Monday, February 8, 2010

Time to Carve the CDBG Pie, and Good Luck With That

Each year, I listen as board members of the Bristol Development Authority try to figure out how to divvy up a shrinking pot of money that makes up the community development block grants, amid ever-increasing requests for help. It's not an easy task. Here's what I wrote after the initial public hearing, held Monday night at City Hall. This was for Tuesday's edition of The Bristol Press (

BRISTOL -- The human service agencies that help care for the city’s children, shelter its homeless and feed its hungry lined up Monday to ask the Bristol Development Authority for help with a federal Community Development Block Grant.

The grants, which come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are federal funds administered by the Bristol Development Authority, and the BDA board members are those who determine how the money is spent.

There are always more requests than there is funding, of course, and this year is no exception, said Howard Schmelder, who chairs the Policy Committee of the BDA, which makes the recommendations on grant allocation.

“We’re going to have a real job on our hands,” said Schmelder.

In all, the committee received two dozen outside requests for funding, primarily from non-profit organizations, most of which apply for the grants every year.

The programs that are funded are supposed to meet the city’s stated goals of meeting the needs of the homeless, caring for those with special needs, housing, public housing and non-housing community development. Grants are supposed to primarily benefit low to moderate income residents, including the elderly and disabled.

Fran Pangaro, executive director of the Bristol ARC, asked for $43,000 for new vinyl siding for the agency’s Jerome Avenue building. The wood siding is rotting and infested with bees and bugs, she said. New siding would eliminate those problems and help save energy, she said.

The Bristol Historical Society asked for $17,595 to restore its front porch.

Ellen Zoppo spoke for the society, saying the work would be for safety as well as aesthetic reasons.

Ingraham Manor asked for $75,000 to add a third elevator to help move food, staff and equipment and leave the other two for residents and visitors.

Several agencies asked for help providing services to children, some for facility improvement and others for aid directly to youth.

The Bristol Community Organization asked for $18,465 for renovations to convert the bathrooms at its Lake Avenue building from adult to use specifically for children. Doing so would enable BCO to expand its Head Start program because the bathrooms are a requirement.

BCO also asked for $16,958 to put up sunscreens at its Head Start playgrounds on Lake Avenue and at its South Street address.

The Family Center asked for $7,500 to get a rubber roof on the newer part of the building repaired, and for $48,000 to upgrade the playgrounds on Upson Street and at the Imagine Nation children’s museum, where childcare programs are held.

Dan Casey, director of business development at the Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut, asked for $6,000 to provide scholarships for educational summer camps at Indian Rock Nature Preserve.

Linda Rich, director of the Family Resource Centers at O’Connell and South Side schools asked for $1,800 for emergency intervention for families in dire need of the most basic things.

“It makes a tremendous difference with our families,” said Rich.

The Bristol Boys and Girls Club and The Family Center also asked for funding for summer camp and for the outreach program at Cambridge Park.

Requests also came in from the St. Vincent DePaul Mission of Bristol to operate its transitional living center for women with children, and from organizations that do outreach programs in Bristol, including the Literacy Volunteers, the Prudence Crandall domestic violence prevention center and the YWCA of New Britain, which handles sexual assault crisis services and prevention education.

The committee did not make any decisions Monday, just listened to these and other pleas for grant aid. They will meet later in the month to determine which agencies will be funded.

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