Block grant funding scarce in the Harlem Valley

Shame on Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro for leading on municipalities throughout the county ­— declaring each and every one of them would be recipients of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and then not following through on his promise. Granted, no documents were signed, no contracts endorsed, but Molinaro clearly stated in public that all municipalities that belonged to the Urban County Consortium (a prerequisite for any town or village in Dutchess County wanting to participate in the federal block grant program) would receive some funding, if not all, to assist in their proposed projects for 2013.

That’s why the village of Millerton and the town of North East are so upset now, after receiving notification from Molinaro this month they were indeed bypassed by the county and will not receive any block grant funding in 2013. So much for sticking to one’s word. The village of Millbrook was also informed it was left out of the grant loop and denied the $22,700 it requested to build a handicap ramp at VFW Post 9008.

It should be noted that the town of Amenia actually did make the CDBG short list, and is slated to receive $100,000 to

make its Rail Trail extension from the Wassaic Metro-North station into the hamlet of Wassaic handicap accessible — which is fabulous.

But it’s been three years since Millerton has received CDBG funds; five years since North East has done so and at least that long since Millbrook has been awarded a block grant. As the program can award any given municipality up to a maximum of $150,000 annually, it’s easy to understand how vital such funds are in making important projects a reality. Projects, often, that deal with infrastructure (think sidewalks, roadways, water lines) or affordable housing or ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance — projects often too large and too costly for rural communities to budget for on their own.

Molinaro’s pledge was especially encouraging because municipalities were told even if their proposals couldn’t be awarded in full they would still get something. And something is always better than nothing, which is exactly what Millerton, North East and Millbrook now have.

To apply for a CDBG one must belong to the Urban County Consortium. To do so municipalities must take themselves out of the running for any other state or federal grant programs, meaning it’s the block grant or nothing. Unfortunately for some this year, as in years past, it’s apparently nothing.

Millerton Mayor John Scutieri has a theory that this region gets overlooked because of its distant location from the county seat in Poughkeepsie. There could be some truth to that. The Harlem Valley often seems disconnected to the rest of the county when it comes to tapping available funding and resources. During his campaign, Molinaro promised northeastern Dutchess residents that would no longer be the case. This latest turn of events does little to prove him right.

The letter Molinaro sent with the county’s “preliminary funding decisions” appears pretty final, but who knows,

maybe enough people will contact his office to complain and ask why the Harlem Valley is treated like a distant cousin to the rest of Dutchess County.

Is it likely the county executive will reverse his decisions? Probably not. But the final list will not be released until Feb. 4, during which time there’s a slight possibility Molinaro might change his mind. After all, block grants help fund projects that build stronger communities, and Harlem Valley municipalities deserve the opportunity to do exactly that, fair and square.