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Stories Added - November 2009
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DETCOG to seek public input on Ike recovery funds
Polk County Enterprise - November 2009
LIVINGSTON – The Board of Directors of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG) held a public hearing during its monthly meeting Monday in Livingston. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the process the council of governments would be following in developing its method of distribution (MOD) for $208,000,000 from the second round of Hurricane Ike Recovery programs. DETCOG Executive Director, Walter Diggles reviewed the recent rejection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of the state’s distribution plan for the second round of funds. Several of their objections pertained to a lack of detail in how the money would be distributed in the regions effected most by Hurricane Ike. The state’s plan was also deemed lacking in details of the public’s participation in developing those plans. Texas has been given 45 days to respond to HUD’s rejection. Much of the work to be done in response to HUD’s objections falls to the four main council’s of government, including DETCOG, whose members will be able to apply for the funds. Diggles added that he believes much of the basis for HUD’s objection was based on publicity surrounding hearings on how Galveston plans to rebuild its public housing projects that were destroyed in the hurricane Sept. 13, 2008. At those hearings, Diggles said those that want public housing to be rebuilt and those who do not want public housing near their property came face to face.
That disagreement and a poor working relationship between Texas officials and those in Washington has exacerbated the problem. “There is an impasse between the governor’s office and HUD on what their going to require on the MOD plan,” Diggles said. HUD has refused a request from the five regional COGs in Texas to hold a conference call to amend the plan to address HUD’s concerns. Diggles told those gathered that DETCOG had until Dec. 1 to develop a written plan detailing how it will hold, and publicize, a series of at least four public hearings across the council’s 12 counties. He also outlined the type of parameters; population, low to moderate income households, people living in poverty and unemployment rates — that HUD would accept in considering how to divide the funding. One obstacle the cities and counties face in applying for the funds will be the state’s enforcement of HUD’s requirement that a minimum of 51 percent of the funds go to projects that benefit households that fall into its definition of having low to moderate incomes. Most of the 12-county DETCOG area meets federal standards for lowto- moderate income households. The latest U.S. Census classified all of San Jacinto County as low to moderate income areas and Sabine and San Augustine counties are experiencing near record unemployment rates, according to Diggles. “Even Polk County has over 10 percent unemployment,” Diggles said. “Can you believe it?” Given the tight deadlines for developing DETCOG’s Method of Distribution in time for the state to use it in their response to HUD, Diggles said that he expected to call a special board meeting for the MOD’s final board review and approval. Because of the Christmas Holidays, DETCOG’s next regular board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2010.