A new California Department of Housing and Community Development rule — presented to the Council on Monday — had the city racing this month to assign money to swimming pool repairs and Housing Authority computer upgrades by the end of the month, lest a domino effect of delayed grant funding take place.
Such delays, which City Manager Gene Palazzo said he imagines will now be avoided, ultimately could cause the city to miss out on millions in free project dollars from the state.
The new state rule, which city staff found out about in late May, says Crescent City’s available Program Income funds, amounting to $163,000, must be spent before any other grant money can be spent, which could cost the city a $2 million Community Development Block Grant the city hopes will be awarded this summer for a new sewer project on B Street.
If the Program Income projects for the pool and Housing Authority aren’t OK’d by the state, then down come the dominoes. In this chain, the most distant domino is a different rule that says that before the city can apply for the next year’s CDBG grant, it has to spend at least 50 percent of that grant’s money awarded in the current year. Palazzo said that a delay caused by the state’s new Program Income requirement might make it difficult to spend 50 percent of the 2014–2015 CDBG grant in time to apply for the 2016 CDBG grant. And that’s when the city would miss out on millions. It was the 50 percent rule that cost the city its eligibility to apply for a CDBG grant last year.
“We’re trying to set up the city to be ready so that once we get those awards we’re eligible because we spent the Program Income funds,” said City Manager Gene Palazzo. “Then once we get our paperwork processed we can start spending the grant money right away.”
Fortunately, Palazzo said, the city specifically chose the Housing Authority and the pool projects because they’re very likely to earn state approval, which hinges on whether the projects are deemed eligible under Program Income fund spending requirements. According to Palazzo, Program Income money has to be spent on projects that will benefit households that earn income at levels below 50 percent of the median income group. Since both the Housing Authority and the pool are city agencies that directly benefit this income group, Palazzo said approval shouldn’t be a problem.
Even though city staff had to rush to choose the projects, they’re upgrades and renovations that are valuable to the city, Palazzo said.
“These are projects that are needed for the community.”
So what are these projects?
First, there’s the pool. The $188,500 that’s being allotted to that facility is going to a roof and skylight replacement, as well as additional ADA-approved ramps to improve access to the family-accessible changing area, shower room and viewing area located at the east side of the facility.
According to Pool Director Matt Hildebrant, it’s been 17 years since any work has been done on the roof, and leaks are noticeable when there’s rain.
“People are commenting that the lifeguards are getting wet, and they’re not even in the water,” Hildebrant said.
And if you think that’s bad, Hildebrant said, the skylight’s worse. During rainy winters the cracked and leaky skylight leaves a cold pool of water in the locker room that not only is annoying, but also dangerous if someone were to slip.
According to city documents, the new roof will replace 10,000 square feet of roofing with 40-year composite shingles as well as energy-efficient skylights.
The access ramp project, which will complement the existing ramps at the front of the pool, will see the removal of 1,000 square feet of sidewalk, steps, and door thresholds and install five new ramps, two new doors and about 2,500 square feet of accessible sidewalk.
“There’s not a ramp to the door nearest the restroom,” Hildebrant said. “So now people have to come in through the front doors and go across the deck. It’s OK, but not ideal.”
According to city documents, the city will receive bids for construction in August and hopes to have the project complete by November. Hildebrant said that the construction might cause some swim class schedule changes in October, but nothing too drastic.
“These are things that we wanted to do during the renovation five years ago, but we didn’t have the funding at that point to do it, so I’m really pleased,” Hildebrant said. “I feel like we’re putting the final touches on the pool.”
There’s also the Housing Authority. $38,133 from the Program Income account will be going to the Housing Authority for, primarily, an upgrade to its current software system.
The current system, which Housing Director Megan Miller said is obsolete and being phased out statewide by December 2015, is getting replaced with a new system called Housing Pro that Miller said will save Housing Authority staff a lot of time.
Currently, when the housing inspector goes to inspect a property, she takes notes on paper and those notes are transcribed into the system by hand every week.
“It’s a burden,” Miller said.
The new $15,773 system, along with various bug fixes and interface changes, brings with it mobile capabilities that will allow inspectors to use a digital tablet to take notes and pictures and immediately upload them to the system.
“They can just do it immediately,” Miller said. “It eliminates the whole step.”
To complement the system, the Program Income money is also being allocated to replace outdated computer equipment.
According to city documents, all the improvements will be in place by October.