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Brown seeks $21 million in block grants

Buffalo's plan for federal anti-poverty funds includes more money for demolitions, housing rehabilitation and agencies that help senior citizens, young people and low-income residents.

But Mayor Byron W. Brown's $21.7 million application for federal aid also appears to include more than $6 million for salaries, benefits and other personnel-related costs associated with running various city programs.

The Common Council plans to take a close look at administrative costs, including salaries buried in various parts of the budget, said Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto, chairman of the Community Development Committee.

The panel will begin reviewing the block grant budget Wednesday.

Brown said his plan provides a cohesive approach to dealing with blight and poverty. He said the city anticipates receiving about the same amount of money through the federal programs next year as it is getting this year.

The mayor said his plan includes $3.3 million for housing rehabilitation -- a $1 million increase. The budget also would earmark $500,000 for demolitions.

"We're clearly making the strengthening of our neighborhoods a priority," Brown said Friday.

The plan also includes $2.4 million in aid to 37 human services agencies scattered across the city. A new monitoring system has been installed in recent years to make sure groups are providing quality services, Brown insisted.

The largest grant involves a $245,373 appropriation for the Northwest Community Center, an agency in the Black Rock-Riverside neighborhood that provides programs for the elderly, young people and other residents. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., a harsh critic of block grant spending in some previous years, said the agency received one of the highest rankings from the city in terms of its effectiveness.

"Agencies that get the highest ratings should get the most money," Golombek said.

The plan includes funding for a new weatherization program that would allow eligible homeowners to apply for insulation and weather stripping. The program would be tied into a local program that would refer home-improvement work to contractors who have completed training.

The plan also includes money to board up empty buildings, improve vacant lots, provide loans to help eligible property owners pay for emergency repairs and to help improve neighborhood business districts.

In some previous years, city officials faced criticism for squandering anti-poverty funds. Brown administration officials have insisted that block grants have been more efficiently used since the mayor took office.

But LoCurto described the block grant application submitted Friday to the Council as quite vague. He said he was disappointed the administration didn't live up to its pledge to provide a more detailed spending plan.

"I want them to quantify exactly what we would be getting for the money we'll spend," he said. "I want to see more of a line-by-line budget."

Buffalo has the dubious distinction of being the third-poorest big city in the nation. The mayor said he will unveil a comprehensive strategy this month for attacking poverty.


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