Discovery of unspent grant funds a windfall for Franklin County senior centers

MALONE — Franklin County Manager Donna Kissane found herself in an unusual position recently.

Kissane usually urges county departments and agencies that receive county funding to tighten their belts as much as they can, to keep their spending in check. But the recent discovery of some leftover grant funds had Kissane urging the county’s seven adult centers to make sure they spent every last penny of the find.

The funds were monies left over from Community Development Block Grants that had been awarded to ComLinks, a nonprofit organization that operated many projects aimed at promoting economic growth in the county and providing aid to low-income families and the homeless, said county Legislature Chairman Don Dabiew, D-Bombay. The money had been discovered by the state Office of Housing and Community Renewal as it reviewed the grants that had been awarded to Comlinks, which ceased operation in 2012.

Some of the funds dated back to 2006.

County Treasurer Fran Perry said the county had been aware of the accounts, but the state had never told local officials what they could do with the money that was accumulating there. Much of the money came from the repayment of housing renovations loans made by ComLinks, along with accumulated interested, she said.

State officials gave the county 30 days to draft a plan to spend the money, otherwise it would have to be returned to the state, Dabiew said.

That’s what prompted Kissane to step out of her usual role urging thrift and call for more spending.

Once informed that the money could be used to provide services to low income and elderly residents, county officials looked for the easiest way to come up with a spending plan — one that would serve deserving operations, Dabiew said. The money had to be used to assist groups serving low-income county residents, what Office for the Aging Director Rebecca Preve call “poverty providers.”

Officials quickly settled on providing funding to the county’s adult centers and asked representatives of those organizations for a wish list of spending priorities.

The centers, used to the county’s call to do more with less, came back with proposals that reflected their usual effort to spend as little as possible. But those proposals would have left money from the grants unspent — and thus turned back to the state — so Kissane said she had to make a request of the centers to “spend a little more, please.”

“We would rather keep that money here in Franklin County to help our seniors,” Perry said.

As a result, representatives of the adult centers were presented with checks on Thursday ranging from about $5,000 to roughly $48,000. The money, totalling about $117,000, will be used to address the needs of each center, as identified by the centers themselves, Preve said, adding she was “super excited” to be able to help out the groups.

The centers receiving the largest amounts — Malone and Brushton — will use the funding to buy vans for their Meals on Wheels program, Dabiew said, noting that volunteers in Malone have been delivering about 200 meals a day using their personal vehicles. The other centers will use the money for upgrades of their buildings or to buy needed equipment, he said.

The adult centers that received the funding are:

¯ Brushton — $26,000 to buy a new van and to install new flooring

¯ Burke — $5,000 for new stacking chairs, kitchen upgrades and a computer

¯ Fort Covington — $11,000 for kitchen upgrades, including new appliances

¯ Malone — $48,000 for two new vans

¯ St. Regis Falls — $5,000 for a new air conditioning system

¯ Saranac Lake — $5,900 for exterior painting

¯ Tupper Lake — $6,000 for air conditioning and upgrades to the kitchen and dining areas.