Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

May 27, 2013

Falls officials want grant administrator back at city hall

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@niagara-gazette.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Grant help sought

Niagara Falls — Mayor Paul Dyster is asking city lawmakers to approve the hiring of a grant administrator for the rest of the year.

City council members cut the part-time position during the budget amendment process last year, voting to override a Dyster veto.

Since then, city employees, not trained in grant administration, have been trying to keep up with the reporting requirements on more than $6 million worth of grants the city has been awarded. They are falling behind, Dyster said.

“We have a huge body of work that has to be done to make sure that we can keep and, in some cases, don’t have to pay back, grants that we’ve already been awarded,” he said.

Dyster’s request appears on the agenda for Tuesday’s city council meeting. He is asking the council to approve the use of $15,000 from the council’s contingency fund — a pool of money lawmakers set aside by cutting from consulting lines during budget deliberations — to pay for the grant administrator.

The mayor said placing the responsibility for completing grant paperwork on city employees who were not hired to administer grants has distracted them from their defined tasks.

“It makes more sense to have someone who oversees the whole thing,” he said.

Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, the only council member who voted to sustain Dyster’s veto to keep the position in place last year, approached Dyster after having a conversation with former grant administrator Sherry Sheppard-Corulli who asked how the city was doing with administering grants.

After speaking with the mayor, Grandinetti suggested he bring forth the resolution to restore the part-time position.

“Everyone is doubling up and doing different things,” she said. “The departments are already really stressed.”

The city has paid out more than $700,000 that has yet to be reimbursed due to lagging paperwork, according to a list of active grants compiled by the mayor’s office.

The investment would pay for itself, Grandinetti argues, as the city could collect on those reimbursements immediately.

“There is money that has already been put out that needs to be reimbursed,” Grandinetti said.

Financially struggling cities like Niagara Falls rely on grants to help provide services. When cities fail to properly administer grants they are unlikely to be considered for funding in the future, Grandinetti said.

“When you live in a community that relies so heavily on soft money, you need a grant writer,” she said.

Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian said the hope in cutting the grant administrator position was that city employees could do more with less in a particularly trying fiscal year.

“With our financial situation, I’d still like to see the department heads write their own grants,” he said.

Choolokian said the city is so strapped he is not sure they can afford to accept grants that require a match, even ones the city has already been awarded.

“I’m not even sure we have enough to do those,” he said.

The council is expected to discuss the grant administration issue with Dyster during the work session during Tuesday’s meeting before a final decision is made.

“We’ll ask questions at the meeting and then we’ll go from there,” Choolokian said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257