By Donald Rodrigue
For Hometown News
FORT PIERCE -- The Fort Pierce City Commission held the first of two public hearings on July 21 to get the public's input on the proposed 2014-15 Annual Action Plan for the city's Community Development Block Grant program.
Libby Woodruff, city grants administrator, told commissioners she compiled the draft of the $680,661 plan after getting input from surveys completed by city residents and community service organizations. Nine organizations and 33 city residents responded to the survey, with their top concerns being job creation and economic development, youth activities, code enforcement and policing efforts.
Ms. Woodruff's draft plan proposes to spend almost have of the budget on code enforcement, community-based development organizations and infrastructure ($100,000 each), with the rest divided among public services and amenities, micro business and economic development and commercial fašade and owner-occupied housing rehab, among others. The plan also includes slightly more than $100,000 in grant administration costs.
District 1 Commissioner Rufus Alexander expressed surprise that almost a third of the federal money was planned for administration and code enforcement.
"Code enforcement has their own budget, and I think that money ought to be used for another purpose," Mr. Alexander said. "And $100,000 of it used for administration?
Deputy City Manager Nick Mimms explained that the city pays no salaries for the employees of the urban redevelopment department, which oversees the city's grants and must fund its own salaries.
"We previously had six employees and we now have two," he said.
Fort Pierce activist Rick Reed also opposed uses CDBG funds for city code enforcement.
"Why are we robbing Peter 100,000 to pay Paul?" Mr. Reed asked. "I am all for code enforcement if it's done properly and ethically, but as it's done in Fort Pierce, it's immoral. It's done in certain parts of town but not in others."
Ms. Woodruff presented a slideshow to the commission of city businesses helped recently by the commercial fašade component of the plan, which provides matching funds up to $10,000 to businesses in need of a facelift.
"This is more in commercial revitalization, to improve streetscapes," Ms. Woodruff said. "It has to be commercial property, and you have to show you have funds to do some of the work."
Fort Pierce resident Cleaver Hayling said he represented the northwest Fort Pierce community and didn't see how improving facades in downtown Fort Pierce met the Department of Housing and Urban Development requirements of serving low to moderate income residents of the city.
"Tonight we are taking issue with the creative budgeting of the CDBG funds," Mr. Hayling said. "And as far as the facades, people in northwest Fort Pierce don't have money in the first place. What kind of programs do we have to help them get money in the first place to do their facades?
District 2 Commissioner Thomas Perone defended both the proposed HUD grant plan and the public hearing process.
"There are a specific set of guidelines that are required to be followed," he said. "This is community input and committee review."
Mr. Mimms defended the fašade program but emphasized that the Fort Pierce Commission would have the final word on grant allocations.
"We think the fašade program has been very successful," Mr. Mimms said. "You are the final say-so, however; if you would like to reallocate, within the guidelines, well then you can."
The next public hearing on this topic will be held Aug. 4.