Twenty-something Cheektowaga resident Andrew J. Lipinoga bought his Ridge Park Avenue home a few doors down from his parents in December 2011, with an understanding there’d be some work needed to make the more than 70-year-old property habitable.
After already sinking in money to upgrade the electrical system to protect the home from fire hazards and making needed repairs to the roof, Lipinoga recently received word that his home’s boiler and heating system could quit at any time.
It was dire news even weeks ago, before the mercury dropped into the single digits like it did Tuesday.
Cash-strapped, Lipinoga turned to the Cheektowaga Community Development Department for help.
That’s where things get murky.
Lipinoga, with his mother, Eileen, accused the department and its new director, Carla A. Kosmerl, of going back on a promise to provide him with a 60/40 percent rehabilitation grant/loan to help finance his new heating system. The financing package is administered as part of the town Housing and Rehabilitation Program.
The Lipinogas made the statements during a public hearing Tuesday night on the town’s 2013 Community Development Block Grant program, during a regular meeting of the Town Board.
Town officials – including Kosmerl, who was hired by the town in November to replace the retired Jerome Gabryszak – dispute the Lipinogas’ claims. They say Lipinoga is trying to elbow his way to the front of others in a line for limited rehabilitation grants – a line that is, at present, three years long.
Town officials admitted that Lipinoga successfully applied for an emergency 1.5 percent loan under the program but contend that grant money is only doled out to those who make their way to the top of the exhaustive waiting list.
Lipinoga is not eligible for the grant right now, Supervisor Mary F. Holtz told him Tuesday night, “but you are eligible for the loan.”
The program, funded through the town’s federal Community Development Block Grant allocation, is designed to help homeowners fix up and maintain their properties in select lower-income neighborhoods.
Because the town receives only limited funding through the federal government for the program, funding that has been decreasing during the last several years, there is a long waiting list.
“We have approved an emergency loan. We have put him on a waiting list,” Kosmerl told the Town Board. “When his name comes up, we’ll be happy to offer grant funds to him if it’s available.”
Lipinoga told the board, however, Kosmerl committed a “bait and switch” against his application and insinuated he was the target of town “discrimination.”
“Maybe I’m simply not the ‘type of person’ the director wants to keep in this community,” Lipinoga told the board.
His mother then proceeded to rip the board for allocating more than 50 percent – roughly $448,000 of its block grant funds – for administration and staff costs instead of helping residents, before blasting the board for hiring Kosmerl.
Board members defended Kosmerl’s hiring, her credentials and $75,000 annual salary. Kosmerl, according to members, is “well-qualified” and was “the best person for the job” from a field of about 20 applicants.
“You’re making a personal attack because your son is not getting a loan,” Holtz told Eileen Lipinoga.
Other board members also criticized the personal nature of the complaint.
“Waiting lists are a part of life,” said Council Member Gerald P. Kaminski Jr.