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What you need to know for 01/20/2018

Schenectady Council tweaks plans to spend federal grants

Schenectady Council tweaks plans to spend federal grants

The Schenectady City Council reorganized its plans to spend annual federal aid Monday evening, makin

The Schenectady City Council reorganized its plans to spend annual federal aid Monday evening, making a few small changes in where the money will go.

The city will get $3.3 million in Consolidated Plan funds to spend in various ways from HUD, the most well-known being the Community Development Block Grant.

After hours of debate Monday, the council moved $40,000 of it around.

The Minority Contractors Training Assistance Program lost $20,000, which was split between Hamilton Hill Arts Center ($5,000) and Schenectady Neighborhood Assistance Program ($15,000).

The council also took $20,000 from Habitat for Humanity’s proposal to demolish three houses and rebuild two. That money went to Schenectady Community Action Program for a security deposit program to prevent homelessness among families that could afford rent but didn’t have enough savings for the security deposit.

SCAP’s request had previously not made it into the budget at all. The change left Habitat with $163,000.

It wasn’t clear how much money would be given to MCTAP in the end. Council members said they were unimpressed with MCTAP’s track record. “Several of you have read the reports and feel like, while MCTAP meets its goals, it barely meets them and seems to make no attempt at its own funding,” said Council President Margaret King.

Hamilton Hill Arts Center had asked for an additional $20,000 for an energy-efficiency project, but only some of the council members supported that. The best they could agree on was $5,000, with the rest of the funds going to a seasonal position on the SNAP crew. That crew mows unkempt yards, maintains islands and parks when necessary, and handles maintenance at foreclosed houses taken by the city.

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the city needed more SNAP workers.

“Our SNAP crews are really struggling, and the city is acquiring more property,” she said.

Councilman Carl Erikson campaigned hard for money to be given to the land bank instead, but the agency has not applied for funds and has not yet has its non-profit status certified by the IRS. Both issues are city policies for CDBG funding.

Erikson said the council had the authority to make an exception in this case, and council members said they wanted to help the land bank. But a majority refused to change the rules this late in the process.

“If the land bank didn’t need to apply, why can’t we give money to someone else who didn’t apply?” Perazzo said. “It’s more than a number of us feel strongly about the process.”

The entire council agreed to abandon the plan for rebuilding half a mile of roadway, with new sidewalks, for $426,092. That money was moved into the regular paving budget, where it could be used to resurface many more blocks of street, which entails less work than rebuilding.

Councilwoman Marian Porterfield said the money would go further that way. “A lot of streets are in really terrible shape,” she said.

Councilman John Mootooveren added that he wasn’t willing to spend nearly half a million on just a half-mile. “I don’t think it’s worth it,” he said.

The Council expects to take a vote to finalize the spending May 12.

Also discussed was the $56,000 set aside in the budget to make the first payment on the HUD loan for demolition. The city still has not received the loan, and if the money isn’t received in the next month, it won’t have to make the first payment until next year.

Erikson wanted to put that money into paving or the land bank. But Mayor Gary McCarthy said it might be better used to demolish city-owned buildings, which can’t be demolished with the HUD loan.

He added that the restriction on which properties could be demolished is being discussed at a “high level” and the rule might be loosened.

The council decided to wait and see whether any portion of the $56,000 would be needed for a repayment before deciding how else to use the funds.

In other business, the council revisited the controversial bidding on the Ferry Street pump station project.

Retired Director of Operations William Winkler attended the meeting to defend the city’s methods for determining which bidders to interview and which bidder to recommend.

The second-lowest bidder, McDonald Engineering, was not interviewed. The lowest bidder, MJ Engineering, was recommended to win the bid.

An official from McDonald Engineering complained that the process wasn’t fair. But Winkler said the review team first rated all bidders by their expertise and the quality of their proposal for the project. Then they took price into consideration, developing their top-three list. McDonald didn’t make that list, he said.

Council members asked for more details regarding why the pump station must be rebuilt, rather than repaired, since McDonald Engineering offered an alternate plan for repairs. The issue will be discussed again in two weeks.

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