NB Politicus

Shrinking Federal Funds: Stewart Blocks Funds For Basic Human Needs, Community Services

Posted in community development, federal funds by nbpoliticus on June 23, 2014
A mayoral veto this month reducing federal funds that will go to meet basic human needs and community services shows the difference between the city’s Democrats and the Stewart-led Republicans.
The Stewart Administration wants to take away at least $62,000 from community services and hand it over to acting Municipal Development Director Ken Malinowski who intends to use the funds to pad his office budget with another administrative position.
The veto message and the list of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grants can be found HERE.
This is not a case of cutting back to save taxpayer money. The federal appropriation is already in place. The longstanding federal program which used to provide upwards of $4 million to the city has steadily dropped over 30 years. It has hovered at $1.5 million in recent years.  In the budget priorities of the Stewart regime federal funds for direct services for  residents are losing out to the City Hall bureaucracy.
Mayor Stewart and Malinowski, misinterpreting and exploiting a letter from a Housing and Urban Development official, cited a guideline that only 15% of  the city’s $1.5 million allocation of CDBG funds go to basic human needs and community organizations.  But New Britain and other distressed cities received an exemption to the 15% rule more than 25 years ago — an exemption still in effect that gives the city more leeway in how the federal funds can be used.  The real threat to losing federal funds may lie in the way Malinowski has previously administered federal funds. These include an unaccounted for $100,000 developer loan for which the city had to pay back HUD and the potential loss of federal money for a poorly planned Arch Street project for veterans that was hatched during Malinowski’s time in the first Stewart administration.
photo (8)
Dozens of residents turned out at the June 11th Council meeting to protest Mayor Stewart’s veto of funds for community services under the federal CDBG program.
The Democratic majority on the Common Council approved $371,000 for direct services in May restoring funds taken away by the Mayor’s Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development (CCND) which set a $319,000 allocation for community services. That prompted the Mayor to send her veto message that could not be overturned. Two Democratic Aldermen — Michael Trueworthy and Carlo Carlozzi — didn’t vote citing conflicts under HUD regulations. No member of the Republican caucus was moved by the many residents who sought restoration of funds at the June 11th Council meeting.
Stewart’s and Malinowski’s agenda, like the Boehner and Ryan crowd in Washington,  hits anti-poverty services particularly hard, including programs at the Human Resources Agency (HRA) such as the Food Resource Center, Las Perlas Hispanas Senior Center and the Polish Outreach Office. Small grant program funds at the OIC (youth employment) and Prudence Crandall Center were also eliminated.
The upheld veto leaves the Common Council with no choice but to adjust the allocations and with fewer dollars to go around this time for neighborhood services and organizations.
The Common Council meets on Wednesday, June 25th, for its last meeting before the fiscal year begins July 1.

Stewart Veto Puts HUD Funds For Community Services In Jeopardy: Does Administration Want Money For Political Appointee Malinowski?

Posted in community development, federal funds by nbpoliticus on June 8, 2014
In a June 6th letter Mayor Erin Stewart vetoed and returned to the Common Council a plan for use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in the new fiscal year.
On May 28th the Common Council on a 7 to 5 voted restored funds to several community agencies that had been reduced by the Mayor’s Commission on Community and Neighborhood Development (CCND).
According to The New Britain Herald story several organizations that had been zeroed out by Stewart and the CCND, including the Prudence Crandall Center,  the Opportunities Industrialization Center and HRA’s Polish Outreach Center, among others, had grant funds put back into the plan by the Council.
At issue is the allocation for community services in the $1.5 million the city receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Council reduced the percentage this year to $371,000 or 24.7 percent of the CDBG money while the Administration and acting Municipal Development Director Ken Malinowski wants to allocate $319,000 (21.2 percent) — an 8.4 percent cut in funds that have been relied on by various community agencies for more than 30 years.
Stewart and Malinowski, citing HUD’s recommended allocation percentage of 15% for community and social services, want to re-direct funds under the federal program.  This is not a matter of reducing appropriations to save the cash-strapped city but federal funds that are available for a range of neighborhood , housing and community services.  Mayor Stewart and Malinowski want the money for something else, but the specifics have not been given to justify immediate cuts to direct service programs.
Some observers claim the transfer of funds is sought to pay for Malinowski’s $102,000 annual salary as acting head of the department that handles the federal money, a job he left when the previous administration took office in 2011. As is, the Council approved money for management and administration totalling $300,236 or 20 percent of the CDBG budget.
In re-appointing Malinowski to lead municipal development at a six figure salary Mayor Stewart  said she wanted to “get the federal money flowing again.” It also helped that Malinowski was a primary fundraiser for the Mayor’s 2013 campaign after he openly flirted with a mayoral run himself. But Malinowski’s record as a dispenser of HUD funds took at least one serious hit late in the administration of former Mayor Tim Stewart.  HUD ordered the city to return $100,000 for a “non-recourse” loan made to Arete Development Group because the loan was ineligible.  HUD  found violations on the loan given to Arete on Malinowski’s watch related to the application process, environmental standards and accounting for the money.
In her June 6th veto letter Mayor Stewart cited a letter from a HUD official who said most cities have “an annual limit of 15% that can be spent on public services.”  But the same letter affirmed that New Britain has used an allowable “exception” granted in 1984 that may exceed the 15% goal for human and social services. “The statute and regulations have allowed New Britain and similarly situated cities to continue to use that exception ever since,” wrote  Gary Reisine, director of community planning and development in Connecticut’s HUD office.  At the very least HUD is not mandating New Britain’s move to 15 percent this year,  contrary to what Stewart and Malinowski are implying.
The veto is little more than a power play to circumvent the shared governance process that has long been established in the allocation of federal funds. Unfortunately, it may be a pretext by the administration to take money away from direct services for unspecified uses by the Mayor and her political appointee, Ken Malinowski.

Saving The Hometown Dailies

Posted in community development, economy, journalism by nbpoliticus on November 27, 2008

A plea by legislators for state assistance in saving the Herald of New Britain and The Bristol Press — the two dailies slated for closure by the parent Journal Register Company — is getting a mixed reaction among the commenters and bloggers who offered their opinions this week.

That’s because many people thrive on complaining about their daily newspapers, and continue to do so despite the painful reductions and eliminations of local coverage by all three dailies serving Bristol and New Britain — the Press, the Herald and The Courant.

When Henry Paulson of the Bush Administration is lurching from one financial services giant to another doling out bailouts for some but not others, it’s a reasonable question to ask why public investments and resources should be applied to flagging businesses at the local level.

The lawmakers, however, are doing nothing more than watching out for the economic well being of their communities. If the Herald or the Press were machine shops making widgets for United Technologies, no one would raise a fuss about saving jobs and commerce. Intervention by the state Department of Economic Development (DECD) would be uniformly welcome. They have been around here much longer than the absentee ownership of the Journal Register Company.

An exact assessment of the economic impact of The Herald and Press is probably not available beyond the payrolls and expenditures directly involved in putting out these papers.

But town and regional newspapers — print and online — are much more than the sum of their parts. They have much more utility than 24-hour cable and mass media that offer up more “infotainment” than broadcast journalism

Economically, small businesses build traffic and remind repeat customers of their goods and services in local mainstream media that has a targeted circulation area for maximum effect. The shutting down of the Herald and Press would likely reduce the local economy by millions of dollars and add to a ripple effect of business closures.

Beyond the dollars and cents,local newspapers — despite the hits their newsrooms have taken over the last decade — keep the flow of information going about city and town governments, giving residents the knowledge needed to make informed judgments about actions and decisions that have a direct impact on their lives.

There is something noble about the work of local journalists Steve Collins and Jackie Majerus over in Bristol. And in New Britain over the last year, Marc Levy and Rick Guinness of The Herald have been upholding the best traditions of the fourth estate by demanding public officials obey the FOI laws.

It’s being argued that bloggers and internet outlets will now fill the void. The ease of blogging and exchanges of opinions online are addressing some gaps in the greatly diminished coverage of the dailies. It’s also true that there is infinitely more news and opinion available globally for any interested reader. The news and views (“news you can use”)we require, however, are local. Too often emerging town blogs and forums are a poor substitute for dispassionate coverage that people need to make informed judgments. Anonymous comments on blogs and news threads sound like the opinions of village idiots or persons with personal axes to grind, and nobody you would want as your neighbor.

Where does this story go from here? The state lawmakers push with the DECD is worth trying as doubtful as investments, public or private, in newspapering may seem.

The discussion of alternatives should continue. Local commerce needs a local medium. Community journalism that can sort out opinions and personal agendas from the facts and interpret decisions and events for readers is needed — a vacuum that a thousand bloggers cannot fill.

Whatever emerges from talks to save the Herald and Bristol Press let us recall the old axiom: “There is nothing as powerful as the truth and nothing so hard to come by…” It will get harder without the Press and Herald and the now greatly-downsized Courant.

Salvio’s Latest Salvo: Putting His Pet Projects and Partisanship Ahead of the Public Interest

Posted in city politics and government, community development by nbpoliticus on August 2, 2008

It’s bad enough that New Britain’s share of federal community development grant funds have been dwindling for a long time. Mid-sized U.S. cities such as New Britain used to count on a bigger share of CDBG dollars to address neighborhood and housing issues and to deliver community services that the local property tax would not support.

“Twenty five years ago New Britain possessed more than double the CDBG funds it has today,” noted NB Politicus in a May 2007 post. “When inflation is taken into account the city has no more than a third of the resources it once had to address blight and community development
issues. Of CDBG dollars currently available, much of current funding is dispersed to human and social service agencies because the federal and state pipeline for their services has been cut to the bone as well.”

New Britain’s share has shrunk to $1.9 million in the current fiscal year. Those dollars are sometimes used to fend off blight and improve neighborhoods. Increasingly the federal allocation has also been used to fill gaps in the budgets of community agencies and social service organizations.

That’s why the recent action of GOP Councilman Lou Salvio is so disturbing. Salvio, whose modus operandi has been to use up public resources by filing official complaints against those he disagrees with, complained to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)about City Council approval of CDBG allocations.

Salvio’s latest political salvo was directed at three Democratic Council members who are affiliated or related to persons affiliated with the Human Resource Agency (HRA) and the United Labor Agency, two organizations traditionally in line to get federal dollars because of their anti-poverty and job development services. The three Council members Michael Trueworthy, Toni Lynn Collins and Paul Catanzaro, appropriately abstained from voting on any funds directed to those agencies. In fact, Catanzaro who is Chair of HRA’s Board of Directors, was absent. No conflict on their part. The Council acted in accordance with the regulations.

Salvio, who initially signalled unhappiness with the allocations because one or more of his pet projects did not get funded, complained to HUD over the failure of the city to file a perfunctory waiver to HUD about the Council abstentions. The irony is that the Stewart administration, which uses Salvio as its Council mouthpiece, failed to file the required waiver. This omission opened the door to Salvio’s complaint and a divisive move to derail legitimately voted allocations on a technicality.

Maybe it’s time for Mayor Stewart and his Chief of Staff Lisa Carver to put a muzzle on their Council point man when his actions serve no ethical or public purpose. Heaven knows they know how to muzzle city departments when the press and public come calling for information that should not require an FOI order to be shared.

Downtown’s Future: A Place To Live Within Walking Distance of Public Transit

Posted in city politics and government, community development, downtown by nbpoliticus on December 2, 2007

Downtown New Britain is no longer a “downtown,” if that word means anything. But if it’s no longer the city’s commercial or business center, then what is it?

from NBBlogs

The revitalization of downtown New Britain was not much of an issue during the 2007 municipal campaign. The welcome news of Carvel Corporation’s move to the long vacant Smart Park (the former Stanley Works factory parcel)and a meaningless flare up over the location of a new police station were about the only headlines drawing attention to the city’s vital center this year.

Downtown is ripe for new investment and development that needs to be managed wisely by city and state officials over the next five years. One of the big challenges of putting a viable downtown New Britain back together has to do with Route 9, the highway that connects I-84 to I-91 and shore points. New Britain is not unique among U.S. cities in having a four-lane roadway built 40 or 50 years ago that hastened decline of the central business district. The major task now is to undo that public works and public policy fiasco that cut the city in two.

As Pat Thibodeau observes in a recent post on his blog about New Britain, there’s no bringing back a downtown full of big retailers and big stores that people pouring out of factories patronized in the middle of the 20th century.

Thibodeau sees the opening of C-Town — an urban grocer that people walk to — as a harbinger of downtown’s future. “Downtown New Britain isn’t so much the place to be (the old city slogan), as it is a place to live. It has the potential to become an interesting and lively neighborhood,” he says. He goes on:

Downtown housing is likely to be occupied by single adults or couples who want to be in walking distance to essential services and stores. I also believe that, more and more, people will be interested in living without having to own a car, even in Connecticut. (I just paid about $25 for 8 gallons of gas at the Sunoco near West Farms. What happens when gas hits $4 a gallon?)

Thibodeau’s analysis needs to be heeded as key pieces of real estate (the old police station, the Herald building and the New-Brite shopping plaza) enter the development picture in the immediate or near future. Above all, officials at the local level need to be ready to take full advantage of the New Britain-to-Hartford busway that will turn the old Greenfield’s property into a transit hub and instantly make the land and buildings around it more attractive for private investment. These investments will have little need (nor should they) for abatements and public subsidies for business that desperate cities often use to boost their grand lists. Like third world countries fighting poverty, distressed U.S. cities are engaged in a “race to the bottom” because of the property tax.

Last July experts, lawyers and developers were at New Britain City Hall to outline some exciting plans for a downtown in dire need of good ideas and new public/private investment. Careful listeners to a study prepared by Harrall-Michalowski Associates wouldn’t be wrong in thinking they may have already heard much of what is being proposed. To paraphrase Yogi Berra: “It was deja vu all over again.”

If you flashback two years to the 2005 campaign, Jason Jakubowski, the Democratic mayoral nominee, unveiled a plan called “Project Hope” that represented a comprehensive and very ambitious agenda to bring downtown back. Jakubowski, reviving some older proposals dating back to the DeFronzo administration and raising the new ones, defined “hope” for downtown with a nine-point plan that included a new police station and the conversion of New-Brite into a collegiate sports and conference center multi-plex. He urged an expanded role for Central CT State and Charter Oak State downtown and proposed an arts and entertainment district built around the city’s existing assets. To correct the highway mistake of the 70’s, a mini platform idea was floated again to bridge the divide between East Main Street and Columbus Boulevard.

Jakubowski’s “Project Hope” and the master plan to come from consultants hired by the city this year are based on the same essential component: the federally funded busway planned to run aside the railroad tracks from New Britain through Newington and onto downtown Hartford.

While the busway is still five years away at best, the city and state — working together — could begin to put into place elements of a plan that will make downtown “interesting and lively” for visitors and residents who are ready to consider the center of the city a place to live if convenient public transit exists.

An interim step that could happen within a year is to upgrade the existing downtown bus stop. “One thing New Britain should try to get the state to do is improve the downtown bus hub,” states Thibodeau. “The bus pick-up location at West Main and Main Streets is dismal and unattractive. It actually looks dangerous. It needs an extreme makeover to encourage new riders.” A cosmetic makeover next to the municipal garage would invite greater use of public transit before the busway arrives.

And what would be wrong with a commuter bus direct from downtown New Britain into Hartford? There is a commuter Express near Corbin’s Corner with limited services now. It should be expanded to downtown given the thousands of New Britain residents — not to mention people from adjoining towns — who trek into downtown Hartford to work every day. More local service — a university downtown shuttle and a route up to the West Main Street business area — would get people to work and shop without using a car at $3.30 a gallon.

It’s time to implement a transit-based economic development strategy now and not wait for the first ride on the busway some of us plan to take circa 2012.

Blight At East And Kelsey: Sad End For Former Parochial High School Building

Posted in blight, community development by nbpoliticus on May 13, 2007


Alumni and friends of New Britain’s St. Thomas Aquinas high school will gather for a reunion on May 19th at New Britain Stadium. The pre-game picnic is a fundraiser for a Noah’s Ark of Hope, a Meriden playground named for a child of an Aquinas alumna.

Participants will bring many good memories of the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium of the parochial school at East and Kelsey streets.

But memories are all that is left now because the century-old school house attached to an addition and gymnasium built during the school’s 1960s heydays is an eyesore. Over the last year the building’s deterioration has accelerated. Its hulking presence hurts property values and the neighorhood’s quality of life.

A Herald story by Francine Maglione last January described just how bad things have gotten at the former parochial high school site:

The St. Thomas Aquinas school, which closed in the 1990s, remains abandoned and somewhat open for vagrants or even school children to enter and wander around. Though many of the doors are boarded up, a few of them are open and easily accessible. Inside the building, broken glass and garbage litters the floor, and books and furniture are scattered about. Graffiti covers the walls outside as well as walls and chalkboards inside the classrooms. Next to the school in the former nun’s quarters, boxes of old financial records still sit in the hallways and canceled checks lay all over the floor. The school building is currently for sale and remains boarded up.

The situation finally prompted the city Building Department to condemn the property, posting signs that the structure is a public safety hazard. Aquinas’deterioration is a main topic of concern for members of the East Side NRZ which regularly meets with city officials about blight and other issues.

For a time following the close of the parochial school there was talk the facility could have been turned over to the public schools — giving the city an adaptable place to add classrooms for once and future needs. It would have been appropriate for the Archdiocese of Hartford to turn the parcel back to the city, having obtained it for $1 when the municipality could afford to give that kind of space away. Instead, the building housed a now defunct charter school and became a source of income for the church. Eventually the Aquinas property was sold off to an absentee realty interest. The result — so common in urban properties acquired for speculation — has been a quick decline into blight for the once proud secondary school whose graduates include city leaders such as State Senator Don DeFronzo and State Rep. John Geragosian.

The Aquinas property demonstrates the limits city government faces in dealing with abandoned, absentee-owned buildings. The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has guaranteed funds to New Britain for a generation now. CDBG, which emerged in the 1970s, is supposed to address blight issues with funds for the acquisition of property and the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings. Through the years federal appropriations have precipitously declined, however. According to an estimate by the Northeast-Midwest Coalition federal money for CDBG dropped 51% from 1981 to 2006. Twenty five years ago New Britain possessed more than double the CDBG funds it has today — less than $2 million. When inflation is taken into account the city has no more than a third of the resources it once had to address blight and community development issues. Of CDBG dollars currently available, much of current funding is dispersed to human and social service agencies because the federal and state pipeline for their services has been cut to the bone as well.

Despite the absence of federal dollars for interventions and no apparent bidders to purchase the property from out of state owners, the city needs to adopt a more aggressive approach to revitalize the Aquinas parcel. It’s too large a piece of property and too important a space on the East Side to ignore on the list of abandoned buildings in New Britain.

What should be done?

Talks should open or re-open with the owner on marketing and finding a re-use of the property.

The feasibility of tearing down the facility should be explored. Its age and deterioration would seem to make rehabilitation and costs such as asbestos removal prohibitive at this juncture. An open parcel would accelerate the process of restoration and identifying a good use of the land.

The city on its own should contact developers interested in moderate income housing or similar appropriate uses (There have been no shortage of them inquiring about the Pinnacle Heights public housing site).

Officials should pursue any opportunities for competitive community development grant funding, including a University partnership program from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that could involve Central CT State University’s construction studies programs.

(Photo courtesy of East Side Community Action)

Blight At East And Kelsey: Sad End For Former Parochial High School Building

Posted in blight, community development by nbpoliticus on May 13, 2007


Alumni and friends of New Britain’s St. Thomas Aquinas high school will gather for a reunion on May 19th at New Britain Stadium. The pre-game picnic is a fundraiser for a Noah’s Ark of Hope, a Meriden playground named for a child of an Aquinas alumna.

Participants will bring many good memories of the hallways, classrooms and gymnasium of the parochial school at East and Kelsey streets.

But memories are all that is left now because the century-old school house attached to an addition and gymnasium built during the school’s 1960s heydays is an eyesore. Over the last year the building’s deterioration has accelerated. Its hulking presence hurts property values and the neighorhood’s quality of life.

A Herald story by Francine Maglione last January described just how bad things have gotten at the former parochial high school site:

The St. Thomas Aquinas school, which closed in the 1990s, remains abandoned and somewhat open for vagrants or even school children to enter and wander around. Though many of the doors are boarded up, a few of them are open and easily accessible. Inside the building, broken glass and garbage litters the floor, and books and furniture are scattered about. Graffiti covers the walls outside as well as walls and chalkboards inside the classrooms. Next to the school in the former nun’s quarters, boxes of old financial records still sit in the hallways and canceled checks lay all over the floor. The school building is currently for sale and remains boarded up.

The situation finally prompted the city Building Department to condemn the property, posting signs that the structure is a public safety hazard. Aquinas’deterioration is a main topic of concern for members of the East Side NRZ which regularly meets with city officials about blight and other issues.

For a time following the close of the parochial school there was talk the facility could have been turned over to the public schools — giving the city an adaptable place to add classrooms for once and future needs. It would have been appropriate for the Archdiocese of Hartford to turn the parcel back to the city, having obtained it for $1 when the municipality could afford to give that kind of space away. Instead, the building housed a now defunct charter school and became a source of income for the church. Eventually the Aquinas property was sold off to an absentee realty interest. The result — so common in urban properties acquired for speculation — has been a quick decline into blight for the once proud secondary school whose graduates include city leaders such as State Senator Don DeFronzo and State Rep. John Geragosian.

The Aquinas property demonstrates the limits city government faces in dealing with abandoned, absentee-owned buildings. The federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has guaranteed funds to New Britain for a generation now. CDBG, which emerged in the 1970s, is supposed to address blight issues with funds for the acquisition of property and the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings. Through the years federal appropriations have precipitously declined, however. According to an estimate by the Northeast-Midwest Coalition federal money for CDBG dropped 51% from 1981 to 2006. Twenty five years ago New Britain possessed more than double the CDBG funds it has today — less than $2 million. When inflation is taken into account the city has no more than a third of the resources it once had to address blight and community development issues. Of CDBG dollars currently available, much of current funding is dispersed to human and social service agencies because the federal and state pipeline for their services has been cut to the bone as well.

Despite the absence of federal dollars for interventions and no apparent bidders to purchase the property from out of state owners, the city needs to adopt a more aggressive approach to revitalize the Aquinas parcel. It’s too large a piece of property and too important a space on the East Side to ignore on the list of abandoned buildings in New Britain.

What should be done?

Talks should open or re-open with the owner on marketing and finding a re-use of the property.

The feasibility of tearing down the facility should be explored. Its age and deterioration would seem to make rehabilitation and costs such as asbestos removal prohibitive at this juncture. An open parcel would accelerate the process of restoration and identifying a good use of the land.

The city on its own should contact developers interested in moderate income housing or similar appropriate uses (There have been no shortage of them inquiring about the Pinnacle Heights public housing site).

Officials should pursue any opportunities for competitive community development grant funding, including a University partnership program from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that could involve Central CT State University’s construction studies programs.

(Photo courtesy of East Side Community Action)