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Council allocates CDBG funds

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Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 4:00 am

BY COREY PAUL

cpaul@oaoa.com

The Odessa City Council doled out more than $1 million in Community Development Block Grant funds, using the diminishing federal resource primarily to pay for city programs that address blight and contributing to aid resources for elderly Odessans.

The council also approved, after meeting in executive session, buying about $750,000 worth of land from the Ector County Abstract and Title Company at the corner of Sixth Street and Jackson Avenue.

City Manager Richard Morton said that property is the final bit of land the city needs to develop a downtown hotel and convention center, which city leaders see as a potential anchor for a broader downtown revitalization.

“It’s a good deal for them,” Morton said. “It’s a good deal for the project.”

The council in April 2014 bought 14,000 square feet of land next to the Ector Theatre for about $100,000, to be used for the hotel and convention center. They followed up buying lots belonging to Home Hospice for about $422,000.

Morton said the city will present the latest purchase to developer Gatehouse Capital, based in Dallas, to incorporate it into plans for the hotel and convention center. Potential uses include a parking lot that could save money on a parking structure planned for the project, Morton said.

A 90-day study commissioned by the council in January for $192,000 nears completion.

CDBG funds to city have declined steadily since 2012.

This year, council received $744,768 in the CDBG funds. Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted the city $767,935.

The council on Tuesday also reallocated another $209,468 in HOME Investment Partnership Funds, designated for that purpose.

Total requests for the money this year exceeded $1.9 million, which meant some groups did not get what they say they urgently need.

Council members each offered their preferred recipients of the money, which in some cases varied, but in the end they agreed to fund in full a request from Community Development Director Merita Sandoval that represented most of the CDBG money.

Programs funded under community development include assistance with home rehabilitation to low and moderate income homeowners, demolishing the city’s backlog of unsafe buildings and program costs of administering the block grants. The money also pays for four staff positions.

“If we don’t fund it, are we going to be the ones to tell her who to fire and what not to do?” asked District 3 Councilwoman Barbara Graff of her fellow members.

Graff and District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales also praised the work of the rehabilitation program, which will get about two thirds of the money given to Community Development.

“It’s just unbelievable the quality of work they are doing,” Gonzales said.

Other requests that received full funding included $25,000 for Meals on Wheels of Odessa and $20,000 for a program to help elderly and disabled homeowners with lawn care. The latter was also requested by Community Development.

The largest request to be denied was for improvements to Woodson Park in the 1000 block of East Murphy Street. Jo Ann Davenport Littleton, a community activist and former councilwoman, argued for the improvements on behalf of residents Tuesday and lamented the council’s decision not to grant any of the more than $600,000 requested.

Those requests included money for new playground equipment, parking lot upgrades and basketball courts.

“It’s kind of hard for our children to play when there are only two swings in a 13-acre park,” Davenport Littleton said. “We need new playground equipment. . . We love the elderly in Odessa. We also love the children. And recreation is wholesome.”

She called the state of the park a “black eye” on the city.

But the city is also working within a Parks Master Plan approved last year and filed with the state. The question remained Tuesday if Woodson Park fell too deep in the queue to benefit from the roughly $13.5 million the department uses to tackle that list of projects.

And Parks Director Steve Patton described widespread need.

“There are parks in our city that have nothing, not even a swing,” Patton said. “We need to fund what we have in accordance with the master plan.”

Not doing so could present problems in requesting grants from the state, city administrators said.

But council members signaled recognition of the need for improvements at Woodson.

District 1 Councilman Roger McNeil recommended funding the improvements and was the lone member to do so. District 2 Councilman Dewey Bryant recommended bumping up improvements to the park in the city’s list of priorities.

Others to see their requests denied included $30,000 from Harmony Home for a roof and $10,000 from Family Promise, a group that works with churches to provide transitional housing for homeless families.

Head Start officials were mostly denied a request for money to pay for improvements to buildings they lease from the city for a dollar a year.

Associate Director Kathy Siepak showed pictures of one building where walls were separating — what she described as a developing safety hazard. The agency also reported a need for new air conditioners.

“We are a federally funded program and we can’t spend money on buildings we don’t own,” Siepak said. “I don’t know. We are just going to have to wait and see if the city can fund them without this block grant money.”

Morton said the city might examine options to help such as gifting the property to the agency, if possible.

Ultimately, the council granted the group $10,460 of the agency’s more than $280,000 request.

“Folks, this is painful,” Graff said. “We just don’t have enough money.”

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

>>Approved an amended contract with Pioneer Natural Resources allowing the company to buy waste water from the City of Odessa for use in the oilfield. The amendment includes a $3 million fee for each year the company defers taking the water, up to two years. It also lengthens the term of the contract from 10 to 11 years.

>> Approved the second and final vote on keeping the nocturnal curfew for persons under 17 years old.

>> Approved the special City Council minutes from March 31.

>> Approved the Council minutes from the April 14 meeting.

>> Approved the second and final reading for a request from 2012 Cross B, LLC owner for a rezoning of 3.7 acres of land.

>> Approved the amending for the ODC Development Finance Administration Policy.

>> Approved the ODC economic development agreement between the Odessa Development Corporation and Odessa Industrial Development Corporation.

>> Approved the second and final reading for a negotiated resolution between Atmos Energy Corp.

>> Approved the second and final reading for a new fee structure at Ratliff Ranch Golf Links.

>> Approved authorizing the issuance of general obligation refunding bonds in an aggregated principle amount not to exceed $59 million.

>> Approved authorizing Odessa Fire/Rescue to apply for the Fire Prevention and Safety Grant.

>> Approved renewing a contract for the purchase of brass and copper valves and fittings.

>> Approved the renewal of a contract for auctioneering services.

>> Approved a bid award for algicide for the Water Treatment Plant.

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