IF YOU GO
What: Surprise City Council regular meeting
Where: City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 17
By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
City leaders are trying to decide how to best use nearly $100,000 in federal funding to help some of the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
The most recent discussion followed an April 3 presentation at the Surprise City Council work session at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza.
As a direct Community Development Block Grant entitlement community, Surprise received $638,560 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program last year.
The CDBG entitlement program, started in 1974, focuses on providing funding for cities and counties to improving housing and opportunities for disadvantaged residents.
Based on previous funding levels, the council must plan for how to spend 15 percent of that, or an estimated $95,784, which is allotted for delivering public services.
To qualify for a piece of that pie, applicant agencies must align their proposals with national objectives and criteria for their projects, including: each must benefit low- to moderate-income people; each must provide an area benefit; and the pool of clientele served must be of a limited size.
More than two dozen applicants expressed an interest and 15 applications in a process, which commenced Jan. 10 and concluded Jan. 31. Following a Feb. 15 Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing, the panel made its final recommendation at its March 1 regular meeting (“Block grant plan advances: Planning commissioners wrangle over funding priorities, process,” Surprise Today, March 7, 2018).
The top proposed recipients included:
- St. Mary’s Food Bank Emergency Food Box Program – $13,109
- Benevilla’s Day Program, Home Delivered Meals and Wirtzies – $12,177
- City of Surprise Utility/Eviction Prevention Assistance – $11,665
Totaling $36,951 between them, the three projects comprise nearly 39 percent of the city’s potential CDBG public services allotment. But the funding recommendations staff made following their analysis varied greatly from what the P&Z commissioners finally agreed to.
An initial request for $25,017 from Benevilla led to a staff recommendation for $8,000 in funding and a final P&Z recommendation of $12,177.
And the St. Mary’s initial request for $15,000 was met with a staff recommendation of $12,000 before the P&Z commission issued a final recommendation for $13,109.
Officials also sought to expand the city’s crisis assistance and summer youth employment programs, requesting $30,000 and $15,000 for those respectively.
But despite staff recommendations to fund the two programs at $23,500 and $15,000, the P&Z commission recommended only $11,665 and $6,453 for the coming year.
District 1 Councilman Roland F. Winters Jr. questioned the process, asking why the council received recommendations from both staff and the P&Z commission, as well as seeking clarification on the disparity between the two groups’ findings.
“Why do we have two different recommendations?” Mr. Winters asked. “Isn’t Planning and Zoning the people that decide where that money’s split up with? Why do we have staff recommendations there also and why is there such a big difference between the amounts?”
Seth Dyson, director of the city’s Human Services & Community Vitality Department, explained his department’s involvement in the process.
“The process is staff, who manage the program, will review it for eligibility and they’ll rank them through a rubric,” Mr. Dyson said. “We wanted to show you what they requested, where staff started based on their scores, and then where Planning and Zoning is recommending. It’s up to you as council, your direction, as to where you want to put the public service investment.”
The scoring rubric employed by staff in crafting their recommendation was developed by City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission to provide clear guidance and a consistent approach, Mr. Dyson explained.
But Vice Mayor Ken Remley echoed concerns about the process and the gap between the initial staff recommendation and the numbers finally proposed by P&Z.
“I’m amazed at how different the recommendation was from what staff has put together using a rubric we have used for years,” Mr. Remley said.
Since the council, through its own subcommittee, also allocates city funding to many of the same local non-profits who receive CDBG funding, it would make sense to include that subcommittee in the CDBG funding decision as well, Mr. Remley suggested.
“We could do things a little more equitably if we do things that way,” he added.
But before he can make a decision, Mr. Remley said he will need to examine the rubric and get more information on how and why Planning and Zoning commissioners overruled the staff recommendations by such large amounts, he said.
“I would just like to see what the methodology was that was employed and the reasoning behind it,” Mr. Remley said. “I think you can sense there is some concern on our part because this is so radically different from what staff had recommended using the same methodology consistently from year to year.”
Mayor Sharon Wolcott agreed the council needs more details about how the process went down and a better explanation of the disparities noted before they can make any decisions.
“There’s just so many strange things about these numbers,” the Ms. Wolcott said. “I think we’ll look forward to that additional information.”
The Planning and Zoning commissioners at their March 1 meeting had wrangled over the staff-recommended numbers and the rubric used to devise them. The panel also debated details of its own funding recommendation, with three competing proposals having been brought to the meeting by various commissioners.
In the end, P&Z voted to adopt its original proposal.
At their next meeting March 1, the panel debated what details should be included in the official minutes of the March 1 meeting after Commissioner Eric Cultum raised concerns.
“As I looked at the minutes for item number seven, the public service CDBG grant, I did notice in the minutes that written proposal by Commissioner Norberg, Commissioner Bash, and the proposal from Vice Chair Rosenbaum, Commissioner Keating and myself, just were not included in the minutes,” Mr. Cultum said. “I would also like to ask that the final rubric be included in the minutes.”
P&Z Chairman Ken Chapman rejected his assertion, suggesting the record only needs to reflect the panel’s decisions, but not the process used to reach them.
“A lot of times we have exhibits that we put in, but the culmination of all those proposals are part of our negotiation process in order to come to a conclusion,” Mr. Chapman said. “And I think that what we have is not the pieces of the puzzle, but we have the actual puzzle itself that we have approved for moving all the items, if you will, and the rubric is something that the commission has already approved … I am not sure that everybody’s proposal is really necessary.”
Despite Mr. Cultum’s objections, the commissioners voted 6-1 to adopt the simplified meeting minutes.
Mr. Dyson said his department would provide more information to City Council ahead of their next meeting – including details about the rubric and the number of Surprise residents served by each of the applicants – to help inform the members as they determine their final funding recommendations.
A final public hearing and recommendation will occur at the Tuesday, April 17 City Council regular meeting at City Hall.
The final action plan will be submitted to HUD May 15.
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