OUR VIEW: City’s reallocation of HUD dollars example of systemic problemFiscal responsibility. It’s a somewhat relative term considering the current state of the economy in concert with government spending on the federal level. But with regard to a recent instance involving the city of Woodbury’s reallocation of more than a half million federal grant dollars intended for use on subsidized housing projects that ended up being used for expansion of a park, we are left wondering if such an action can be deemed as fiscally responsible.
Fiscal responsibility. It’s a somewhat relative term considering the current state of the economy in concert with government spending on the federal level. But with regard to a recent instance involving the city of Woodbury’s reallocation of more than a half million federal grant dollars intended for use on subsidized housing projects that ended up being used for expansion of a park, we are left wondering if such an action can be deemed as fiscally responsible.
On Dec. 8 the City Council voted to approve the reallocation of $600,000 in federal community development block grant funding to be used for a nearly 9-acre expansion of Cree Park, located near Century Avenue. The funds were originally awarded to the city from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development for the intended use on two different low and moderate-income housing projects.
According to a staff report on the item, the housing projects at 7987 Afton Road and a 2.2-acre site at the CityWalk development that had been originally proposed to receive both a community development block grant and HOME funds were delayed and as such the funds need to be reallocated to “guarantee compliance with timely spending rules.”
“To compensate for these project delays, the city is proposing to reallocate these funds to an expansion of Cree Park as well as construction financing for the Habitat for Humanity project in the Garden Gate 2nd Addition,” a Dec. 8 staff report to the City Council states.
The Council voted 5-0 to approve the reallocation of the funds, and as such the city will be able to spend its awarded federal funds in a timely fashion on other projects that will clearly benefit the general welfare of all citizens of Woodbury.
It’s also clear that once city staff learned the CityWalk project was to be delayed for up to 24 months they worked to find the most responsible way possible to spend such funds. But it’s most certainly apparent this is an anecdotal example of a systemic problem the federal government has brought upon itself over several decades of increased discretionary spending.
The federal budget is annually drawn up and approved to award money through various initiatives, programs and departments to smaller units of government and non-profit organizations. And the recipients of these funds have come to know they need to spend these funds immediately lest they not receive the same amount of federal dollars the next time the money tree is shaken.
It may be an ignorant assumption to make, but why did the city staff responsible for managing the spending of these HUD dollars not find a way to defer them in some fashion for the anticipated 24 months that the CityWalk project was to be delayed? In an economic environment where every dollar counts, it seems like that would have been the more fiscally responsible action to take than to simply make a last-minute decision to reallocate such funds for a park expansion, something clearly not within the scope of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
There is no doubt that the decision to expand Cree Park is within the purview of the city’s responsibilities as established by a 2004 voter-approved open space referendum. But why would the city then choose to use federal taxpayer dollars for such a purchase that Woodbury’s citizens already said they were willing to pay for via a municipal property tax referendum? Is it okay to spend the federal dollars because they were already drawn up to be doled out anyway?
In the grand scheme of spending, a federal government with a 2010 deficit of well more than $1 trillion makes $600,000 appear as a microscopic drop in the bucket. But if we are to expect any renewed sense of fiscal responsibility in a struggling economy does it not need to start first at home? Does it not need to first start with our most local units of government?
This is not to disregard the fact that the city of Woodbury has an established reputation for being an even-keeled, relatively fiscally responsible municipality. But we believe citizens have the right to expect that when the city enters the game of the “great federal dollar grab” they spend the allocated dollars as they were intended. As the old adage states, money doesn’t just grow on trees. Well, except for maybe in Cree Park.