bank account for the program and that an application to apply for the program would be on the County website "tomorrow."
The grant program began in October 2010.
Martha Orthoefer, of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council (NFRPLC), explained that the NFRPL is acting as the grant administrator on behalf of the County.
The Tale of The Tape
Total Grant Amount ..$750,000
To the people:
Housing Rehabilitation ... $537,500 Temporary Relocation ...... $4,000 Water Hook up ............... $96,000
Total to the people .. $637,500
To the bureaucrats
Sifted off the top-15% . $112,500
During the first public hearing in or about July of last year, Ms. Orthoefer agreed that the County could have administered the grant at a savings of 10% or $75,000, which could have been used for residential rehab.
Ms. Orthoefer explained that there is money available for housing rehabilitation and also that money has been set aside for water hookups in Ellisville. She told the group that if one meets the income eligibility requirements the grant would pay for the "impact fees and the hook up cost."
Ms. Orthoefer said that they were taking applications until February 25th and that after that the applications would be ranked. This ranking is for housing rehabilitation.
Many people who attended had no idea what the unincorporated area of the county was and no one from the County had a map to point that out.
What and where is the unincorporated area?
Ms. Orthoefer was attentive and polite. She explained to the Observer that she does not set the fees or the policy of the NFRPLC.
Some folks showed up from Fort White and were told that Fort White residents were not eligible to apply and that Fort White would have to make their own application for this type of grant.
There were questions regarding the income requirement.
Ms. Orthoefer explained that according to the Federal guidelines the income requirement is based on gross income. This is income before the deductions are taken.
There were questions regarding how much money a grant applicant could receive.
It was explained that there is no limit. However, the program is committed to rehabilitating at least eight homes or mobile homes with the available funds.
No one knew or admitted to knowing the amount of the available funds.
Ms. Orthoefer also explained that if upon inspection code violations are discovered, those violations have to be remedied.
Ms. Orthoefer said that the money set aside for water hookups would be reallocated into housing rehabilitation if it is not all used.
No one knew the amount of money set aside for water hookups.
As the meeting concluded there were not a lot of satisfied faces on the attendees.
Epilogue - 24 days to go
With only 24 days left to go to submit an application no one explained why the grant application and related information was not prominently promoted on the Columbia County website.
In September of last year, the County Commission was advised that the program would be beginning in October.
The homeless Columbia County Commission should have promoted and incorporated this into a County Commission meeting and prominently displayed this on the County web site, months ago, so that everyone in the county would have been able to pick up an application, apply, and have their questions answered.
Once again, Columbia County's lack of preparation and absence of information demonstrates its disrespect for the working families it is elected to serve.