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Arnold officials plan to use federal funds on Trump's chopping block

| Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Making do with less is not a new concept to Arnold officials, but doing without Community Development Block Grants is.

For decades, Arnold has received federal funds through the CDBG program, which is targeted to benefit low- to moderate-income residents.

The city has used the money for things such as housing rehabilitation, street paving and supporting city services like fire protection.

This year, the city's share of the federal funding is close to $270,000, about $3,300 less than last year.

But next year, that share will be zero if Congress approves the Trump administration's budget proposal, according to Rick Rayburg, Arnold's director of community development.

The Community Development Block Grant program is one of six that would be eliminated under Trump's budget.

“As of right now, there is nothing else budgeted. That's in Trump's first budget,” Rayburg said at a recent public hearing on the 2017 CDBG plan.

“We're an entitlement community, and we're entitled to that money every year as long as it's there,” Rayburg said. “Call your congressman because, next year, it's not there.”

A government webpage marking the 30th anniversary of the CDBG program in 2004 describes the program this way: “Its design puts funding back into the cities where it is specifically targeted to those individuals who, without these funds, would not have access to services that only CDBG can provide.

“Its primary objective is the development of viable urban communities, by providing decent housing, suitable living environments, and expanded economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.”

Arnold officials last week held the second of three hearings required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the funding, as if next year's funding will come.

At this point, Arnold's CDBG budget includes the 18 percent for administrative costs permitted by HUD, about $48,500, which helps to pay the salaries for the development office staff and other operational costs.

Another $30,000 would be used as payment on a 20-year loan for $300,000 the city obtained in 2007 for a demolition project.

That project cleared more than 20 blighted and abandoned structures along Third Avenue. Now, a roofing company is located there, and a trucking company is building a facility.

Council wants to continue to raze blighted buildings, and it would allocate $66,000 in CDBG money for that if it continues to be available. Rayburg said CDBG money has paid for demolitions in the city for 20 years.

Along with that is $35,000 earmarked for the city's fire department, which has also received CDBG funds.

Mayor Karen Peconi said last year's allocation was used for protective “turnout gear” for the firefighters.

The 2017 money would be used to buy two infrared cameras, used to detect people trapped in burning buildings, and for tools, Rayburg said.

That would leave close to $90,000 for the city to use on other projects.

At least part of that money, if available, may go to pave Fifth Avenue from 16th Street to the New Kensington line.

Rayburg said 2014 CDBG money was earmarked for that, but it had to be diverted when the $357,000 Ivy Alley sewer replacement and street reconstruction became a priority. However, Rayburg doubted that $89,000 would be enough to cover the scope of Fifth Avenue paving.

He said the project could be scaled back to start the paving at 17th Street instead, or the funds could be used for additional sewer replacement in the 1800 block of Ivy Alley.

Asked if he believes that the CDBG program will vanish next year, Rayburg said, “I can't imagine that all the senators and congressmen are going to let (Trump) do away with CDBG.

“But cut it? I anticipate it will be cut. But the question is: how much?”

The mayor said the uncertainty has her worried.

“It's very nerve-wracking,” Peconi said. “We rely on that for operations. I hate to think what will happen if we can't get that money for paving and demolition.”

Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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