The city of Dunkirk may bring in some experienced help to sort through its Community Development Block Grant issues with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Director of Planning and Development Steve Neratko discussed the possibility - and the need - for such a hire during a recent Common Council Economic Development Committee meeting.
"The mayor and I sat down with an individual regarding assisting us on CDBG problems backwards, as well as assisting us in making sure everything we're doing now is correct," Neratko stated. "He has an immense amount of experience in CDBG. He worked there from 1978 to 86, wrote a lot of the regulations. While they have been changed, they are the basis of the regulations now.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Dunkirk Development Director Steve Neratko explains some issues during a recent meeting of Common Council’s Economic Development Committee. Pictured from left are Neratko, City Attorney Ron Szot and council members Adelino Gonzalez, Stacy Szukala and William J. Rivera.
"He has a very good relationship with our representatives as well as representatives higher up. He's even been willing to help us negotiate on our behalf with the folks from HUD."
Second Ward Council-man William J. Rivera asked Neratko what the person thinks of the city's status with what its dealing with.
"He said it was concerning but at the same time he thinks that it could be worse, it always could be worse," Neratko replied. "He does think that we can fix a lot of the issues. ... Really, I think just his name on our behalf is going to be huge."
Neratko said a proposal is expected soon that will offer three levels of assistance.
"Either way it didn't seem like his request for payment would be out of the ordinary, didn't seem like a huge amount," he added. "Definitely, it would be a good investment."
Neratko said the city will have the funds available to pay the person, who has helped various cities.
"He actually said that the problem we're facing and the size of the project, because of the amount of funds Dunkirk gets, it's really not as big as he is used to. ... He said the only reason he was helping us out is because Bill Daly of the county said 'these guys are good guys and they need some help,'" Neratko added.
Fourth Ward Council-woman Stacy Szukala pointed out CDBG funds not being used properly was not new to the city.
"This was like 20-something years in the making, like even not just this past administration. This is on and off for a long time," she stated. "The red flag goes off in my head when I think that this can't all be our issue. Part of the issue had to come back to HUD and they're not being specific enough to tell the people that they're giving their money to what they can spend it on. They are audited so now they're probably feeling maybe with their auditors that they haven't done things properly. So it's all going to get dumped on the city and that's not fair to us at all."
Neratko said that wasn't the problem.
"Over the last three or four years there has been some letters they've sent that haven't been given to council," he stated. "Basically the problem isn't that the funds have been misused, it's that the record keeping isn't there for them to look to know if the funds have been used correctly or incorrectly. They are basically, in those situations, coming to us. Although a lot of it hasn't been in writing."
Szukala interjected to say that is part of the problem.
"I did ask them for that, I got a response that they would be happy to come down and sit with us and go over what those issues would be with council," Neratko replied.
The issue is paperwork, or rather a lack of it.
"Basically we don't have any paperwork on it and we cannot prove that funds were used correctly. Then the assumption is they were not used correctly, because the reporting is mandatory," Neratko explained. "Both the guy who came in last week, as well as the HUD representatives, basically have told us that it has always been the responsibility of the municipality to know how the reporting should work."
Neratko added it wasn't that files weren't there, it was the reporting wasn't done and that was what the proposal to hire someone would solve.
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce was unable to attend the meeting but was asked Wednesday about the plan and who the individual was.
"We're waiting to see what the proper procedure is prior to releasing the individual's name," Dolce replied. "He will be paid out of CDBG admin funds and we do have funds available. His focus will be on correcting the past inaccuracies or misappropriations of funds."
The city was notified in December by HUD that its CDBG funding had been cut to $460,000, down some $60,000 from 2011 numbers.
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