CDBG programs get tough questions

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — Lima City Council grilled potential Community Development Block Grant fund recipients Thursday night one last time before final allocations are approved.

The hour-and-a-half meeting featured three back-and-forth conversations between councilors and program recipients as various CDBG programs were looked at in more detail than in previous public meetings.

Councilor Jon Neeper started off the meeting by questioning Jermaine Harper, director of The Startup Lab via Urban Impact Ohio. The two individuals have had a past of public conflicts, and the conversation resumed largely along the same lines as Neeper questioned Harper’s $31/hour pay he pulls from the program.

Neeper’s primary concern was that the documentation tracking the program doesn’t reflect the entirety of expenses used by it. Harper pointed out that some of that is due to how the administration of CDBG dollars typically works. Normally, when receiving CDBG funds, Harper filed his time-sheets with program administrators to pull the $30,000 allocated to The Startup Lab, but those time-sheets didn’t reflect the entirety of the program’s expenses.

Director of Community Development Susan Crotty confirmed that many of CDBG’s fund recipients are actually encouraged to use such time-sheets as proof of need of payout as they are easy to track, and they are allowed under federal law.

The conversation even prompted a concerned comment from Scott Frenger, executive director of New Lima-Housing for the Future, as a concern over salaries had never been discussed in the past.

“I never heard salaries being an issue. It threw me for a loop. … It’s the easier thing to track,” Frenger said. “Obviously when we’re providing services, we have to pay our employees who are providing these services in order to provide (services).”

Neeper also implied that increasing the allocation to The Startup Lab would mean a doubling in Harper’s salary. Harper flatly denied the assertion three different times.

“I’m not going to give myself a pay raise,” Harper said.

Councilor Carla Thompson then pushed the meeting along to see if other councilors had questions for fund recipients. They did.

Councilor Peggy Ehora wanted more information about Edward Eghan’s Oheneba Youth Soccer camp program. At the time, he’s set to receive $8,000.

Since she has helped organize soccer camps in the past, Ehora questioned some of Eghan’s expected expenses and pushed against the city allocating the dollars until the program has a larger foundation. Eghan said he’s aiming to hold the camp for roughly 200 children, and a two-week camp of that size can require such dollar amounts.

“You’re asking us to pay for a soccer camp, but we can do so much more for that money,” Ehora said.

As a fan of soccer, Ehora encouraged Eghan to hold the camp in 2021 anyway and try to use some of the community resources to make it grow before asking for more.

The third conversation featured Councilor Jamie Dixon and Vickie Shurelds, who’s Youth for Change program is slated to receive $10,000. Dixon questioned Shurelds about her goal of serving 400 youth in the community when some programs are starving for participants. Shurelds pointed to a network of youth-based organizations as the source of interested youth, and she expects she’ll be able to exceed the 400-person goal set by the program.

“Once students understand what it is that we are offering, we’ll have the participants that we need,” Shurelds said.

After the discussions, councilors were encouraged to communicate what changes they would like to see in the final document, which is slated to be voted on during City Council’s Monday night meeting.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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