If it’s December, it must be community development block grant (CDBG) application time.
The Montclair Township Council took advantage of its December 5 conference meeting to hear presentations from the local community organizations – and Township Engineer Kim Craft – applying for federal CDBG grants for 2018 for various community projects. Planning Director Janice Talley facilitated the presentation.
Among the local groups applying for federal grants was the Interfaith Hospitality Network, represented by Emma Justice. Justice told Mayor Robert Jackson and the councilors that her organization was seeking $32,500 to help seven Montclair families and eleven individual Montclair residents remain in their homes through rental assistance. She said that the families had been dealing with possible evictions or family emergencies. The Interfaith Hospitality Network also provides after-school tutoring programs for children. Marcia Marley of Succeed 2Gether, another group that helps children with their academic endeavors, requested $20,000 for her group to serve up to 290 children for Succeed 2Gether’s programs.
Elaine Spears of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation (MNDC) requested $36,000 for her group’s new programs, including the Maya Angelou program, a literacy initiative named for the late poet that allows children to have conversations with each other and “where we can pique their interest in terms of literacy and different genres and books,” and Boys Who Read, a program that emphasizes literacy and reading interest in young boys. Dorman Blaine, also of the MNDC, spoke of the group’s efforts to help children become more news-literate and learn how to form opinions of current events while being able to identify “fake news,” and he also touted the group’s Young Investors Society, which aims to teach children how to manage money.
Sue Seidenfeld of COPE requested $40,000, twice as much as she requested for her group in 2016, to combat the opioid crisis in Montclair, citing a couple of real-life examples of Montclair residents who had become addicted to painkillers and who were in a downward spiral. She said COPE is also doing support for preschool parents as one of its new programs. Councilor-at-Large Robert Russo, noting the state of New Jersey is increasing funding for the opioid crisis by $300 million, asked Seidenfeld if she had any opportunities for funding from other sources as well as the block grant, because he worried the township might be able to do enough. He specifically asked if COPE was getting funding directly from the state.
“Not specifically,” Seidenfeld said, “but in fact what happened to us this year, because of the opioid epidemic, is, they cut children’s system-of-care funding and they moved it into covering the opioid epidemic, and Essex County is one of the highest areas with the highest numbers of overdoses.” She went on to say that a lot of funding is going into hospitals and their emergency rooms to work with first responders to overdoses, and she added that funding for anyone who needs help but is not in the hospital system hasn’t been rolled out yet.
“We keep our ears open for any possible funding,” Seidenfeld said. We were very grateful that to support the work that we do and that you’ve supported us with, that Partners For Health had funded us two years ago to start this program.” Councilor Russo said COPE should be getting more help, and he lamented that CDBG funding has been subjected to cuts in recent years.
Cynthia Walker and Wanda Edwards of Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates (SOFIA), which helps women overcome domestic-violence incidents, requested $53,200 for their work, which includes eight hundred teenagers having been taught about dating safety through SOFIA’s Safe Dating Initiative and helping women return to regular life after enduring domestic violence. HOMECorp requested $16,950 to replace 23 out of 31 windows at 25 William Street, a 96-year-old HOMECorp-owned building with six affordable rental apartments that also houses Paraiso Cocina Dominicana, a neighborhood Dominican restaurant. Making its first request for a CDBG was Brother 2 Brother, which provides mentoring for young men with summer sessions helping them devise strategies to pursue life goals. Gil Davis, speaking for Brother 2 Brother, requested $25,000 for his organization.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville asked about one request in particular, a request from United Way’s Peter Keating. Keating said United Way needed $100,000 to repave and upgrade the parking lot in the rear of its building at 60 South Fullerton Avenue, and the organization hopes to add an additional 18 spaces to its current seventy spaces. The library staff and some library patrons also use the lot. Dr. Baskerville asked about whether there is a continuing partnership between the town and United Way to allow the town to have access to the lot. Township Attorney Ira Karasick explained that the town already has a partnership with United Way because the deed has a special clause that allows the town to take care of the paring. The details of the partnership have not been fleshed out.
As far as the township itself, Township Engineer Kim Craft put in a list of possible infrastructure improvements throughout town. She proposed township-funded projects that included a refurbishment of the playground at Rand Park and a bank-shot court costing $96,630 or a larger bank-shot court replacing the existing play structure for $90,080. She also proposed three different street applications projects to give the township “maximum flexibility” on which project to go with. One option was to put in a $69,810 request to repave Fulton Street and Miller Street, another option was a $75,750 request for paving Hitchcock Place, and a third option to pave Woodland Avenue and Wheeler Street.
Dr. Baskerville said she regretted that the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee had not given advice and proposals of their own, saying the committee had been left out of the process. Mayor Jackson balked at the costs of a couple of the proposed street projects, which Craft said included curb improvements and corner sidewalk ramps. The mayor said he wanted to look at the numbers again and suggested that extra projects should be submitted to see if they could get better numbers. The township’s final recommendations for CDBG applications will be presented to the Essex County CDBG office.
The council also took action on a resolution urging the federal government not to remove the state and local tax (SALT) deduction in the tax reform legislation being considered by Congress. The resolution, presented by Third Wad Councilor Sean Spiller, was passed 7-0, with even First Ward Councilor William Hurlock, normally a critic of such symbolic gestures, voting for it.