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YOUNGSTOWN Block grants to drop 12%



Published: Thu, September 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The committee wants more information before talking about repaying $36,000 in federal funds.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- City revenue woes just keep mounting.

The latest one was a decade in the making.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates the city will lose $694,000 in federal funding, or about 12.2 percent, for 2002-03.

Population loss since 1990 largely is to blame.

HUD recalculates a formula used to dole out the funding, called Community Development Block Grants, after each census. Population is a main factor, said Jay Williams, director of the city Community Development Agency. He broke the bad news to council's community development committee Wednesday.

The city's population dropped to 82,026 in 2000, from 95,732 a decade ago, a loss of 14.3 percent.

A look at the numbers

Block grants to the city will drop from about $5.2 million to about $4.5 million, Williams said. Such money goes to social service-type agencies, housing and other neighborhood programs.

The city already has 60 workers laid off -- including firefighters and police officers -- because falling tax revenue created a roughly $2 million deficit in the general fund.

"This is going to be one of the most difficult years of my career," said James E. Fortune Sr., D-6th, a committee member who has been in council for two decades.

Fortune questioned the census numbers. Fortune said he is sure the city didn't lose as many residents as the government says.

It appears a number of lower-income people left during the decade, Williams said, which hurts the city when it comes to federal funding. Income level also is part of the HUD funding formula.

CDA will narrow the types of projects it will consider funding since less money will be coming, Williams said.

Also on agenda

In other business, the committee decided against talking Wednesday about a $36,000 repayment that HUD is seeking.

HUD wants the money back because of nonexistent record-keeping and questionable practices by an agency the city funds with federal dollars, Gleaners Food Bank.

Few records are available, but a CDA review of bank statements shows that Gleaners put the city's federal grants and other funds into just one account. That makes tracing how the federal money was spent almost impossible.

The review shows that $36,108 for fiscal years 1999-2000 and 2000-01 wasn't spent correctly or can't be accounted for and must be repaid to HUD.

Another major problem is a review of checks written from that account since 1999. The review shows that Joe Lordi, Gleaners' director, used the fund for what CDA says look like personal expenses.

Lordi admits mixing the city's federal money with other funds -- including his own money -- and writing checks from that account to pay personal and food bank expenses. Lordi said, however, that government money never paid his personal expenses.

Richard Atkinson, R-3rd, the committee chairman, said he just found out about the HUD request Wednesday. He wanted more information before talking about the problem.

Funding OK'd

The committee approved midyear federal funding for one organization.

YouthBuild will received $21,000 to renovate a donated building that will be used as the program's headquarters.

YouthBuild is a nationwide program for high school dropouts. The program combines education and life skills with teaching construction skills. Former councilman Herman Hill is the program coordinator.

Four other neighborhood agencies or groups asked for midyear funding but were denied.

CDA has between $40,000 and $60,000 available at midyear, Williams said. Whatever is left after YouthBuild should be spent on replacing sidewalks, Fortune said.




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