Albany capital grants held

The photo has been taken of the “presentation check” with the elected official and recipients of the state funding smiling for the cameras.

Problem is, they better not hold their breathes waiting for the real check to arrive anytime soon.

Both State Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto are angry and frustrated over seeing their funding to local groups tied up for a year or more in a maze of Albany bureaucracy.

Case in point was Senator Klein’s allocation in early 2011 for 16 security cameras for City Island that would record street activity for possible use by police.

After more than two years of waiting, the City Island Chamber of Commerce received final paperwork this month, but not before at least three commercial burglaries were reported there in April, and one business owner at the Firehouse Deli said extra video security in the commercial district might have helped prevent crimes or catch whomever is responsible.

Klein said that after years of scandal in Albany, the process for getting grants released has been beefed up, with agencies such as the state Comptroller’s office, Attorney General’s office and the governor’s office all having a role in providing oversight.

“The process itself has a lot of hurdles to make sure that taxpayer monies are spent wisely and legally,” said Klein, noting that he can only do so much to move the process along. Under current practice, once he allocates the money, it is up to the recipient to deal with the grant.

Larger organizations often have employees whose job it is cut through Albany red tape and get the grant money in a timely fashion.

But smaller groups that are volunteer-based usually face longer waits, as well as more calls to the legislator’s office pleading for help in navigating a labyrinth of Albany agencies and legislative bodies.

In a 2009 report, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that up to 87 percent of contracts with not-for-profits were approved late, forcing them to perform services without a contract in place and without any payments.

Benedetto said that after he approved a capital grant to the Lawrence F. Keene Post on Buhre Avenue in Pelham Bay, the group had to wait almost four years for building renovations because of Albany red tape.

Benedetto empathized with the community groups, saying that his office works with the grantees to help them contact the necessary agencies and highlight the worthiness of their projects with decision makers, such as those on the state Assembly Ways and Means committee.

“It is very frustrating to be awarded money and have to wait for such a long time for that money to come through,” said Bendetto. “There is also a good reason for the state to ask for proper documentation, because as much criticism as they get, they want to make sure that this money is used properly.”

He said that the state “will constantly call for proper documentation before money goes out, and most taxpayers would agree some oversight like this is necessary.”

Anytime there is a change in the grant – either to the recipient or for the purpose for the grant – as is the case for a security camera grant still pending for Westchester Square merchants, it also can lead to frustrating delays, he said.

“There are a lot of hoops you’ve got to jump through to make sure the money is distributed correctly,” he said. “We try to help make the process less onerous and we try to make those calls to the agencies with or for those getting the grants.”

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at procchio@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3393

More from Around NYC

>