Although Augusta came within days last fall of losing more than $1 million in federal grants, the interim director of the city's Housing and Economic Development Department pledged to be "aggressive" and on time in providing communities with these funds this year.
"We're putting those (issues) behind us," Paul DeCamp said. "We want to be aggressive but aggressive within the regulatory framework of the program in spending the dollars on activities that primarily benefit low- and moderate-income persons."
Last October, city commissioners scrambled to spend $1.1 million in grant money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development before its Nov. 1 deadline or risk having the federal agency financially penalize the city.
HUD could have reduced the amount of Community Development Block Grant money Augusta would receive in 2006 by the amount that was not used in 2005, said John Perry, the communications director with HUD's Community Planning and Development Department.
Each November, HUD officials examine the amount of grant money the city has not spent over the previous year, Mr. Perry said.
If the unspent funds from the previous year "exceeds 1 years worth, then we have a real problem," he said. "We say, if you really need the money, why aren't you spending it? And the regulations state if this condition occurs, your grant can be reduced by the amount you're over the 1 ratio."
City officials spent the money on time, however, and earlier this year, they traveled to Washington to meet with HUD directors to outline a plan to spend future funds, Mr. DeCamp said.
There is always the risk that Augusta could lose funding if it doesn't spend the money on time this year, however.
If city officials don't spend another dime of their Block Grant money from now until the Nov. 1 deadline, Augusta could lose between $1.5 million to $2 million in funding, Mr. Perry said.
In 2005, Augusta received $2,604,616 in Community Development Block Grant money, according to HUD. In 2004, the city received $2,755,000.
This year, Augusta is slated to receive $2,333,406, Mr. DeCamp said.
Community Development Block Grant funding is designated by HUD for improvement projects such as the construction of community centers or housing that must benefit low-income individuals, address slum or blight conditions or meet an urgent need, Mr. Perry said.
He expects Augusta won't have any trouble spending the funds.
"We believe the officials over there are serious about taking whatever action is necessary to see that the program funds are spent in a way that are eligible and meet the needs of the community," Mr. Perry said.
Mr. DeCamp said his office has begun work on preliminary plans for spending the money this year and will soon present them to the commission to avoid past problems.
Patricia Hoban-Moore, a HUD deputy regional director in Atlanta, did not know why city officials acted so slowly last year but said factors could include delayed projects, disagreement among city leaders on how the money is to be spent or a change in government leaders.
Former Commissioner Bobby Hankerson, who was administrative services committee chairman, said he thought city leaders waited until the last minute to spend the money because of turnover within the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development.
Mr. DeCamp agreed.
The departures of former executive director Warren Smith, a finance officer and housing program administrator Doug Manning have affected spending the grant money on time, he said.
Another issue was last year's internal audit of the department, he said.
"That took a fair amount of staff time away," Mr. DeCamp said. "What normally would have been time devoted to project implementation was spent on addressing some of those issues related to assisting the internal auditors and following up on taking some corrective actions internally."
When contacted by phone Tuesday, former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who left office in June to accept a presidential appointment as a HUD regional director in Atlanta, said he signed a recusal letter with HUD and is prohibited from discussing issues involving Augusta until he reaches his one-year anniversary with the agency.
Last year, $850,000 of the $1.1 million Community Development Block Grant funds went to the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. to help buy the Sunset Villa apartment complex to house low-income residents.
About $129,000 went to St. John Towers to replace the complex's security system and carpet.
Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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