Brooklyn Park City Council tables vote on changes to block grant programs

The Brooklyn Park City Council unanimously approved tabling a vote on the 2017-2020 joint cooperation agreement for the Urban Hennepin County Community Development Block Grant program.
Community Development Block Grants are allocated to communities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Up to 15 percent of these funds can be used to fund human service organizations, upon county board approval. In the case of Brooklyn Park, these funds are allocated first to Hennepin County, and then the Council votes to allocate funds to various uses and organizations.
This relationship between the county and city is established through a joint cooperation agreement, which needs to be re-approved every three years.
In this particular agreement, the county assumes responsibility for the majority of administrative work required to receive these grants and withholds approximately 12-15 percent of the larger allocation to cover the costs.
However, in the proposed 2017-2020 agreement, the county has altered the human service aspect. Rather than having any single municipality’s city council and city staff members deal with the allocation and administration of human service funding, a group of cities would allow the county to determine which organizations are funded.
Cities would have staff representatives on a selection committee that would provide input on which service organizations ought to be funded in a competitive process. City staff members said this process would be more efficient than the current arrangement, and would keep funding levels at a similar level, with potential to increase.
Currently, eight other cities have signed onto the joint cooperation agreement. If any given municipality in the agreement did not spend its entire service fund allocation, that money could be redistributed to other member cities.
City staff members recommended that the join the agreement.
The city would still retain control over the remaining 85 percent of the funds that are ineligible for public service use.
Some councilmembers balked at the prospect of handing off local control over these grants to the county.
“My concern … is that I don’t like giving away our local control over social services money that we receive and we could allocate, just because … we’re a very unique city….the things that we need specifically here may not be something that most of cities in the county needs,” Councilmember Susan Pha said. “I believe we know what our residents need most.”
Pha directed staff members to see if the county would be open to continuing the current agreement where the council has control over allocations, rather than adopt the new agreement.
“My concern is that we know our nonprofit organizations. We know the work that they’re doing firsthand, and to become just another organization on a long list of organizations in Hennepin County scares me a little bit,” Councilmember Lisa Jacobson said.
Since the agreement would be for a three-year period, the city could not opt out of this system until September 2020. If the county began directing funds to organizations the city did not see as helpful, other nonprofits could be impacted during the three-year wait, Jacobson said.
If the council does not approve the joint cooperation agreement with the county, it has two other options for receiving community development block grants. The city could elect to become an entitlement community and have HUD release funds directly to the city rather than to the county.
Under this arrangement, the city would be responsible for all administrative aspects, financial management and reporting required by HUD. This would likely require additional staff members to handle these aspects. Additional funding would also need to be diverted for the fair housing activity requirement, which the county currently handles.
Additionally, the council could elect to become a joint recipient with the county. While the city will still receive the grant funds directly, administrative costs would be slightly reduced as the city can participate in the county’s consolidated plan.
Councilmember Terry Parks said he would support this agreement for financial reasons. “It’s been said tonight over and over and over again this is not cost effective to go with the other two options, so I have no problem tabling it,” he said.
Councilmember Mark Mata said he would prefer to see the county responsible for these allocations, but that he wanted more information. “I’m a firm believer that I want to put social services back on the county,” he said.
“I’m nervous … about letting the county make the [choice,]” Mayor Jeff Lunde said. He said he would support the agreement.
Ultimately, other councilmembers agreed that they want more information before voting. The council will vote on the matter in a special session July 17.