The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has denied, at the pre-application stage, the city of Statesboro’s request for $2 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for the Creek on the Blue Mile project.
Statesboro still has the promise of a $5.5 million state direct investment and an up to $15.5 million line of credit for the project, both through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. The $5.5 million would not have to be repaid, but it is meant for engineering and construction of the flood control lagoon. The $15.5 million would have to be repaid in 30 years, although at a very low annual interest rate of 2.25 percent.
So, the city and its Creek District Oversight Committee were looking to a special type of Community Development Block Grant award, a CDBG Innovative Grant, as one possible source of money that would not have to be repaid and could be spent on plan features less directly tied to flood control.
However, the block grants channel federal funds through the states to cities and counties for projects shown to benefit low- and moderate-income residents.
“After a review of the pre-application, we do not find that the city’s proposal addresses eligible CDBG activities to directly benefit low- and moderate-income persons; therefore, the city is not being invited to submit a full application,” Georgia DCA Deputy Commissioner Rusty Haygood stated in a June 20 letter to Mayor Jonathan McCollar.
City staff members had filed a pre-application for the CDBG Innovative Grant by a May 31 deadline. The final application deadline would have been Aug. 31. With $2 million as a maximum, the grants can be smaller amounts.
‘Jobs’ not enough
Statesboro’s project description noted its flood control purposes, and also mentioned job creation, but without a detailed description of how this would be achieved.
“The pre-application states there will be developable land as a result of the detention facility and the potential for housing development and commercial use (job creation), but neither is discussed,” Haygood’s letter states. “The project is a great community development initiative for the city, and the Department encourages the city to continue with implementation.”
“(Job creation)” is also in parentheses in the original letter.
Haygood suggested that the DCA would be happy to provide information on other programs it administers, such as CDBG Revitalization Area Strategy designation or the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, known as GICH. Statesboro officials and a team of volunteers are currently working on an application for GICH, which is not a specific grant but could improve the city’s eligibility for grants for improved housing.
When the Creek District Oversight Committee met Tuesday morning, Creek Project Coordinator Bryan Davis offered an explanation for the rejection of the CDBG request.
“We did not meet the criteria for this specific grant,” he said. “I think they were looking for more specific, small projects than what this was. The scale of this project and the amount of people it could serve did not really fit inside what they felt their agenda was for the Innovative Grant.”
In April when City Council approved pursuing the grant, interim Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles reported that the $2 million sought would be half of the total $4 million available statewide in this round of funding.
Statesboro’s planners noted that the project would affect “the two lowest-income sections of our entire city,” providing residents access to jobs and the project’s park features, Davis said.
He added that state officials may have felt that CDBG funds should go to projects not already receiving state funding but that they did not say this explicitly.
City Manager Charles Penny, who started work for Statesboro July 1, noted that the letter indicated the DCA was looking for things that directly benefit low- to moderate-income people.
“It is fine to talk about creating jobs, and I haven’t looked at the application, but the direct benefit is what they need to be able to account for in the grant. …,” Penny said, noting that local people are also working on the GICH application.
“With more housing we might have had a stronger opportunity to be entitled to that (the CDBG), so this may be a little blessing in disguise, and we’ll know the next time,” he said.
Keely Fennell, vice chair of the Creek District committee and president of the Blue Mile Foundation, expressed appreciation to City Planner Justin Williams, Boyles and Davis for their work on the pre-application.
“We are very grateful, and I feel like our time is coming,” Fennell said. “Don’t let that get you down, and I appreciate your leadership in this.”
Committee members also recapped a July 9-11 visit to Frederick, Maryland, to see that city’s Carroll Creek project, the original inspiration for the Creek on the Blue Mile proposal. Mayor McCollar led a delegation of 23 local people, which also included Penny in his second week on the job.
A separate story will include more about their tour.