Fort Lauderdale bungles spending of federal money, must repay $2.5 million

(SUN SENTINAL)  Fort Lauderdale – The city bungled the spending of federal money meant for poor people over the past two decades and now must pay back $2.5 million.
In an audit that concluded the repayment was needed, federal auditors ripped the city for not properly documenting its spending of Community Development Block Grant dollars and thus not proving that poor people were helped, and for allowing projects to languish for years.

“This condition occurred because the city lacked effective management controls over its CDBG activities and disregarded [federal] requirements,” the audit says.

City officials were alarmed by the Office of Inspector General’s audit, which exposed sloppy record-keeping, inadequate training of staff and large gaps in knowledge about requirements in spending money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This is not a bright spot for the city right now,” said Mayor Jack Seiler.

The city had passed annual audits by the local HUD office but failed when the national auditors swooped in.

The repayment request comes asFort Lauderdale, like other cities, is preparing to fashion a budget with millions less than it’s used to, because of declining property values and property taxes, and other financial erosion tied to the economy.

Commissioners spent part of their afternoon Tuesday talking about the need for a similar amount — $2. 8 million — for police overtime to fight crime and patrol neighborhoods.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to use money from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which captures property tax dollars solely from the northwest, for the repayment. That payment, spread over three years, is subject to a final approval on June 2.

Greg Brewton, the city’s planning and zoning director who has taken over control of the troubled city department, said the audit has “nothing to do with anything criminal, has nothing to do with anything fraudulent.”

Rather, he said, it was poor documentation and monitoring of aid to poor residents over the past 20 years.

“Good things were happening, it just wasn’t documented properly,” he said.

In that time, the city got about $49 million in federal block grants for the poor. The $2.5 million is about 5 percent of that.

The city’s previous housing and community development manager, Margarette Hayes, resigned in January and was replaced April 6 by Jonathan Brown. An accountant also was hired.

“Has it been flawless? No,” Brewton said. “It has not been flawless, but it has been corrected.”

ONLINE: Read the scathing audit and the city’s corrective plan at sunsentinel.com/browardpolitics.

Brittany Wallman can be reached at bwallman@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4541.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/sfl-federal-funds-giveback-b051909,0,1612054.story

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