Block Grants Unconstitutional, Councilman Says An Example of not Heeding the Vertical Separation of Power
North Ogden City Councilman, Dave Hulme, voted against a resolution on January 24th because he felt that the purpose of the resolution – to secure community block grants as proposed by Gary Kerr, North Ogden City Building Official – was unconstitutional. Dr. Earl Taylor of the National Center for Constitutional Studies stated regarding Constitution Provides Vertical Separation of Powers: “The Founders emphasized repeatedly that the design of the Constitution was to distribute the authority of governmental service to that level where a particular function could be the most efficiently administered and at the least expense. Thomas Jefferson said: ‘The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the functions he is competent to.” Jefferson then went on to describe the vertical separation of power from the most local to the national. Dr. Taylor also quoted Cleon Skousen who wrote that the family is the first level of sovereign power. The Sentinel News provides the example of block grants in North Ogden as the improper consolidation of powers intended to be separate to various layers of government.
Grants and funding come to local governments from higher levels with requirements included and at a cost.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) are tax dollars administered through the National Government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the purpose of helping low and middle income families with their housing. In fiscal 2005, $4.7 billion was allocated to this program. Cities and Counties are classified as either “entitlement” (population greater than 50,000 in cities or 200,000 in counties), or non-entitlement (population less than entitlement). HUD’s official website states: “…Annually, each State develops funding priorities and criteria for selecting projects.” Thus, Utah and the states which have accepted this program administer the funds. HUD’s website also states: “HUD's role under the State CDBG program is to ensure State compliance with Federal laws, regulations and policies.” Two of the requirements for the grant itself (from HUD’s website) affecting the local government are: “it will require units of general local government to certify that they are adapting and enforcing laws to prohibit the use of excessive force against nonviolent civil rights demonstrations, and they will enforce laws against barring entrance and exit from facilities that are the targets of nonviolent civil rights demonstrations in their jurisdiction;” and “it will comply with Title I of the HCD Act and all other applicable laws.”
According to the HUD website, there are seven requirements the State must comply with to participate in the program. Many requirements are passed on to the community government. The state is allowed to take a cut of 3% overall for the administration as well as 50% of at least one category of specific funds. Utah received $4,308,352.00 for fiscal year 2011 according to Michael Glenn of the Utah Division of Housing and Community Development. Mr. Glenn stated that before a grant happens, the State contracts with the local government specifying the legal requirements. As the project progresses, there is oversight both from State and federal authorities. Contractors doing actual work have to follow the regulations also. Otherwise they may be de-barred, have to pay extra money to workers, and/or are turned over to the U.S. Inspector General. Local government that does not comply may have its funding cut, thus leaving the local government to bear the responsibility for funding the project, and/or receive sanctions from the State. There is another mid-level of quasi-government in North Ogden’s area that is involved in determining who gets grants. It is the Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC), which administers grants to the local governments. In response to a question about Constitutional authority for the CDBG program, Mr. Glenn sent an email that did not reference the Constitution. Neither could Ms. LaNiece Davenport of the WFRC provide information regarding Constitutional authority.
North Ogden applied for a CDBG grant in 2011, but 2007 – 2008 was the last time a CDBG grant was obtained for $225,760.00 to build water lines. North Ogden’s application to WFRC for 2012 is still being considered. Infrastructure projects for which grants may be available include enterprise functions such as sewer and water, as well as mixed enterprise-proper government (according to the Freedom Coalition) such as roads. All of the money comes via the U.S. Government or Treasury. Within WFRC, a Regional Review Committee (RRC) selects criteria for ranking applications. Weber County is represented by Commissioner Jan Zogmaister and a Weber County staff member. The decision is then based on points. Improvement in ranking was the reason proposed in the resolution as presented by Mr. Kerr of North Ogden. General policies which control or influence the city include: “Projects must be consistent with the Region’s Consolidated Plan and included in a prioritized capital investment list or meet the overall goals identified in the plan; … Applicants are required to attend the Region’s ‘How to Apply Workshop’; and … Public service providers are encouraged to apply for CDBG funds for capital improvements and major equipment purchases. Examples include: delivery trucks, furnishings, fixtures, computer equipment, construction, remodeling, and facility expansion.”
Grant selections for 2012 are based on 11 or more (depending on situation) criterion. Among these are requirements to meet the National objective of the CDBG program, to comply with Utah HB 295, and to conduct a survey. Additionally, more points are added to the ranking for such socialistic (controlling the means of production) measures as increasing number of houses made available for low to medium income people through loan closing or down-payment assistance, and projects that cause an increase in the communities tax base.
Besides the restrictions placed on the communities, there are costs for CDBG grants. $141,000,000 was the potential cost to U.S. citizens for payment to the states for administration in 2005 (about 48¢ for every man, woman, and child – estimate of 295 million population). If the workshop takes a city administrator a day, and if the estimated total $90,000.00 yearly wage and benefits (recent hire in Pleasant View) are divided into 26 weeks which are divided by 80 hours per week, one day costs the citizens $346.15. If the RCC representatives from Weber County spend 1 day combined per year on benefitting Weber County, then there are additional costs. Additional, unspecified costs would accrue to cities for maintenance of capital improvements funded by CDBG grants, and for additional planning to meet the requirements set forth by higher levels of government.
Other local effects of top down and multi-level linking of government (such as unfunded mandates) include: Weber Health Board forcing local mechanic shops to purchase expensive equipment to test for emissions (Woodruff Auto and Duesy Auto have been required to install new equipment which will make car repair more costly); The national and state governments have increased sewer costs for centralized systems. This is happening both through federal-state handouts of money such as for the Perry/Willard system, and through regulations. Duncan Murray, Perry City administrator and attorney believes that environmentalist inspired regulations have been very costly. Utah State legislation was passed in response to Federal impetus to regulate storm water runoff. Mayor Clifford of Pleasant View calls this an unfunded mandate. On February 14th, Pleasant View voted to pass the cost of inspections for storm water on to new and recent subdivisions. It is common for City officials, when asked about a particular action that they are taking, to respond that the State requires it. Such was the case stated by the contracted City Attorney for the points of a recent ordinance passed in North Ogden. North Ogden had to pass zoning amendments for housing as mandated by the state. Weber School Board is changing policy to meet State criteria for class sizes. Weber Central Sewer raised its rates due to State law which was due to regulation passed on to them from the U.S. government.