County looks at groups that receive tax dollars

June 17, 2011
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Kent County commissioners are scheduled to approve the annual action plan of the county’s Community Development office this week and allocate nearly $2.3 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to 14 service providers.

But all the money may not be assigned Thursday because commissioners on the Finance Committee want to see more financial transparency and accountability from at least one nonprofit that is set to receive those tax dollars. Commissioner Harold Voorhees, who chairs the committee, has made the issues of transparency and accountability top priorities for the county, any group that is awarded tax dollars and the nine-member committee.

As an example, Community Rebuilders Inc. is in line to receive two federal grants through Community Development that total $1.16 million to provide rental assistance to the homeless. But when Commissioner Carol Hennessy visited the Community Rebuilders website, she said the organization didn’t have its financial statements online as it was supposed to as part of its agreement with the county.

“This is the lion’s share of all the funds in this. This is not transparent,” said Hennessy.

Hennessy asked Community Development Director Linda Likely if the awards to Community Rebuilders could be set aside because its financial statements weren’t listed for public inspection.

“They’ve had enough time to do that,” she said. Likely said she would speak with Vera Beech, the organization’s executive director, and have her post the necessary documents online before commissioners meet.

“We actually do an annual monitoring (of the funds), which is required by HUD,” said Monique Pierre, Community Development manager. Likely said the monitoring process hasn’t found any misuse of HUD dollars by service providers.

“If we did, we’d have to recapture those funds,” said Likely.

HUD has given Community Development $2.28 million for the fiscal year. Of that total, $1.4 million is in Community Development Block Grants, $802,934 is HOME Investment Partnership funds, and $75,000 is from a CDBG Housing Rehabilitation Program.

The Salvation Army, the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, Home Repair Services, Hope Network, Disability Advocates and Arbor Circle are some of the other providers that have contracted with Community Development and are in line to receive funding.

“Our annual action plan is based on our five-year plan,” said Likely. She added that the plan came together after her office spoke with all 14 service providers, and McKenna Associates was the office’s consultant.

Likely said this year’s CDBG funding was down from last year’s $1.7 million. The office’s administrative cost to distribute the HUD dollars is about 8 percent.

“They’ve capped it at 8 percent of their allocation,” she said.

Kent receives HUD funding because the federal government considers it an urban county. Community Development can spend the money in any of the county’s municipalities except Grand Rapids and Wyoming, which receive separate HUD allocations.

Commissioner Jim Saalfeld thought the county would lose its HUD funding if the consolidation effort being undertaken by the One Kent Coalition is successful. One Kent wants to fold the county and Grand Rapids into one metropolitan government.

“I think we’d lose those grants (if that happens),” he said.

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