Fort Smith’s CDBG, HOME programs for low-income citizens could be cut in 2018

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 250 views 

Each year the Fort Smith Board of Directors reviews recommendations from its citizen-led Community Development Advisory Committee (CDAC) on how to allocate federal funding to area nonprofit programs designed for the benefit of low income individuals and families within the city.

The funds are administered through two federal programs — the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) programs and provide  assistance to 1,588 and 129 Fort Smith citizens, respectively.

For 2017, this amounts to around $1.076 million — a figure the Board approved at Tuesday night’s (April 4) meeting — but their future is now in question.

The federal government is operating on a second Continuing Resolution which expires April 28, 2017. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will not be in a position to send final funding amounts to all CDBG entitlements and HOME-participating jurisdictions until a federal budget has been adopted or another Continuing Resolution has been approved to the end of the federal fiscal year. Additionally, President Trump’s budget proposal includes the elimination of both programs for FY2018.

In light of the situation, city staff has been advised to use the same amounts as in the previous program year for planning purposes. Also, HUD recommended grantees use the following “contingency language” throughout the plan preparation process: “Amounts are estimated because the federal government is operating on a Continuing Resolution and has not communicated final allocation amounts, which could be in May (or) June of 2017. Once the city has been notified, all proposed activities budgets will be proportionally increased or decreased from the estimated funding levels to match actual allocation amounts.”

Fort Smith Director of Development Services Wally Bailey pointed out in a memo to the Board ahead of Tuesday’s meeting that for 2017, there is a budget proposal that would reduce CDBG funds ($767,897) by 50%. The $308,315 allocation to the HOME program for 2017 would presumably be untouched.

Should the city lose funding for these programs, it would negatively impact organizations like Bost, the Crawford Sebastian Community Development dental clinic, Crisis Intervention Center, Fort Smith Children’s Emergency Shelter, Fountain of Youth Adult Day Care, Girls Inc. of Fort Smith, Good Samaritan Clinic, Harbor House, Next Step Homeless Services, Riverview Hope Campus, and WestArk RSVP.

Also Tuesday, the Board voted 5-1 (Director George Catsavis dissenting) to transfer $75,000 in Parks Department funds from the Kelley Park Stage line item to the purchase of two 60-inch mid-mount groom mowers and two UTVs for the police department to use in the patrol and performance of emergency services at the Riverfront and Greg Smith River Trail.

Of the decision to transfer funds, Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert said, “As the trail system expands, areas will become more secluded and susceptible to deviant behavior. Officers will need to be able to patrol these areas and respond to any medical or criminal event in a timely manner.”

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