A tug of war between the city comptroller and the mayor over financial control of federal anti-poverty funds appears to have ended, which could allow the city to finally begin receiving the grants again.
Documents that will allow the creation of three positions in the City Comptroller’s Office to receive and distribute block grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are expected to be filed with the Common Council today.
In June, HUD told the city that it must change the way it handles block grant funds and that until that happened, the funds would be frozen. Instead of its urban renewal agency, the city must receive the funds, HUD said. The city is waiting for about $18 million.
In light of the June letter, City Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder quickly asserted his office’s rights and duties under the City Charter, which include oversight responsibilities and opening deposit accounts.
“They were set up, then I abruptly canceled them,” Schroeder said of the accounts. “I canceled them because I was not comfortable that the administration was hearing us.”
Members of Mayor Byron W. Brown’s administration dismissed the idea that the two branches of government were at odds.
“We’ve had a lot of technicalities to work through,” said Janet E. Penksa, commissioner of administration, finance, policy and urban affairs.
Once Schroeder has proof that his office will receive and distribute the funds, specifically that the appropriate documents are filed with the Council, he will again open four deposit accounts, he said.
“We had some discussions, some very interesting discussions back and forth with the mayor in terms of how they wanted to do it and how we are going to do it – or we’re not doing it,” he said.
As part of the comptroller’s oversight of HUD funds, Schroeder is insisting that his office cut the check to each service agency that receives the funds, and said it will not pass money through the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.
Penksa said Wednesday that nothing much is changing and that the role of Schroeder’s office won’t be much different from how it handles other grants the city receives.
The Office of Strategic Planning will continue to make program decisions, as it has in the past, Penksa said.
“We’ll be setting up the budget as we do now,” she said. “It’s just changing the flow of money.”
The BURA board will continue to meet, and BURA will continue to manage the programs, Penksa said.
Changes in BURA staff, involving employees who handled financial transactions, are still being worked out, she said.
Schroeder is insisting that members of the Brown administration, not BURA staff, sign off on requests for HUD funding submitted to his office.
Schroeder’s office will hire a certified public accountant to lead a senior and junior auditor in receiving and distributing HUD funds.
The positions will be paid for by HUD, as BURA staff that handled these functions in the past had been, Schroeder said.
HUD training for the comptroller’s staff is scheduled for next week, though it’s not clear when the Community Development Block Grant funds will be released.
“HUD and the mayor’s office are working closely together to accomplish the same end – that of getting the CDBG funding to the service agencies, which we expect to accomplish soon,” HUD spokesman Adam Glantz said in a statement.