Funds could lift A.G. elevator

Money that local nonprofits did not spend could help Arroyo Grande pay for its over-budgeted city elevator.

City officials want to use unspent funds that in recent years were given to nonprofit organizations and to city code enforcement efforts to pay for part of the cost of installing an elevator in the new City Hall.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to reallocate nearly $64,000 in Community Development Block Grant money toward the elevator in the City Hall building at 300 E. Branch St., which had exceeded its budget by $52,000.

The county Board of Supervisors will consider the city’s request March 8.

If approved, the council would reallocate more than $50,000 that had been put toward city code enforcement efforts in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in areas deemed blighted, such as improperly maintained businesses and residences.

It would also shift about $8,200 in unspent funds allocated to nonprofit organizations, including the YMCA of San Luis Obispo County, Transitional Food and Shelter Inc., and Mission Community Services Corp.

The rush to allocate the money was prompted by a call from county officials, who told the city that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs the Community Development Block Grant program, might scoop up unused money from past years.

City staff contacted five nonprofit groups that had unspent money in 2008 or 2009. Of those, staff determined two organizations — the San Luis Obispo County Literacy Council and the Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County — should be reimbursed for expenditures made in 2009.

Bernadette Bernardi, executive director of the Literacy Council, said she sent in a quarterly report to the city last year but neglected to send an invoice. “It was good old human error on both sides,” she said.

The other organizations, according to city staff, confirmed they were unable to spend the money or did not need the funding.

“I couldn’t guarantee I could spend the money as quickly as they could,” said David Ryal, executive director of Mission Community Services Corp. To help the city and county maintain the integrity of the program and the level of the funding, they need to spend the money as quickly as possible.

Ryal, who starting working for the organization in May 2009, said he did not know that $5,000 remained unspent from the previous year.

Jenifer Rhynes, chief executive officer of the YMCA, said staffing shortages prevented the organization from using the funds to coordinate senior programs in Arroyo Grande.

“We have great vision,” she said. “Sometimes you have a plan and it just doesn’t come together.”

The block grants must be used to benefit low- and moderate-income people, counter blight, or address urgent community development needs that pose a serious and immediate threat to public health or welfare.

The elevator meets those goals, Arroyo Grande staff said, because it makes the building accessible to all people.

The city can only allocate 15 percent of the block grant funds annually to organizations providing services to low- and moderate-income individuals. Any money the council re-allocates from past years must be subtracted from allocations in future years.

“We have a project that we can move this money to very quickly, and we’d hate to see this money go back to the federal government,” Councilman Jim Guthrie said in support of the proposal.

The elevator project is over budget in part because the existing electrical service could not supply enough power for the elevator and needed venting equipment not included in the original design, said City Manager Steve Adams.

Earlier this month, the council had voted to allocate $151,000 from its general fund to complete improvements at the new City Hall building. The project was budgeted originally at $456,000.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.