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City shifts funds from home program to park renovations

Friday, September 25, 2009 by John Davidson

City Council approved a controversial plan Thursday to reallocate $550,000 from the Holly Neighborhood Home Rehabilitation Program for improvements to Festival Beach, Fiesta Gardens and the Holly Power Plant Site Park. The move drew criticism from some East Austin residents, who say the funds should only be used to assist homeowners with improvements to their homes, not to improve public parks.

 

“Our issue is that these funds were taken out of the home repair line item and put into parks and recreation,” said Gavino Fernandez, a homeowner adjacent to the power plant. “We don’t want dedicated home repair funds to be taken away for this park improvement project.”

 

The home rehabilitation program was established in the 1990s to help homeowners near the power plant pay for housing repairs and capital improvements to mitigate the effects of living near the Holly Power Plant, which was shut down in 2007 and is in the process of being dismantled.

 

Council Member Mike Martinez is behind the effort to reallocate the funds for park improvements and he defended the plan as a good use of program funds from FY 2009.

 

“We are allocating $500,000 for the park because I believe it should be done properly, we don’t want to just slap some paint on and call it good,” said Martinez. “This in no way impacts the home repair program, there is still more than $1 million in the home repair program for anyone who wants to apply. The Holly Home Repair Program is working.”

 

Each year, the city puts $1 million into the home repair program, but at the end of the fiscal year unused funds do not roll over to the next year. The plan to reallocate the remaining $550,000 from the current fiscal year, which ends Oct. 1, is a way to ensure those funds go toward improving the area, said Bobby Garza, Chief of Staff for Martinez.

 

The reason more than half the allotted funds were not used in 2008-2009 is because there were not enough qualified applicants, Garza said. City records show only 38 applications received as of Sept. 23, with only one home improvement project completed so far. According to Garza, the reason there were so few applicants to the program is that not enough people know about it, and Martinez’s office will be working on community outreach to make sure East Austin homeowners near the power plant know about the program in the coming year.

 

For now, the $550,000 will go to repair a dilapidated Fiesta Gardens and the development of a master plan for Festival Beach, as well as other improvements to the Holly Power Plant Park.

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