Albany to repay $374,715 for Grovetown project

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY, Ga. -- The City Commission voted 5-2 Tuesday to reimburse the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development $374,715 in funds that went to a community development project headed by a local church that failed to materialize.

After much discussion, the commission opted to send a letter to U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, asking him to do anything within his power as a congressman to try to obtain an extension from HUD on repaying the money, which is due Friday.

Additionally, a majority of the commission authorized City Manager Alfred Lott to pay the sum from the city's general fund, but bring back before the body recommendations on possible ways to reclaim the funds from the developer -- Cutliff Grove Family Resource Center.

Commissioners Bob Langstaff and Roger Marietta voted against the measure.

Cutliff Grove has been working since 2005 to develop low-cost apartments that are part of a development known as Grovetown at 822 West Broad Ave.

According to a letter to Lott from HUD, the city decertified Cutliff Grove as a Community Housing Development Organization after it appeared unable to obtain financing to complete the $2 million project.

In total, using HUD funds, the city agreed to award Cutliff Grove $775,290, $374,715 of which was actually spent, documents state.

HUD then deemed the project ineligible for federal funds and required the city to repay the money or risk losing its eligibility for HUD funding.

Tuesday, commissioners deliberated on the matter during a called meeting.

Commissioner Tommie Postell advised that officials with the church had been in contact with Bishop's staff, who said that they would only consider assisting if the office had the full backing and support of the City Commission.

"What we're trying to do is put new life into it, so it can move on," Postell said.

After deliberating on the merits of sending a letter to Bishop, the discussion shifted to how the city would repay the funds.

According to Lott, the commission had two choices. The first would pull the funds out of the general fund. The second option would allow HUD to offset its annual appropriation of federal funding by the $374,715, which would greatly reduce the amount of money that funds social programs such as rental assistance.

When asked by Commissioner Jon Howard what his recommendation would be, Lott said that there was too much of a need for the community development funding to siphon from that pot.

"I would not recommend taking money from the HOME fund ... there is too much of a need," Lott said. "Those programs assist people who are, especially during a recession, in vital need of funds and help."

When Marietta referenced "inappropriate" spending by church officials while discussing ways to implement some mechanism for collecting the money from Cutliff Grove, it drew an immediate and vehement response from the Rev. McKinley Drake.

"Pulling the funds from the general fund is fine with me so long as we have some commitment that we're going to go after the land and pursue repayment of that money that was inappropriately spent as part of the whole process," Marietta said.

"We did not improperly spend any money," Drake yelled, prompting Mayor Willie Adams to pound his gavel on the commission table to regain order.

Marietta apologized for the wording, but said that the city should attempt to collect the funds from the church -- something that city officials said church officials were unwilling to go along with.

In that same HUD letter, Mary Presley, HUD's director of Community Planning in Atlanta, wrote that the city and Cutliff Grove had initially failed to supply records indicating site and neighborhood reviews, environmental studies, that any HOME-assisted units would be fixed or floating at the time the project was committed, that $15,763.34 was paid by Cutliff Grove as a developer's fee without producing any HOME-assisted units.

In response, the city provided enough documentation to satisfy HUD, justifying the developer fees, the Phase I environmental review, 10 HOME-assisted units being float units.

Latoya Cutts, the city's director of Community Development, said that her office has been able to retrieve the documentation about where the money was spent.

"It appears that it was mostly spent on acquiring the land, relocation expenses for those people they had to move, architectural fees and other project management fees," Cutts said.