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Aldermen give final approval to block grant recommendations

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - After weeks of legislative debate over the new process for splitting up the money,the St. Louis Board of Aldermen gave final approval to a bill allocating $16.7 million in federal block grants. The bill passed with 20 "yes" votes, five "no" votes, one "present" vote and one abstention.

Block grants are used to help with youth employment, services for senior citizens and building rehabilitation.

Prompted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,  the block grants were distributed this year through a points-based bidding process administered by the Community Development Administration. In earlier years, the money was split up by ward.

Alderwoman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, said board members had “done their best to make sure that this city is represented well with these expenditures."

“I know that we’ve had challenges. I know that we are not happy. I am not happy,” said Davis, who handled the bill on Friday for sponsor Alderman Fred Wessels, D-13th Ward. “But this is what we have to deal with today. When you look at the specific areas of expenditures, we know that we need more. But we don’t have it. We know that.”

Before the bill came to the floor last week for initial approval, the board’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee shifted several hundred thousands dollars to fund community education programs, the North Newstead Association and the St. Louis Community Empowerment Foundation.

Because of the way the block grants were structured, committee members had to rob Peter to pay Paul. That meant some initiatives – including the Hi-Pointe Center food bank and Washington University’s the Spot for HIV/AIDs testing – had their allocations reduced or eliminated.

Alderman Scott Ogilvie, I-24th Ward, said, “I honestly believe we could have had a better bill that would have better served the residents of our city.” (Ogilvie's ward includes the Hi-Pointe Center.) “I do hope that we can figure out a creative way to keep those organizations in business.”

Davis said that she would work to find alternative funding streams for those programs.

“Every member of this board has done their best to make sure that this city is represented well with these expenditures,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s not enough money. We all know that.”

The bill now goes to Mayor Francis Slay for his signature.  

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.