The Albany City Commission’s decision to repay a half-million dollars in federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funding over the housing development flop known as University Gardens was hardly a surprise.
Given the deadline of this coming Tuesday for finding an alternative project that could replace University Gardens, the city had little choice but to write a check with local taxpayer funds and send it to Washington. The unanimous commission vote had little discussion because, under the circumstances, that wasn’t much to talk about.
It is fortunate that the money will essentially be coming back to Albany in another “pocket.” After the repayment, the city will receive an equal amount from HUD for its revolving loan fund that is part of its Community Development Black Grant program for community improvements. One of those eligible improvements is the demolition of the Heritage House, a dilapidated eyesore and public health hazard on West Oglethorpe Boulevard.
While that is still entangled in the process, once the city gets clear permission to raze the structure it will probably cost in the neighborhood of $1.2 million because of asbestos abatement that will be involved in the demolition. Since that money was likely to come from the city’s general fund, the fact that $500,000 of it can come from the HUD funding makes the transaction essentially a wash.
This is one of those cases where something worked out better than anyone had a right to expect. The failed University Gardens project could have just as easily have been a straight expense to the city in addition to the Heritage House demolition. Albany taxpayers are fortunate that it worked out to a no-net loss result.
But we might not be so lucky next time.
We urge city commissioners to scrutinize projects like University Gardens and Grovetown much more closely in the future. While Albany has had some notable successes — most recently Southlake — the repayment bill for the University Gardens and Grovetown debacles was a combined $864,000. That’s a lot of money during good times, much less a period of slow recession recovery.
The difference seems to be how well equipped to succeed the organizations and companies are that are approved for the projects. Anyone can have a good idea, but not everyone has the ability to make an idea work, even with government funding. The bottom line is city officials and commissioners have to be much more demanding and inquisitive in determining whether an applicant can really accomplish what is promised.
Taxpayers work hard to earn the money that is entrusted to appointed and elected city officials. They deserve for those officials to work just as hard to ensure it’s spent wisely so that taxpayers get a reasonable return on their investment.