In a June 6th letter Mayor Erin Stewart vetoed and returned to the Common Council a plan for use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in the new fiscal year.
On May 28th the Common Council on a 7 to 5 voted restored funds to several community agencies that had been reduced by the Mayor's Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development (CCND).
According to The New Britain Herald story several organizations that had been zeroed out by Stewart and the CCND, including the Prudence Crandall Center, the Opportunities Industrialization Center and HRA's Polish Outreach Center, among others, had grant funds put back into the plan by the Council.
At issue is the allocation for community services in the $1.5 million the city receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Council reduced the percentage this year to $371,000 or 24.7 percent of the CDBG money while the Administration and acting Municipal Development Director Ken Malinowski wants to allocate $319,000 (21.2 percent) -- an 8.4 percent cut in funds that have been relied on by various community agencies for more than 30 years.
Stewart and Malinowski, citing HUD's recommended allocation percentage of 15% for community and social services, want to re-direct funds under the federal program. This is not a matter of reducing appropriations to save the cash-strapped city but federal funds that are available for a range of neighborhood , housing and community services. Mayor Stewart and Malinowski want the money for something else, but the specifics have not been given to justify immediate cuts to direct service programs.
Some observers claim the transfer of funds is sought to pay for Malinowski's $102,000 annual salary as acting head of the department that handles the federal money, a job he left when the previous administration took office in 2011. As is, the Council approved money for management and administration totalling $300,236 or 20 percent of the CDBG budget.
In re-appointing Malinowski to lead municipal development at a six figure salary Mayor Stewart said she wanted to "get the federal money flowing again." It also helped that Malinowski was a primary fundraiser for the Mayor's 2013 campaign after he openly flirted with a mayoral run himself. But Malinowski's record as a dispenser of HUD funds took at least one serious hit late in the administration of former Mayor Tim Stewart. HUD ordered the city to return $100,000 for a "non-recourse" loan made to Arete Development Group because the loan was ineligible. HUD found violations on the loan given to Arete on Malinowski's watch related to the application process, environmental standards and accounting for the money.
In her June 6th veto letter Mayor Stewart cited a letter from a HUD official who said most cities have "an annual limit of 15% that can be spent on public services." But the same letter affirmed that New Britain has used an allowable "exception" granted in 1984 that may exceed the 15% goal for human and social services. "The statute and regulations have allowed New Britain and similarly situated cities to continue to use that exception ever since," wrote Gary Reisine, director of community planning and development in Connecticut's HUD office. At the very least HUD is not mandating New Britain's move to 15 percent this year, contrary to what Stewart and Malinowski are implying.
The veto is little more than a power play to circumvent the shared governance process that has long been established in the allocation of federal funds. Unfortunately, it may be a pretext by the administration to take money away from direct services for unspecified uses by the Mayor and her political appointee, Ken Malinowski.
See related August 2, 2008 post: Salvio's Latest Salvo: Putting His Pet Projects and Partisanship Ahead of the Public Interest