Counties would see negative impact with CDBG funding cut proposal

July 22, 2013
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, shown during a 2011 visit to Cecil Township, is sounding the alarm about a proposal to make cuts in the community development block grant program. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Officials in Washington and Greene counties said that a U.S. House of Representatives proposal to reduce community development block grant funding by nearly 50 percent would have a significant impact on communities here.

The CDBG program is an investment of federal dollars that helps cities and municipalities pursue economic development projects, improve communities and create jobs.

News of the proposed cut came in a news release last week from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., whose own chamber is proposing a slight increase in the CDBG budget for fiscal year 2014.

According to Casey, the Senate is seeking $3.15 billion in CDBG funding, up from the $3 billion enacted for the current fiscal year. The House bill, which recommends $1.67 billion for the next fiscal year, would cut the funding stream by nearly half.

“I was disappointed to see that the House of Representatives has decided to drastically cut funding for the CDBG program,” Casey wrote in a letter to heads of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. “The House funding level of $1.67 billion for fiscal year 2014 is inadequate and will make it tougher for cities and municipalities to make ends meet in a challenging economic climate.

“The CDBG program has already had its funding cut nearly 25 percent in the past few years, and this has had negative repercussions in many communities across the country. Now is not the time to make further cuts to his important job-creating program.”

William McGowen, executive director of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, which administers CDBG money for the county’s municipalities, acknowledged that a 50 percent cut would mean that many projects wouldn’t be accomplished.

For fiscal year 2012, Washington County received a CDBG allotment of $3.225 million, and is about to begin using 2013 funds totaling $3.3 million, according to Brenda Williamson, the authority’s community development senior director.

McGowen explained that five communities – Washington, Canonsburg, Charleroi, Donora and Monongahela – receive funds each year, while the remaining municipalities receive funds every three years.

Projects around the county receive funding for everything from storm sewer improvements to money for parks, playgrounds and sidewalks.

Once an allotment is determined, the authority works with a municipality to select an eligible project that fits the amount of funding available, McGowen said.

Historically, Greene County has received between $200,000 to $250,000 a year – money the commissioners allocate to communities that submit proposals that fall within the CDBG guidelines.

Jeff Marshall, the county’s chief clerk, said most municipalities submit requests for water and sewage projects, and while the amount they receive does not cover all the projected costs, “the allocations still provide them with seed money or with the opportunity to seek matching funds,” he said.

“This money certainly is important to these communities,” said Robbie Matesic, director of Greene County’s Department of Development, which works in concert with the county commissioners to administer the program. “I just don’t understand why Congress would cut money for these communities that must meet a low-income threshold.”

Three municipalities – Waynesburg Borough and Franklin and Cumberland townships – are considered entitled communities and receive CDBG money independent from the county.

“Greene County municipalities will take a serious hit if this reduction goes through,” Matesic said. “I understand when the money is divided up it is not all that much, but these communities have come to depend on it.”

Washington County also receives additional federal funding under HOME and Emergency Shelter grants. HOME funds are used to increase the supply of safe, sanitary and affordable housing for lower-income residents. ESG funds are used to increase the supply of shelter and provide services for homeless people and to prevent homelessness.

In fiscal year 2012, the county received $522,267 in HOME funds and $337,615 for ESG.

Williamson noted that for this fiscal year, HOME funding declined to $492,490, while ESG fell to $235,294.

Matesic, Williamson and McGowen said CDBG funding, which has been distributed since 1974, has risen and fallen over the years.

“It’s kind of like a roller coaster,” Williamson said.

Greene County bureau chief Jon Stevens contributed to this report.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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