West Memphis looks to stick with long-term plans with grant funds

Community Development money focuses on rehab, drainage

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

West Memphis set about the business of dividing its 2016 Community Development Block Grant Funds last week and wrapped it up with publicized public hearings this week. While funding has diminished in recent years, the 2016 CDBG money was identical to 2015. With that in mind, City Planner Paul Luker presented a carbon-copy preview to spend the nearly $300,000 in grant funds to City Council Jan. 21 ahead of the hearings. “I don’t know exactly what we’ll get this year,” said Luker. “We’ll know for sure in a couple of weeks. According to what Congress passed, we are expecting about the same as last year.” The proposal calls for demolishing 16 structures. The knock-downs and clean-ups of select dilapidated places were projected at around $84,000. Additionally, 61 home rehabs costing $90,500 were proposed. At a $1,500 per-home average, most of last year’s projects were done with volunteer labor from summer youth church volunteer programs. Luker said those or similar groups are expected to return to the city this summer as well. Drainage improvements were also slated to continue. The work eyed by the city engineer moves one block east to 11th Street this year, with a budget of $64,000. Administering the CDBG comes with a price tag too, costing $56,798 off the top. Any revisions resulting from public input will be presented to City Council for the final nod of approval. “We’ve committed to these ongoing projects,” said Luker. “The drainage project is a multi-year project that we started along South 10th Street. We completed the first phase of that last year. That started with design fees from the 2014 budget year.” Luker proposed continuing the drainage improvement project. “It’s worth doing again this year,” said Luker. “It’s same song, second verse.” City Councilman James Pulliaum affirmed the need to stay the course on drainage improvement, but lamented the funding cuts in recent years. He pined for funding the Wonder City Boys Club and LR Jackson Girls Club with money from the CDBG allotment. “We are gaining ground,” said Pulliaum. “We need to keep up with these projects with the block grant money. But I was hoping we could piece out some money for the clubs, particularly the ones on the east side. Let’s face it, they don’t get the same kind of support as the Crittenden County (Boys & Girls) Club. We need to help with free programs and more comprehensive programs. That’s what we really need to do.” With funds are not what they used to be, Luker sympathized with the councilman’s concern and provided a retrospective. “Ten years ago we were getting $500,000 a year,” said Luker. “We just don’t have that anymore.”

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