Funds going to city parks instead of charities

SAN BENITO — This year, the city is using more of its federal money to fund public projects.

Now, city commissioners are proposing using more of the city’s annual Community Development Block Grant from the federal government to spruce up parks.

Traditionally, the city has used much of this grant funding to help local nonprofit, social services organizations, such as the San Benito Boys and Girls Club.

But this past week, city commissioners agreed to tap $16,150 to fund park improvements.

The decision to earmark money not spent from the city’s 2016-2017 CDBG allocation comes after months of debate.

That left the Boys and Girls Club and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cameron & Willacy Counties, or CASA, empty handed.

“We go through the process, we apply,” Dora Martinez, CASA’s executive director, said after the decision. “We at least voiced our concerns regarding funding.”

During the Tuesday meeting’s public comment period, Julian Rios, chairman of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, requested commissioners earmark the $16,150 to fund shade structures to cover playgrounds at Landrum, Kennedy and Falligant parks.

Meanwhile, Martinez requested $10,000 while Liz Chavez, president of the Boys and Girls Club, said she applied for $8,000.

“We will continue to be the voice of abused and neglected children in San Benito,” Martinez, whose agency helps foster children, told commissioners before their vote. “We stand by these children until they’re in forever homes.”

Amid discussion, Commissioner Rene Villafranco recommended about $10,000 go to CASA and about $6,000 to the Boys and Girls Club.

However, Commissioner Tony Gonzales suggested the city use the money to fund park improvements.

That’s when Commissioner Rick Guerra said cities such as McAllen and Pharr use their CDBG money to fund public projects.

When the votes were cast, Gonzales, Guerra and Mayor Ben Gomez proposed using the money to upgrade parks.

In July, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa recommended using CDGB money to fund eligible public projects such as parks.

That would help bolster the city’s tight $12 million general fund budget, De La Rosa argued.

Soon, some commissioners suggested helping local nonprofits after the charities complained the city had apparently cut off a traditional source of their funding.

In January, commissioners are expected to consider voting on the final proposal tied to the city’s 2016-2017 CDBG allocation.

Meanwhile, commissioners Tuesday delayed voting on the proposed allocation of more than $23,000 remaining from the city’s 2017-2018 CDBG allocation.

That money is also proposed to go to fund park improvements.