MEMO RE: Funding for Playgrounds and Traffic Lights
TO: Mayor Richard Thomas
FROM: Sylvia Bolivar, Deputy Commissioner of Planning
CC: Chantelle Okarter, Commissioner of Planning
Darren M. Morton, Commissioner of Recreation
RE: Funding for Playgrounds and Traffic Lights
DATE: November 9, 2018
The Planning Department has had issues with the Comptroller’s Office processing vouchers for HUD grants in a timely manner. Currently, there are vouchers that were submitted to the Comptroller’s office to reimburse grantees from CDBG, HOME, and COC programs from early October. On November 9, 2018, the Planning Department staff met with Comptroller Reynolds to answer questions and to provide additional documentation per her request in order to have the funds wired to reimburse grantees. There have been many conversations that have taken place requesting that the vouchers be processed. Comptroller Reynolds indicated that she would provide clearance today. We have not received clearance as of 4:10 pm this afternoon.
As a result of staff changes, the Planning Department began working with Fraida Hickson, Deputy Commissioner of Parking on the traffic lights project. In October 2018, Deputy Commissioner Hickson and staff from the Parking Bureau and Police Department met with the Planning Department on whether there was a need to have legislation and a budget code to move the traffic light project forward.
Deputy Commissioner Bolivar and Deputy Commissioner Hickson met with Comptroller Reynolds to request a budget code. She indicated that we did not need a budget code and that all she needed to do was wire the funds to the account. She was not helpful. There were also conversations that took place with Commissioner Morton who is the Treasurer of the Urban Renewal Agency Board. He recommended that a letter be sent to the City Council requesting legislation for traffic lights.
On November 8, 2018, Commissioner Morton and Deputy Commissioner Hickson met with Comptroller Reynolds who demanded as a follow-up evidence of the funds for the Playground Renovations and Traffic Lights projects have been approved by HUD and available for ‘drawdown” once expensed and vouchered. Commissioner Morton attempted to explain to the Comptroller the process for HUD approval and disbursement as reimbursable to the City. The Comptroller’s office was provided with all the URA approval documents and inter-municipal agreements (MOUs) between the respective departments and URA. However, those documents have not satisfied her concern and she requires more confirmation directly from the HUD system or a representative of HUD.
According to Commissioner Morton, “the Comptroller has voiced a ‘cashflow’ concern for the City. Repeatedly during our conversation with her and Mr. Townsend, she expressed concern over “where we (The City) would get the funds to pay any bills for these projects” and her reluctance to provide an appropriation account or approve any expenditures without identification of the cash availability in the City account. Earlier in the day, she inquired why HUD would not allow URA to ‘draw down’ the funds prior to execution of the project and completion of the work (in essence she would prefer an advance payment option)”. Commissioner Morton explained to the Comptroller and Mr. Townsend that CDBG funding through HUD is on a reimbursable system and they did not allow to advance payments or ‘drawdown’ of funding without proper completion of service/work and invoicing. Please note that this would be a violation of HUD regulations to provide grantees the funds in advance. The Planning Department will not provide grantees funds in advance. We have informed grantees that the funds are only provided on a reimbursable basis.
Please note that the Recreation Department has followed all the proper procedures, submitted and received legislation to receive $641,000 and issue the RFP for the Playground Renovations. In addition, several weeks ago Commissioner Morton worked with and received approval from the Comptroller and an appropriations account from Mr. Townsends to charge expenses for the Playgrounds Renovation projects. However, “she has since developed the above additional concerns and is not willing to move forward until her concerns are satisfied. The Parking Bureau must submit a referral letter to the City Council for approval to receive the funds ($678,600) and purchase material for the upgrade of the Street Lights. Once the City Council and the Board of Estimate approvals are received, the Parking Bureau will be in the same position as Recreation, unless the Comptroller’s concerns are satisfied and/or she approves these projects moving forward.”
Under the Thomas Administration, addressing compliance issues has been a top priority. The City has timeliness issues and needs to spend funds from prior years otherwise the City runs the risk of not receiving future allocations. The Planning Department has provided screen shots that demonstrate the funds are in the HUD system. A memo was submitted to Comptroller Reynolds outlining the voucher process. Attached is a copy for your review. At this point, over $1.2 million is at jeopardy (as HUD has expressed timeliness concerns for spending or the rescinding of these funds).