On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Highland City Council, approved allocation of $399,617 in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), including, after lengthy debate, grants to the Highland Senior Center, Highland Sam Racadio Library and Environmental Learning Center, Highland Family Y and Central Little League.

The federal funding for 2020-21 grants represents a 7 percent increase over the funding received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last year.

The city of Highland is required to allocate a minimum of 85 percent, $399,674, of its allocation to construction improvement projects while it is permitted to use a maximum of 15 percent, $59,943, for public service projects.

For the construction funds the council approved $159,271 for enhanced code enforcement and $227,000 for construction and pavement improvements on Central Avenue from Ninth Street to the north edge of City Creek Bypass Bridge. An additional $40,401.88 in “unprogrammed funds” was also distributed between the two projects.

Mayor Pro Tem Penny Lilburn recused herself from the council for the item as she is executive director of Highland Senior Center, one of the grant applicants.

Highland Senior Center applied for $25,000 and received a grant of $24,234 while Central Little League applied for $15,000 and received $14,678, Highland Y applied for $15,000 and received $11,131 and the Highland library applied for $10,000 and received $9,900.

The senior center will use its grant to support the center and its service programs for seniors such as free shuttle service, food donations, meals programs and health, education and social programs.

The Little League and YMCA will use their grants to provide financial assistance to help low-income families participate in their athletic programs.

The library will use its grant to continue the growth of its literacy programs.

For the second year, division of the public service funds brought contentious debate as Councilman Jesse Chavez again recommended reduced funding for Highland Senior Center.

Chavez noted that the senior center is successful at fundraising and that he felt the center could make up the difference on its own.

He also added that since the senior center leases a facility at Patton State Hospital the center is on state property and not, technically, in Highland, although it serves thousands of Highland residents.

During his questioning of the representatives from the four organizations, Chavez showed particular interest in whether or not Jeff Novak, coordinator of the senior center’s transportation program, would be paid with funds from the grant.

“I do not want these funds to be used to pay the executive director [Lilburn] or Jeff Novak,” Chavez said.

(Novak, as a resident, wrote a letter critical of Chavez’ service on the council that was printed in the Jan. 10, 2020, edition of Highland Community News.)

Assistant Community Development Director Kim Stater informed Chavez that based on past reimbursement claims the center uses the grant funds for maintenance of the center, purchasing supplies for the center and its service programs and to pay its CPA.

Chavez made a motion to fully fund the YMCA, Central Little League and library’s requests while reducing funding for the senior center to the remaining $19,943.

Last year, the Highland Senior Center received $23,890, down from $25,000 the previous years.

This motion received a 2-2 vote, with Councilwoman Anaeli Solano supporting and Mayor Larry McCallon and Councilman John Timmer dissenting.

Timmer reminded Chavez that the senior center received the largest reduction of funds during the allocation of last year’s grants. He also pointed out that the block grant is the city’s only support of the senior center, while the other applicants all benefit from the city through the use of facilities built, owned and maintained by the city and are supported by funds from the city’s general budget. The Highland Y is supported by more than $400,000 from the city’s general budget each year, Timmer said.

“The city currently supports the YMCA, Little League and the library though our general fund monies. We give zero dollars to the Highland Senior Center. This is the only money (and it’s not our money, it’s federal money) the center has gotten from the city,” Timmer said. “That is why, historically, we give a little more to the senior center ⎯ they don’t get other support from the city.”

Timmer then motioned that the Y, Little League and library each receive the same amounts awarded last year and the senior center receive what it received last year plus $1,376, the increase over last year’s available funding.

The motion received a 2-2 vote with McCallon supporting and Chavez and Solano dissenting.

After the first two motions failed to pass, McCallon asked for a compromise.

Chavez indicated that his motion was a compromise, saying, “If it were up to me the YMCA would get all the money.”

McCallon responded that he could not support a motion that will take that much funding from the senior center.

Timmer then motioned that all four applicants receive the amounts they were awarded last year plus $344, splitting this year’s additional $1,376 evenly.

Solano agreed to the compromise stating that she felt it was fair to all.

Chavez voted against the compromise; the motion passed, 3-1.

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