Recovery money won’t buy playground

Published 9:29 pm Thursday, July 2, 2009

Money from the federal government can’t be used to build a playground, Suffolk’s City Council learned on Wednesday, so the city will pay for the work itself.

A $50,000 Community Development Block Grant that had been slated for construction of a playground will now be used for drainage improvements in one Suffolk neighborhood, and the city will put up its own money for the playground.

The City Council decided to make the funding changes after learning that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development discouraged using federal stimulus money to construct playgrounds.

Email newsletter signup

The city had planned to use $50,000 of Community Development Block Grant Recovery funds for playground improvements at the East Suffolk Community Center.

The funds are supposed to be used for projects that will benefit low- to moderate-income individuals and families, will eliminate slums and blighting conditions or will address urgent needs or imminent threats within the community.

But HUD recently advised the city that a playground “may not be viewed as an appropriate use of the recovery funds,” said Scott Mills, director of planning and community development, at Wednesday’s council meeting.

“HUD has strongly suggested that an alternative use of the monies be identified,” Mills added.

The directive came from HUD, even though a document on the federal agency’s Web site states that grantees “have the discretion to choose activities for funding,” with the exception of the limitations of the Recovery Act, which prohibits assistance to aquariums, casinos, golf courses, swimming pools and zoos.

Other funds in the same category are earmarked for the Genieve Shelter, the ForKids Homeless Shelter, American Red Cross support of fire victims, the Western Tidewater Free Clinic and the Suffolk Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Mills suggested that the simplest way to rectify the situation would be to direct the CDBG-R funds to another capital project, and then to use local funds for the playground. He identified drainage improvements in the Raleigh Avenue neighborhood as a possible use of the federal funds. City leaders already had planned to make the improvements with local dollars.

“In other words, you take the money out of your left pocket and put it in your right pocket,” said Vice Mayor Curtis Milteer.

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn agreed, saying the move was an “even swap.”

The measure passed by unanimous vote.