At the last meeting of the Fayetteville City Council, a discussion about Community Development Block Grants got a little heated. Having covered a lot of town council meetings during my younger years, it was rare that CDBG projects got people up in arms. Usually, they make people happy.
The CDBG brings federal dollars to cities and towns all across America. According to the Housing and Urban Development website, “The program works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in a community and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. CDBG is an important tool for helping local governments tackle serious challenges facing their communities. The CDBG program has made a difference in the lives of millions of people and their communities across the Nation.”
The money used for grants is an annual appropriation that is allotted to “states and local jurisdictions called “non-entitlement” and “entitlement” communities respectively. Entitlement communities are comprised of central cities of Metropolitan Statistical Areas; metropolitan cities with populations of at least 50,000; and qualified urban counties with a population of 200,000 or more (excluding the populations of entitlement cities). States distribute CDBG funds to non-entitlement localities not qualified as entitlement communities.
“The annual CDBG appropriation that is allocated between HUD determines the amount of each grant by using a formula comprised of several measures of community need, including the extent of poverty, population, housing overcrowding, age of housing and population growth lag in relationship to other metropolitan areas.”
In most cities, as is the case with Fayetteville, there is a point person on the city staff who handles the CDBG program. In Fayetteville, that person is Victor Sharpe, who is the Community Development Director. Sharpe has been with the city for a long time, and he knows what he is doing. Prior members of the city council were comfortable with letting Sharpe make decisions, with few if any questions.
That’s both good and bad. Good because Sharpe is competent and takes care of business. Bad because they did not necessarily always know what was going on. That can be a problem when the city council leans too heavily on the staff and takes everything at face value.
So, while the meeting was contentious, it said something. It said that the council wants to be involved. It says that they are doing more than letting the city staff make the decisions. It means that they are engaged and informed. The sleeping giant has woken up. If they show the same kind of interest in all of the decisions they have to make, Fayetteville may be on the right road.