Harrisburg city council overrides mayor’s veto over block grant funds

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - The city council unanimously voted Thursday to override a veto issued by Mayor Eric Papenfuse regarding grant funding from the federal government.

The vote clears the way for around $300,000 in grants to go to several non-profits, and was part of roughly $1.8 million total in community development block grant (CDBG)  funding awarded to the city by Housing & Urban Development (HUD). Papenfuse had proposed keeping all the money for removal of blighted properties and upkeep at vacant lots.

The vote will hopefully send a message to Papenfuse to be more willing to negotiate with the council, said council president Wanda Williams.

"[There was] no collaboration with council, yet vetoed the bill, and in the letter, tried to chastise this body," she said.

Leaders from several non-profit groups once again made their case for the grant funding, including the Fair Housing Council, which will receive a $25,000 grant for homebuyer education.

They help anyone who asks, but are specifically working with one displaced group of people at the moment, Melvin Johnson, of the council, said.

"[The] people from the McFarland Building, trying to relocate them, trying to talk about getting their security deposits back so we can help them become financially stable," he said.

Other groups that received funding include: Habitat for Humanity, the East Shore YMCA, Heinz-Menaker Senior Center, Mid Penn Legal Services, Christian Recovery Aftercare Ministries, and the African-American Chamber of Commerce.

"How do we stop violence?" chamber president Leland Nelson said. "We stop it through economic development for all. Economic development for our members is helping them take the next step."

It was the first veto issued by Papenfuse in his two-and-a-half years as mayor, but the council was not inclined to make changes after it.

"The mayor accused City Council of not being transparent, but yet chose to utilize all the CDBG funding for his administration without informing council of his intentions," Williams said. "Now, I ask you, residents, sub-recipients, who's not being transparent?"

One grant approved for The Ferguson Group, a contractor that will work to help non-profits seek other sources of funding, is on hold, pending whether HUD will allow it. If the agency rejects it, the council can re-allocate the funds in the fall.

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