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Council to vote on block grant spending

The Common Council has scheduled a special meeting Tuesday to vote on a plan to spend $16.5 million in federal block grants, money that is designed to fight poverty and blight.

Lawmakers plan to make what they described as relatively small changes to Mayor Byron W. Brown's first block grant application.

Council members held numerous work sessions this week. They reached a consensus to restore about $247,000 to human services groups that were facing cuts of up to 40 percent of their current allocations. Most of the 33 groups would still face reduced funding, but the Council proposes to shift some money around in an effort to lessen the impact of the cuts.

Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana supports Brown's plan to require some agencies to receive technical help from the city. Timothy E. Wanamaker, the city's chief planner, said some groups deliver quality services but need to improve administration.

The annual struggle over doling out block grants was made more difficult this year by an 8.4 percent cut in federal aid.

"It was pretty contentious at times," said Council Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr., referring to work sessions in which lawmakers debated which groups should receive aid.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who presides over the Council's block grant review, said lawmakers also want to take steps to ensure that $270,000 earmarked for improvements to public facilities be distributed evenly among nine Council districts. The money could be used for a variety of projects, including sidewalk and curb repairs, tree-trimming and other improvements. Lawmakers have been criticized in the past for spending block grants on what some have called "pork barrel projects." But lawmakers maintain that infrastructure repairs improve neighborhoods.

Does the Brown administration concur with the Council's proposed changes? Wanamaker said Friday there's still some "work to do."

"We're not quite there yet," he said.

The Council is proposing no changes in most of the budget, which includes $10 million for economic development, rehabilitation and home ownership assistance.

The Council plans to vote on the plan at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The last of a series of public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Old First Ward Community Center, 62 Republic St. Citizens are encouraged to comment on the city's adopted plan.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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