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As Obama announces cuts in block grants, local officials calculate aftermath

It has paid to help rebuild a historic elementary school in St. Petersburg, financed water and sewer projects in Hillsborough County and paid off debt for Tampa's Centro Ybor.

Created in 1974, Community Development Block Grants is the federal government's oldest program designed to improve the nation's low-income areas. President Barack Obama's announcement Monday that he plans to cut it by 7.5 percent as part of his budget proposal had local officials wondering what the reduction would mean for Tampa Bay.

State and local government across Florida received about $172 million in community development block grants for 2010-11. Tampa Bay received 12 percent, or about $21 million. In addition, the state got $81 million in grants specified for affordable housing projects, with about $10 million spent in Tampa Bay. That program would also be cut under Obama's proposal.

"It's moving so quickly, I can't tell you what kind of impact this will have," said Sheri Harris, Pinellas County's planning development manager.

Pinellas spent this year's $3.2 million on a wide variety of programs and services, such as $290,000 to the YMCA of the Suncoast, $150,000 for a storm drainage study in Lealman, $300,000 for sidewalk and street improvements in Oldsmar, and $216,000 in pedestrian lighting for Tarpon Springs.

Goliath Davis, St. Petersburg's senior administrator of community enrichment, said the city assumed it would receive about $2.4 million next year, the amount it received this year. About $543,000 was spent to help rehabilitate historic Jordan Elementary in Midtown.

Hillsborough County received $6.4 million last year.

"Until it actually gets discussed by Congress, it's hard to say what the impacts might be," said Paula Harvey, the interim director of Hillsborough's affordable housing department.

Tampa currently gets $4.1 million from the program, budget officer Dennis Rogero said. About $420,000 goes to repay debt associated with the Centro Ybor complex built in the late 1990s.

Pasco County gets about $2.6 million each year. It has pledged $1.1 million of its annual total for the next 17 years to repay a federal loan for a major rehabilitation project in the impoverished Tommytown community outside Dade City.

Under block grant monies, Hernando County has been operating its neighborhood stabilization program, where qualified home buyers purchase foreclosed homes, fix them up and move in with federal money to pay some of the cost.

Brooksville is seeking federal dollars for water projects. State officials visited Brooksville late last month, and city officials are hopeful they will receive funding.

"It's really tough to do it as a small city otherwise,'' said Bill Geiger, community development director. "Losing the bock grants would very dramatically impact our communities and what our cities and communities can do into the future.''

Times staff writers Alex Leary, Lee Logan and Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.

As Obama announces cuts in block grants, local officials calculate aftermath 02/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 6:59am]
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