Too rich for rehab grants, West Tisbury learns
West Tisbury selectmen learned last week that, based on federal government statistics, town residents are not needy enough to qualify for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in FY 2010, which begins on July 1. One week earlier, at the selectmen's meeting on January 27, selectmen approved the town's application for federal housing rehabilitation and childcare funds, along with Edgartown, Chilmark and Aquinnah.
According to Alice Boyd of Bailey, Boyd Associates of West Harwich, which assists Island communities with grant applications and administration, based on the 2000 US census, West Tisbury has a "lower statistical need" than four of the six Island towns and is categorized as a "Community Development Fund Two" (CDF2) town, meaning it is ineligible to apply for CDBG funds in FY2010. Aquinnah, Edgartown and Chilmark are eligible for CDBG programs in FY2010.
West Tisbury executive secretary Jennifer Rand originally asked Ms. Boyd to see if West Tisbury could apply for FY2010 funding, along with Edgartown, Aquinnah and Chilmark. The town did receive funds under the program in FY2009, but as a CDF2 town must wait two years to reapply under a regional application.
"I am broken-hearted. I have been doing this work for over 20 years and discovering that West Tisbury is ineligible for funding this fiscal year is like a kick in the gut," Ms. Boyd told The Times. She said she accepted full responsibility for creating the misunderstanding.
The CDBG program provides funding for home repairs and childcare to income eligible families of four, earning up to $62,100 annually. Originally the four towns would have shared $799,500 for rehabbing on a first-come, first-served basis. The childcare assistance subsidy would have created a fund of $140,000, allowing grants of up to $5,000 per child. Now, with only three towns in the regional application, the total funds available will be reduced.
Ms. Boyd confirmed that, according to federal data, both Edgartown and Chilmark have a higher statistical need for this type of assistance than does West Tisbury, because "the federal formula skews the need." Ms. Boyd told The Times that she still does not know how the federal government evaluates the census data to conclude that residents of West Tisbury are less needy than the residents of Edgartown, for example. "They never have told me exactly where they get this formula from," Ms. Boyd said.
Fortunately, before Ms. Boyd submitted the regional application, she learned from colleagues at the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that West Tisbury was ineligible. Therefore she has been able to rewrite the application so that Aquinnah, Edgartown, and Chilmark are still able to compete for the funding.
Ms. Boyd told the selectmen that she will appear before the DHCD as soon as a hearing is scheduled, perhaps in March, to seek a statistical rule change that would favor West Tisbury, but a favorable decision, if that's the outcome, would come too late for this FY2010 grant cycle. Applications will not be reviewed and accepted again until December 2010.
In earlier comments, Ms. Boyd told The Times that both programs are really economic development programs. For the rehab program, "all of that money will go to local rehabbers," she said.
Ms. Boyd characterized the childcare program as a "real help to those parents who work and want to know that their children are in a safe environment."
Whether the three remaining towns on the regional application will receive the grant requests is unknown. However, Ms. Boyd told The Times that she plans to conduct a workshop in March or April for West Tisbury people to help them identify other sources of government funding they can take advantage of for rehabbing and childcare in lieu of the CDBG program for FY2010.
In other business, the selectmen heard an appeal from commercial fisherman Devin Greene, whose shellfish license was suspended for a week after he admitted to the shellfish committee that he had violated the rules by fishing after the 4 pm shutoff. Mr. Greene had already served a one week suspension, but he asked that the selectmen expunge the December 2009 violation from his record. Jason Gale of West Tisbury spoke briefly on the situation representing the shellfish committee.
Mr. Greene told the selectmen that he was not notified of his right to appeal the suspension. After a lengthy discussion, chairman Diane Powers said that the shellfish rules, last updated in 1996, need to be reviewed. "It makes it difficult for the fishermen or the committee to know what is the proper approach. We need to lay out the process for what is going on," she said. Further, Ms. Powers acknowledged that there is a lot of history regarding the fishing practices yet there is not a clear understanding of "how the rules will be enforced."
The selectmen voted unanimously to expunge all regulatory violations before 2010 for all licensed commercial shell fishermen. The selectman also requested that a special meeting of the shellfish committee be held to draft new regulations. According to Ms. Powers, the goal is to have the new regulations in place before the spring shellfishing season begins in March.