By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – The imminent closing of Norwalk’s YMCA may have an effect on other community groups getting funds from Norwalk in the future.
Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) recommended at last week’s planning committee meeting that the city turn a skeptical eye to large organizations looking for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) in the future, given that the Y announced that it was closing in “60 days, shut the door, not much notice.” Hempstead’s concern hit a nerve, prompting two council members to worry that start-ups might be excluded from grant money, as they don’t have a financial history.
“Is there a way that we can do an analysis or investigation of certain organizations that may not be financially stable?” Hempstead asked. … I know sometimes over the years we have invested money, like at the YMCA, to help them out with programs because we’re trying to help those in need. I guess their financial problems seemed to be a lot longer term than most of us thought they were.”
“I don’t doubt your intentions,” said David Watts (D-District A.) “I would be concerned, I have to push back a little – what would be the mechanism be for a new program getting started in urban areas? Last year, I was disappointed in some of the programs I thought should qualify, didn’t qualify.”
MaryGrace Weber, urban planner for Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, said two grants had been given to the Y this year. As the programs the grants were targeted for had not started, the money would be returned.
Redevelopment Executive Director Tim Sheehan said currently, the organization pays close attention to how the grant money is spent. Sheehan and Weber agreed that review of the financial status of the organization seeking the grant is in order.
Carvin Hilliard (D-District B) agreed with Watts. “I know several organizations, because this one organization went broke, belly up, whatever you want to call it, we can’t make dramatic changes just because of that one organization,” he said. “I think we should proceed with caution but I’m concerned because that can be used as a reason not to help organizations that’s in the inner city, which the program is designed for, really.”
“None of the organizations that I was familiar with in South Norwalk or central Norwalk received the money,” Watts said.
David McCarthy (R-District E) thought their comments were apt. “Hopefully we’re not looking to review financials to make a Fortune 500 company,” he said. “We want to make sure the organization is able to implement the grant money as it is given. We don’t want to see this as a repeat of us putting money out and having it return because the organization couldn’t effectively use it for whatever reason.”
Hempstead said he had been around long enough to know that CDBG grants are meant for start-ups, although larger organizations, such as the Norwalk Housing Authority, return year after year for new projects. Start-ups are a good thing, he said, explaining, “We want to make sure somebody isn’t so under water that we’re taking federal funding and putting it into a building that’s going to go under six months from now.”
Watts said he is hoping the CDBG process goes differently this year, as anti-gang initiatives are increasingly important.
“Now with the Y closed, I’m more concerned,” he said. “More children and youth don’t have somewhere to go.”
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