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Pittsfield Gets $475K for Second Installment of Block Grant Funds
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
06:02PM / Saturday, January 16, 2021
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield received its second allocation of Community Development Block Grants in the amount of $475,103.00.

The federally funded program is designed to help small cities and towns meet a broad range of community development needs.

In total, the city has received $1,264,444. The first allocation was accepted by the City Council on April 28, 2020. These two allocations are separate and in addition to the city's annual entitlement allocation.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Mayor Linda Tyer submitted an order to amend the CDBG annual Action Plan for the program year 2019-2020 to provide a special allocation of CDBG funds in the amount of $475,103.00.
This $475,103 allocation is proposed to be spent as follows:

  • $325,000 for small business assistance
  • $50,000 for human services
  • $129,000 for rental assistance
  • $50,103 for administration

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell questioned the $50,103 that is purposed to be spent in administration. The conversation got slightly heated as Connell questioned Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer on where the administrative costs go.

Connell asked Director of Finance & Administration/Treasurer Matthew Kerwood why salary line items remain the same come budget time when they received CDBG funding, wanting to know where that extra money goes.

He said this has troubled him for some time and that it seems like a black hole that some of these funds are going into. There has to be some decrease in line items for these positions if they receive these administrative costs from the grant, Connell added, because he knows that half of Ruffer and Program Manager Justine Dodds' salaries come from it.

Kerwood deferred to Ruffer and Dodds, as his office doesn't have a lot to do with this particular situation because it uses a different reporting system.

Dodds explained that the Office of Community Development is required to perform a lot of due diligence in reporting for these grants, which is where the administrative money is used.

There are a number of regulations the city must follow in order to spend these dollars, Dodds said, and the administrative costs represent staff time associated with reviewing files to determine if projects are eligible under the CDBG program.

She added that this is a full-time position and the office has other CDBG funds that pay for salaries as well, amounting to about 11 percent of the overall cost, which is well below the 20 percent allowed.

Ruffer and Dodds' salaries have been budgeted for 50 percent to come from the CDBG funds for a long time, as in pre-COVID times they were consistent and predictable.

"The only reason you're seeing that this year is because we have received $1.1 million in additional funding from the federal government this year on top of the $1.1-1.2 [million] we receive in our annual allocation," Ruffer said to Connell, "So please don't twist my words that one year, this year, with COVID-19 is typical of any other year. This is a very unique year and my staff has put in a great deal of effort to put this money our in our community this year."

Ruffer said when there are fewer administrative costs that are used than originally allocated, the funds are freed up for projects. She added that the department has timesheets that are completed on a daily and weekly basis that layout the specific allocations. City Council President Peter Marchetti suggested that she compile them into a spreadsheet for the councilors so they can have some clarity on how those dollars are spent.

"We have that spreadsheet and that spreadsheet is used every year to develop the budget in both the CDBG and for the general revenue fund," Ruffer said. "And it is also used for the audits by [U.S. Housing and Urban Development] and for the city's audits every year, so it is absolutely no problem putting it in and it will clearly this year have the COVID-19 money separated as well."

Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, this has been a unique year for the Office of Community Development.

"This year is unique, next year will be unique," Kerwood said. "We don't know what's going to happen going forward and as we develop the FY22 budget we will obviously have to take into consideration these various factors to determine how we allocate salaries."

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