SAN BENITO — After six months of debate, city services have trumped charities in the battle for local federal dollars.
Since last July, city commissioners have wrestled with the question of earmarking Community Development Block Grant money.
The options — to upgrade parks and other services or help nonprofits boost their work in the community.
Every year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development doles out CDBG money to communities to help them develop.
While commissioners here discussed how to spend a total of $406,237 received for the current fiscal year, they also mulled tagging $39,940 in unspent funds remaining from the past two years.
In the end, commissioners decided to pump more federal money into upgrading parks.
As discussions began in July, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa proposed using federal dollars to upgrade city services such as park improvements to help bolster the city’s tight $12 million general fund budget.
“The city’s in dire need,” Commissioner Rick Guerra said yesterday. “We need to take care of the city first.”
Guerra said cities such as McAllen and Pharr use their CDBG money to help fund city services.
“We need to help the citizens of San Benito,” Commissioner Tony Gonzales said.
Like Guerra, Gonzales said using the money to fund services such as park improvements helps reach residents across town.
“It’s going to benefit the whole city,” he said. “Parks’ restrooms and lighting — that’s something that will benefit the people.”
What happens to the charities?
Meanwhile, Commissioner Rene Villafranco urged commissioners to fund the charities’ work in the community.
Some local charities argued the city was cutting off a traditional source of their funding.
Toward the beginning of the city’s allocation process, Dora Martinez, executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cameron & Willacy Counties, said she had “never seen where (CDBG) funds were completely eliminated for public service projects and reallocated to public facilities improvements and housing.”
During city meetings, Martinez took the podium to tell commissioners the agency was using the city’s federal funding to help pay a San Benito worker and help 36 San Benito foster children find homes.
At that time, Liz Chavez, president of the San Benito Boys and Girls Club, described “a lack of support for social services.”
About five years ago, a previous commission was earmarking between $10,000 and $20,000 a year, Chavez said yesterday.
At the podium, Chavez told commissioners the agency was serving 4,500 children a year on its annual $157,000 budget.
“When there was a different commission, there would be double-digit funding,” Chavez said yesterday. “Every city with a Boys and Girls Club pretty much funds them at double-digit levels. Any amount makes a big difference in a community like San Benito. That can mean an additional employee or the payment of a couple of utility bills.”
Meanwhile, funding cuts force nonprofits to search for new funding sources.
Next time around, Gonzales said he wants residents to help decide how to allocate the money.
That’s why he wants the city to re-establish its CDBG citizens advisory committee to help commissioners earmark funding across the community.
“I want to get the citizens involved so they can take care of it,” Gonzales said.
Guerra said commissioners will consider funding local charities next year.
“After we upgrade what we need, we can start looking at the organizations,” he said. “I’m sorry about some of these organizations. I know they’re hurting. Those are good, legitimate organizations. I wish we could help. If you have money left over, you give it to charity.”
Current fiscal year
$215,571 — Street repair debt payment
$73,670 — City administration
$39,996 —Resaca Trail debt payment
$20,000 —Landrum and Kennedy park upgrades
$22,000 — Old library upgrade
$5,000 — San Benito Boys and Girls Club
$5,000 — Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cameron & Willacy Counties
$5,000 — Amigos Del Valle
$5,000 — Maggie’s House
$5,000 — San Benito Public Housing Authority
2016-2017 fiscal year
$16,150 —Southside Park improvements
$214,139 — Street repair debt payment
$39,995 — Resaca Trail debt payment
$65,000 — City’s administration
$5,500 — Park improvements
$7,000 — Amigos Del Valle
$7,000 — Senior outreach program
$7,000 — Maggie’s House
2017-2018 fiscal year
$23,789 — Falligant Park improvements
$215,762 — Street repair debt payment
$39,995 — Resaca Trail debt payment
$64,000 — City administration
$6,000 — San Benito Boys and Girls Club
$6,000 — Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cameron and Willacy Counties
$6,000 — Amigos Del Valle
$6,000 — Maggie’s House
$6,000 — Cross Community Development Corporation