Politics & Government

Six days to spend $200K? Hilton Head officials push deadline on grant for second time

As deadline looms, Hilton Head town manager says “I need you to pass this”

With days to pass a grant allocation from Housing and Urban Development department, Hilton Head Island Town Council members scramble to allocate unused funds.
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With days to pass a grant allocation from Housing and Urban Development department, Hilton Head Island Town Council members scramble to allocate unused funds.

For the second time this year, Town of Hilton Head Island leaders have been faced with a “use-it-or-lose-it” situation involving federal grant money.

On Tuesday, the Hilton Head Town Council was expected to approve spending a $236,013 grant allocation from the Housing and Urban Development department to fund a playground and parking expansion at the Rowing and Sailing Center on Squire Pope Road.

The recommendation came before the council six days before the June 10 deadline set by HUD to submit a plan for the money, and several members of the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head Island appeared at the meeting to lobby for funding.

This isn’t the first time recently that council members found themselves making a spot decision about a grant.

In February, the town council amended the plan for spending HUD’s community development block grant from 2017 and decided to build a playground at the Island Recreation Center instead of paving Cobia Court, a dirt road on the island’s north end.

At the time, senior grants administrator Marcy Benson told the council that the 2017 funds would expire if they weren’t used by April.

Hilton Head Islander Tom Derry said he was enjoying the scenery while trying his luck fishing the waters of Skull Creek from the dock of the Rowing and Sailing Center at Squire Pope Community Park on Tuesday. “It’s a beautiful park” he said. Though he had yet to reel in a fish, Derry said he was fishing for anything that bites, but was hoping to hook a redfish. “I’ve caught a lot of redfish here,” he said, “mostly in January and February.” Jay Karr

On Tuesday, council members voted to revise plans for the 2018 HUD grant to help the Boys & Girls Club with its $330,000 pavilion project — it wasn’t clear how much money the grant ultimately would provide — and designate 2019 funds to the Rowing and Sailing Center project.

The annual grants are meant to benefit low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. Boys & Girls Club representatives said the pavilion will serve 50 additional children for after-school and meal programs.

Previously, the 2018 funds were slated to pay for a $195,781 paving project on Murray Avenue.

Council under pressure

The expedited allocation process left little room for flexibility.

“I’m telling you, you’re under a deadline. I need you to pass this,” Town Manager Steve Riley said to Mayor John McCann on Tuesday when the mayor proposed allocating 2018 funds to the Boys & Girls Club.

That rush appeared to frustrate council members.

“We’re in a trap because we have a deadline that this application must be submitted by June 10,” Ward 6 representative Glenn Stanford said.

“This process is being very, very poorly executed,” Ward 2 representative Bill Harkins added.

Typically, potential grant projects are subject to a public hearing and 30-day comment period.

When the Rowing and Sailing Center project went up for public review, the project received 19 negative comments and just two in support of it. That also seemed to frustrate some council members.

The Hilton Head Island Rowing and Sailing Center at Squire Pope Community Park officially opened to the public on Dec. 1, 2014, with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the dock. Delayna Earley

“Those comments should have been paid attention to, acknowledged,” Ward 4 representative Tamara Becker said, adding that the comments indicate the park and rowing center should not be a priority.

“There are so many things that are necessary and needed on Hilton Head and, for us to do it in this manner, I am disappointed,” Ward 1 representative Marc Grant said. “I don’t want to see this happen again. We’ve just got too much stuff that needs to be done.”

What’s next?

Once the plan for the 2019 grant funds is submitted to HUD by the June 10 deadline, Benson said the agency can take up to 45 days to review it.

After plans are submitted, they can be amended — as the council voted to do with the 2018 funds for the Boys & Girls Club. That process requires a public hearing and 30-day public comment window, Benson said.

McCann said future HUD grant applications will be vetted by the community services committee to avoid last-minute changes.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.