Council Holds First Hearing On CDBG Program

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Athens City Council held its first public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) on Monday. The federally funded program makes the city eligible for about $75,000 to put toward development this year, but no one showed up to testify.

The state receives money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The money is then administered by the Ohio Department of Development under the CDBG program. Program funds can be used in many ways including economic development, housing rehabilitation, and park and sewer improvements.

CDBG Program Hearings Lack Testimony

Jeff Risner, Second Ward Representative, said it’s “normal” for a lack of testimony at CDBG hearings because the subject matter is often “complex” and “unfamiliar.”

“It may be a type of topic that a lot of people just don’t feel that they’re touched by,” Risner said. “Consequently, they don’t have a need to testify or give testimony.”

Risner said it is “rare” for public hearings to draw a large crowd. He used the example of the hearing on Union Street’s historical designation as an instance where people felt impacted.

“In that case because there was economic concern and there was a lot of money on the table, you had people who came and spoke in favor of this because they stood to gain from it,” Risner said.

The CDBG public hearings fulfill a state requirement, but Risner said “it could” make a difference.

“[Testimony] becomes part of the public record,” he said. “That public record will be submitted with the grants to show that we indeed have crossed all the “t’s” and dotted all the “i’s.”

What the Money is Used For

Mayor Paul Wiehl called this first hearing “very preliminary.”

“This is the first brush with it saying OK what do we want to do, what’s the input, and what are people thinking of” he said.

Wiehl said a potential project could deal with improvements on Franklin Avenue.

“Franklin does have some infrastructure problems in terms of it doesn’t have a good sanitary sewer system and a good storm sewer system,” Wiehl said. “The idea there would be, can we take this allocated money and use it as a match to leverage other money?”

Last year, CDBG money was used to upgrade the Depot Street sewage pump station. Wiehl said improvements haven’t started yet because the city is still in the design phase. In previous years, the grant was used to help repair a slip on Grosvenor Street and rehabilitate a house on Richland Avenue.

Wiehl said the grant money can make a difference in the community.

“It’s a supplement,” he said. “You have a certain amount of money you can spend and any little bit helps.”

City Council will hold two more hearings to discuss the CDBG program. Wiehl said the third hearing will involve the Planning Commission in order to get more ideas for possible projects.