Missed deadlines leave NEON grant in jeopardy

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NORWALK, Conn. – NEON is in danger of losing a $21,000 matching Community Development Block Grant to make needed improvements in Norwalk Child Development Program bathrooms because of failure to meet numerous performance and reporting deadlines.

A request by NEON for an extension is on the agenda for a special meeting of the Common Council Planning Committee set for tonight – Monday, July 15. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in Room 231 of City Hall.

The situation is the latest in a series of problems for Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, the social service agency designed to provide community development and emergency assistance services to economically disadvantaged people. Most recently, the state Department of Social Services slammed the brakes on the appointment of a new director, saying NEON needed to do a nationwide search for an appropriate candidate.

The grant, for the program year that ended June 30, is earmarked for renovations to bathrooms at the Ben Franklin community center, where NEON runs child development programs. NEON was notified of the award June 22, 2012 and received the official paperwork Sept. 6, 2012. That paperwork included a timeline that required half the money to be drawn down by March 30 and the project to be completed by June 15.

Neither happened.

Memos expressing concern about lack of movement on the project began Dec. 7 when Timothy Carney, the housing development project manager for the Redevelopment Authority (RDA), warned of the time frame and urged NEON to contact him to “get the ball rolling again.” On Feb. 14 in a memo addressed to NEON Director Patricia A. Wilson Pheanious, Carney again expressed concern over lack of movement.

A memo dated March 5 from RDA Special Projects Manager MaryGrace Weber to NEON Chief Operating Officer Chiquita Stephenson stated, in part, “The Redevelopment Agency’s repeated attempts to obtain updates on NEON’s progress and intentions … have gone unanswered. Please understand that this does not reflect well of the organization’s commitment to full execute the projects and programs for which it requests CDBG funding.”

An April 12 memo from NEON Facilities/Maintenance Manager Charles Brown to Carney indicates an architect had been engaged to design the project, but that no money had been drawn down from the grant, and an April 15 memo from Brown to Weber asserts the money will be spent by June 10.

On May 13, Carney contacted Pheanious, Stephenson and Brown to let them know that there was no longer sufficient time to bid out the project and award a contract and spend the money before the deadline.

On May 24, Brown sent a memo to RDA Executive Director Timothy Sheehan requesting a two-month extension – to Aug. 30 – to complete the project. Brown cited “unforeseen circumstances pertaining to the complexity of NEON’s merger (with Stamford’s CTE, or Career Technical Education) and the current economic climate.” The extension was needed, Brown wrote, to provide time “to collect necessary documentation and payments that are geared to this project.”

The request was forwarded to the Planning Committee, which offered NEON a 30-day extension to give the agency time to provide evidence of the stated match for the grant. Given that evidence, the Planning Committee said, it would consider an additional extension for the actual work to be undertaken.

According to a July 10 memo from Sheehan to the Planning Committee members, extensions can be granted only to organizations that have drawn down at least 50 percent of their awards by March 30. “NEON did not meet this deadline despite frequent reminders and guidance from CDBG staff,” the memo stated. “NEON has now failed to comply with the committee’s 30-day window in which to provide evidence of its required match.”

Sheehan said Redevelopment is seeking the Planning Committee’s recommendation “as to how it wishes staff to proceed in this regard.”

See the relavent memos here (starting on Page 5): Planning Committee Meeting Agenda Documents



One response to “Missed deadlines leave NEON grant in jeopardy”

  1. LWitherspoon

    $42,000 for new bathrooms?

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