Cecil County Exec Gives $400K in Casino ‘Impact’ Grants to Local Fire, Charity Groups; Developer Projects and Con-man’s Youth Group Get Aid

July 18, 2013

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore has awarded nearly $400,000 in grants, derived from a local “impact” share of county revenues obtained from the Hollywood casino in Perryville, to a wide array of fire companies, veterans’ groups, social service and charities countywide.

As overall revenues from the local casino continue to plummet—due to new competition primarily from the Arundel Live casino—the available local share of grant funds is expected to continue to decline in future years.

In the past, the local “impact” grants were doled out by the County Commissioners and initially were restricted to western areas of the county closest to the casino. But a year ago, the commissioners opened up the grant process countywide. And this year, under the new Charter government, the County Executive had full authority to decide who got how much money.

Most of Moore’s selections for grants were well-established community organizations and public safety operations, although a few raise questions about their rationale. Some recipients are locally based and some groups operate countywide. But despite the countywide eligibility of individual grant applicants, the new list includes only one group based in southern Cecil County.

The largest grant– $50,000—went to the Town of Port Deposit to purchase a dump truck. The town has frequently had difficulties removing debris following flooding from the adjacent Susquehanna River, especially when the upstream Conowingo Dam opens flood gates. The town is also a transit corridor for many patrons of the Perryville casino.

Among charitable groups, the well-known Ray of Hope Mission received $36,770 to provide a new roof on its warehouse, expansion of its food pantry facility and related costs. The Mission is one of the largest providers of community-based food and social services to low-income families in the county.

The Bayside Community Network, which operates group homes and work programs for developmentally disabled and mentally handicapped persons, received $23,987 to purchase a bus equipped to handle transport of wheelchair-bound individuals.

One of the more intriguing grants, $24,171, went to a Prince George’s County, MD group, Housing Initiative Partnership– for “assisting low income seniors and families with money, and linking them to services.” That non-profit group has been a so-called partner with the profit-making, New Jersey-based Ingerman Group development company, which built the Elkton senior housing project a few years ago with substantial state and federal government subsidies. The Housing Initiative group has set up a local office at the senior apartments, county aides said.

An aide to the county executive said the grant would also cover programs the group plans to set up at another Ingerman subsidized housing project—New East Crossing—for families. (That 72-unit project, which is still under construction in North East, will have most of its $11 million cost covered by state rental housing subsidies and the value of federal tax credits sold to investors, according to state housing officials.)

When Ingerman sought county government approval for its projects—a requirement of the state program that doles out state housing subsidies and awards lucrative federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits—the developer cited community services it would provide as a reason to endorse the projects. The developer did not specify that it, or its agent, would seek county grants to pay for such services.

In fact, Ingerman’s two projects in the county would get more aid under the latest VLT grants than other well-known non-profit charities that do substantial work countywide to assist housing for the poor.

Habitat for Humanity, a local branch of the nationally renowned charity, would receive $20,000 toward construction costs for a home in Perryville, under the VLT grant program. And Christmas in April, a local group affiliated with a nationwide initiative to assist low-income and elderly homeowners with needed repairs, would receive a $10,000 grant from the VLT fund that would help build handicapped ramps and fix storm damage.

(Another much smaller grant for a housing-related program– $3,450 for “Community Coalition for Affordable Housing”— was awarded to the group, which listed a post office box in Elkton as its address, for “financial and literacy education for low income and homeless” people in the county.)

The county’s Boys and Girls Club received a $20,000 grant to provide a “Project Learn Program” serving 400 children, ages 6-18, at four locations in after-school and summer camp programs.

Contrast that grant to the long-established, countywide Boys and Girls Clubs, to another VLT grant of $12,000 given to Project Crossroad—a veritable vacuum cleaner of state and local grant money in its relatively short existence—to provide “life skills” programs for “at risk” children at two elementary schools: Bayview and Conowingo.

Project Crossroad, which has an office in Elkton, was founded in 2007 by Robert Kossak, shortly after his release from federal prison after serving time for conning elderly and disabled people in mortgage schemes, according to federal court records. Since then, the organization has scooped up multiple state and local grants, including two recent awards funneled through the Sheriff’s Department and the county Liquor Board. All their grants are for services to “at risk” youths.

Moore’s grant list included awards to several local veterans’ groups, most of which operate legal gambling ventures that, by state law, must donate half of their gambling proceeds to local charities. One small grant– $3,800—went to Post 6027 in North East to “replace rotting floor boards in the bar area.” The largest grant to a veterans’ group– $14,300– went to the American Legion Susquehanna Post 135 in Perryville for maintaining and improving a stormwater runoff pond. Such stormwater collection ponds have become a key priority in the county under new state mandates for limiting pollutants flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and the costs of such projects can be substantial.

The lone south county individual grant– $10,000 to the Chesapeake City Ecumenical Association—will support a well-received local initiative that provides an after-school program for children in grades 6-9. The southern sector of the county has few options for after-school child care for working parents.

Other highlights of the list of 35 grants include awards to various local volunteer fire companies for purchases of equipment, such as $8,330 to the North East fire company to purchase six additional automatic defibrillators to assist patients in cardiac distress.

In the past, the VLT local grants were reviewed by a citizens’ panel and recommendations made to the County Commissioners, who had the final say. This time, with Moore having the final say, the applications were initially reviewed by a staff panel led by County Director of Administration Al Wein and Senior Services director Dave Trolio, along with representatives of the YMCA, Cecil College and the Perryville Outlets from the business community.

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