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County commissioners hear federal grant spending proposals

Wednesday, June 9, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Travis County staff members presented the commissioners court on Tuesday with the next round of federal grant projects meant to improve the quality of life for residents in the county’s unincorporated areas.


Commissioners are scheduled to vote June 15 on nearly $1 million in proposed Community Development Block Grant spending for the 2010 program year, which begins Oct. 1. The money would go toward street improvements, homebuyer assistance, and social work services.


Staff members will gather feedback on the proposals between June 23 and July 22, including at public hearings on June 29 and July 13. The spending plan is due to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that administers CDBG funding, by Aug. 13.


Commissioners generally accepted the proposed projects at Tuesday’s meeting, but County Judge Sam Biscoe raised concerns about allocating an additional $285,000 to a homebuyers’ assistance program because the $528,000 allocated to the program last year has not been spent.


“This is a whole lot of money and HUD is real firm on timeliness (in spending),” said Biscoe, who is president of the Travis County Housing Finance Corporation, the entity that oversees the homebuyers program. “We really ought to confirm our ability and the housing finance corporation staff’s ability to spend this money in the prescribed time.”


Sherri Fleming, executive director of the Travis County Health and Human Services and Veterans Service Department, along with Christy Moffett, a senior planner for the grant program, told Biscoe the county is behind schedule on project spending because of difficulties it encountered with a land purchase, a CDBG project funded over the past three years.


If all goes well, the county hopes to seal the deal by the end of September, allowing CDBG staff members — there are two — to focus their attention elsewhere. Twenty-seven affordable homes would be built on the land, Moffett said.


“HUD is very much aware of the challenge with the land acquisition project that has affected our timeliness,” Fleming said, adding that there were no “findings” regarding timeliness in a recent report by the federal agency.


Here’s how county staff members are proposing to spend the $942,749 allocated for the next round of projects:


    $400,000 for construction of improvements to Lava Lane, located in the southeast part of the county. Completion is expected in September 2011.

    $285,000 for a program that makes buying homes more affordable for first-time buyers. The program targets families whose annual household income is below 80 percent of the area median income.

    $188,454 for grant planning and administration costs, including partial salary for a grant planner and senior engineer who oversees street and water supply improvement projects.

    $69,295 for a social worker to provide case management services in unincorporated areas.

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