Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Take 2: HBG mayor issues CDBG veto, council to reconsider allocation

Habitat for Humanity and TriCounty HDC, which together sponsored a “building blitz” last week on Allison Hill, are proposed recipients of CDBG funds this year. Photo: Diane McNaughton.

For the second time in his administration, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse has vetoed City Council’s allocation of federal housing grants.

Papenfuse overturned a bill disbursing $2 million in grants to more than a dozen nonprofit organizations and city programs. The source of the money was the Community and Development Block Grant (CDBG), a program from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Papenfuse today said his veto was due to council’s decision to award a $15,000 grant to Breaking the Chainz, a mentorship program that works with at-risk youth. Council granted the organization money even though it submitted an incomplete grant application.

Fifteen organizations applied for funding this year, according to Dave Madsen, chairman of council’s Community and Economic Development Committee. Last week, council passed a bill awarding grants ranging from $5,000 to $320,000 to 13 of those applicants, including Breaking the Chainz.

The city’s Department of Community and Economic Development screens and ranks grant applications according to a formal system every year. They did not recommend Breaking the Chainz for any funding. Even though the program met CDBG eligibility guidelines, its incomplete application meant that it ranked below other eligible organizations.

But council voted last week to reduce a proposed grant to TLC Work Based Training from $45,000 to $30,000, freeing up $15,000 for Breaking the Chainz.

Some council members expressed concern about veering from the ranking system, but the amended bill passed 4-3.

Papenfuse said the decision took money away from a deserving applicant and set bad precedent by breaking with the accepted grant-screening procedures.

“Their actions raise questions of fairness and transparency,” he said. “We have gone out of our way to establish an independent and trustworthy scoring process.”

Papenfuse has used his veto power once before, when he overturned CDBG allocations in 2016.

On Monday, Madsen said that both TLC and Breaking the Chainz provided valuable services in helping to keep residents out of the criminal justice system. TLC provides workplace training for formerly incarcerated people entering the workforce, while Breaking the Chainz reaches at-risk youth through mentoring, he said.

“Something we’re currently struggling with in the city is a high population that ends up in the criminal justice system,” Madsen said. “We wanted to do a full-court press in addressing the issue.”

Council is set to vote on a veto override at a legislative session tomorrow, according to a meeting agenda. But Madsen said that council members don’t plan to award any money to Breaking the Chainz anyway.

In the week since council passed its CDBG funding bill, Madsen learned that the organization may have trouble fulfilling administrative requirements tied to the federal funds.

Barring any last-minute amendments from council members, the body will likely revert back to the allocations recommended by the city Department of Community and Economic Development.

According to city Solicitor Neil Grover, council doesn’t have to override the mayor’s veto – it could simply vote to amend the bill it passed last week.

If the override vote does not pass, the entire CDBG bill dies, Grover said. Council members would have to introduce a new bill and publicly advertise it before voting to allocate funds.

Council adjourns for summer recess after its July 3 legislative session. But Madsen said that the break won’t start until council finishes its CDBG business.

“We have to get this done before we go anywhere to meet federal requirements,” he said.

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