GrowSmart Maine Testimony in Opposition to Cuts to 2016 CDBG Program Statement

Deborah Johnson
Director, Office of Community Development
Maine Dept. of Economic and Community Development
Augusta, Maine

Oct 29, 2015

Dear Ms. Johnson,

I am writing to address one component of the Draft 2016 CDBG Program Statement. I am writing both for GrowSmart Maine and in my role as a member of the Advisory Council of the Maine Downtown Center and chair of its advocacy committee. The Advisory Council’s role is to support the work of the Maine Downtown Center, which is closely connected to the mission of GrowSmart Maine; creating lasting prosperity without sacrificing the quality of life that defines Maine.

GrowSmart Maine and the Maine Downtown Center Advisory Council are opposed to the elimination of
funding for downtown revitalization from the 2016 CDBG plan. This includes both the $400K available for community grants and the $100K for the Maine Downtown Center.

Our opposition is based on the success these programs have demonstrated in past years to achieve the objectives of the CDBG program, which align perfectly with the work of the Maine Downtown Center:

A. CDBG OBJECTIVES

All CDBG funded activities must meet one of three National Objectives of the program. These objectives are:

• Benefit to low and moderate income persons;
• Prevention and/or elimination of slum and blight conditions; and
• Meeting community development needs having a particular urgency.
The Maine CDBG Program serves as a catalyst for local governments to implement programs which meet one of the three National Objectives, and:
• Are part of a long-range community strategy;
• Improve deteriorated residential and business districts and local economic conditions;
• Provide the conditions and incentives for further public and private investments;
• Foster partnerships between groups of municipalities, state and federal entities, multi-jurisdictional organizations, and the private sector to address common community and economic development problems; and
• Minimize development sprawl consistent with the State of Maine Growth Management Act and support the revitalization of downtown areas.

In addition, it is noteworthy that downtown revitalization is included in the Maine Consolidated Plan for
2015-2019. The reliability provided by this multi-year plan is essential for communities and associated
organizations to plan their own work, ensuring a consistency vital to the individuals and businesses
benefitting from these efforts. To eliminate programs included in the current consolidated plan takes us
away from the long-range community strategy without improving services to Maine communities,
businesses and low to moderate income individuals.

It is my understanding that the funds will be redirected to The Safe Neighborhood Program (SN), to provide resources in support of new or expanded local law enforcement and crime prevention programming in designated neighborhoods which will benefit low/moderate income (LMI) persons. These funds are intended to help alleviate illegal drug activity and crime.

Though we don’t disagree with the intended outcome of this new program, it is shortsighted to fund a new program by completely eliminating funding for a program with proven successes across Maine. In fact, downtown revitalization stimulates the economic activity on Main Streets thereby benefitting residents as well as creating places where illegal activity is less likely to occur because of the additional legitimate activity, people out and about on the streets and in the buildings there.
I would suggest consideration of other funding methods to create the new Safe Neighborhoods Program, and to keep downtown revitalization as a key component of Maine’s CDBG plan. Perhaps taking a small percentage from all CDBG programs would be one way to do so, ensuring that proven programs continue while new efforts are created.

One final suggestion as the administration considers this program, is to keep intact the bonus points for
applicants for other funding within CDBG for communities with Maine Downtown Center Designation. In
this way, there is some acknowledgement of the value of the work of the Maine Downtown Center.

I am attaching to this letter a map that shows Maine Downtown Center’s reach as well as a document
outlining the impact of the program. I ask that the CDBG funding for downtown revitalization be restored to the 2016 CDBG Program.

Sincerely,
Nancy E Smith
Executive Director

Attachment: GSM opposition to CDBG funding cuts to downtown revitalization