Ald. Pete Donegan (1st District) is vowing to maintain his opposition Tuesday night on the Common Council to cuts in Community Development Block Grant funding to the Hart Park Senior Center.
He's also questioning some past and current practices in how CDBG funds are doled out and used, and he says if he doesn't prevail in restoring funding to the senior center – and maybe even if he does – he'll raise the question of changing how the center is funded, possibly be having the city take over direct responsibility.
Donegan cast a lone "protest vote" after learning that federal CDBG funding to Wauwatosa through the Housing and Urban Development Department would fall 21 percent below what was expected.
The Obama Administration accepted a HUD budget that included a $3.8 billion cut, 9% of the agency’s overall funding.
Wauwatosa programs that regularly receive CDBG funding for operations were trimmed more or less across the board by an equal percentage. According to Assistant City Planner Jen Ferguson, that was both fair and necessary because of HUD rules capping expenditures for certain types of programs at certain percentages of the total allotment.
In the senior center's case, it's a public service program and together all public service programs are allotted only 15 percent of the total – meaning that for one to be maintained at planned funding, another would have to suffer more.
The senior center had been awarded $105,362, but now will only get $83,600. Sixty percent of its budget comes from HUD. Center Director Merry Johnson said that would result in program or staffing cuts or both.
But regardless of federal rules, that is not good enough for Donegan, who places a higher value on some of the public service programs than on other categories of CDBG spending.
"There has to be a way to find that small an amount of money in the program (CDBG) to help the seniors," Donegan said. "It isn't that much but it is a lot to them, and they will lose it as soon as July.
"I fear for the future because this funding source is not coming back, and could continue to decline."
Donegan identified some CDBG funding for economic development as a place where spending has been possibly abused in the past and perhaps is not entirely appropriate at present, given public service needs.
"When I was assigned to WEDC (Wauwatosa Economic Development Corp.)," he said, "we regularly held over CDBG funds from year-to-year.
"In one year, we more or less subsisted the WEDC on quote, administrative costs, unquote."
During the Jill Didier administration, the city curtailed funding to WEDC in favor of creating its own new Department of Economic Development, and funding in this year's CDBG budget for economic development is $250,000.
That's down from the $320,000 that was budgeted under previous federal levels, but still seemed like a questionable amount to Donegan given that the city has taken direct responsibility for economic development at the department level. That's even though Donegan himself fought unsuccessfully last year for at least one more position in the department, which he felt was understaffed.
Donegan also pointed to $190,000 slated this year for the Lutheran Home, which he said was almost entirely budgeted to bring one elevator into code compliance.
"That's not an inappropriate expenditure," he said, "it's a hard cost, an elevator. But it's also a strong business model, and that money for one elevator could cover the whole budget of the senior center."
While saying that the Lutheran Home is a fine institutition in its own right, Donegan repeated that pulling the just-over $20,000 back from other programs to maintain senior center funding this year ought not to seem impossible.
Finally, Donegan said that win or lose, he would raise the question of pulling the senior center into the city fold and funding it directly rather than through a grant program.
"I don't have a fleshed-out piece of legislation aimed at that," he said, "but I wonder if that's not the way we should go. There are many other municipalities that do fund their senior services.
"I think this is an important service we provide, but this method of funding is not stable nor sustainable."
Donegan said that he was pondering a funding method that would not burden the property tax levy but was not ready to unveil it.
"That will be introduced in the budget process when we sit down in September," he said. "In the meantime, I've asked staff to look into it, and they haven't gotten back to me yet."