Help is on the way for the city of Dunkirk's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. Common Council approved resolutions hiring independent contractors at its meeting Tuesday.
Development Director Steve Neratko provided some detail during the meeting at Mayor Anthony J. Dolce's request.
"Both of these positions were deemed necessary by our (Housing and Urban Development) officials in Buffalo. One of them will assist in the five-year planning process, the other position will assist with some of the problems we had to deal with going backward," Neratko explained. "Both these positions will be paid entirely out of CDBG budgeting."
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Development Director Steve Neratko explains to Common Council on Tuesday the need for hiring independent contractors to help with Community Development Block Grant issues.
Development Department intern Travis Gordon will be paid $5,000 to provide independent consulting services to help the city comply with HUD requirements for its participation in the CDBG program.
Gordon would be working primarily to develop the five-year plan covering 2013-2017. The H. Sichermann & Company Inc. of East Amherst will receive up to $15,000 to provide independent consulting services to help the city with its CDBG issues.
After the meeting, Dolce was asked if CDBG was now straightened out.
"Past tense, no. Past tense, we have a great deal of work to do to get our house in order as far as how past monies, CDBG, was used. This individual will help us get on even footing so we can be in good shape going forward," Dolce explained. "The resolution reads up to $15,000 because there's always the unknown, what he may see, what he may want to focus more time on going forward."
Dolce was asked why HUD wanted changes in the previously approved 2012 CDBG spending plan.
"Their biggest concern that I can point out right now is with the bike path. They had an issue with the bike path, us using CDBG funds for that," he replied. "So while we were at it, we reconfigured some other lines to fit more of the scope of HUD's preference."
Dolce was asked if HUD's concern with the city has anything to do with the failure of council to ratify the Dunkirk Housing Authority's first union contract.
"I don't suspect that at all, HUD has certain requirements that you have to meet," he replied. "For example, they want you to spend "x' amount of dollars on public service and we saw that line was a little low on the percent, so when we redid the plan we made sure there was a higher percentage. I think we got up to about 10-11 percent for public service, so I don't see that."
The mayor said there was no plan to add permanent staff in the Development Department once the contractors were done with their work.
"They're both in for specific purposes. HUD has recommended that we go the independent contractor route for the five-year plan," he stated. "Normally, if you were to go to a firm it would run you anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000. They suggested, because we are a small city, we go the graduate assistant route. It worked out great that we had an intern in here that was planning on going to UB for this same thing and we paid him at a rate of $1,000 per month."
Dolce said Gordon could be on the job until year's end.
"We'll get the report by then and then we'll need it approved by HUD," Dolce added. "Harry Sichermann, who is going to help us with the past issues, doesn't have a specific date on it. His is more dependent on what is discovered when he is here."
Dolce was asked what would happen if Sichermann had more to do when the $15,000 ran out.
"We would have to do another resolution. The way the resolution reads is he can make up to $15,000 through CDBG administration funds," he replied. "Again, it's all contingent on what he discovers while he's here, and how much we need him."
Another city office was a concern of Fourth Ward Councilwoman Stacy Szukala.
"I've received two complaints that the clerk's office was closed on a couple occasions in the last couple weeks. I don't know the circumstance surrounding the closing, but in my mind, knowing that we have three full-time clerks now, I didn't see that that should be an issue," she stated during her report time. "I was hoping that maybe you could address that and I'm hoping that won't be brought to our attention again."
"Well, understand that other offices do close from time to time and I can assure you it was justified," Dolce replied.
Szukala said a couple trying to get a marriage license approached her about the closing.
"They had each taken their lunch break, not thinking that the clerk's office would be closed. They were trying to get their license and were not successful in doing so," she explained. "The second one was a person who was trying to get their grandson's birth certificate for a school issue. ... People up to this point think it's open all day, 9 to 5. So I wasn't sure if there was something we could do to remedy that."
"I believe that it takes an hour to do a marriage license ... but I can assure you they were both justified reasons for having that office closed," Dolce replied.
Szukala said "OK" and let the issue drop.
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