Verona’s municipal government doesn’t publicly step into too many political frays outside Verona, at the county level or beyond. But in late March, the Town Council decided that it had to send a letter to the congressman who now represents Verona because a federal program that has delivered millions of dollars of benefits to Verona has been threatened with elimination by the Trump administration.
The measure is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which has helped us pave our roads, make the Verona Public Library handicap-accessible and more. Since 1979, Verona has received approximately $7.5 million in CDBG grants.
“As the local Mayor,” Mayor Kevin Ryan wrote on March 30, “I am writing this letter on behalf of the Township Council and the entire community to express our support for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and to voice our opposition to any threatened cuts or elimination of this program in FY2018. Any reduction in CDBG funding would severely slow down or eliminate thousands of local and state projects and programs that are vital to the country’s affordable housing stock and economic health.”
Last month, Verona got a $326,214 CDBG grant, which it will use to build an elevator into the complete renovation of the Verona Public Library. But the mayor’s opening paragraph in the letter alludes to an even greater potential need in the future–affordable housing. In January, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that state municipalities must build thousands more low-income housing units. How many, nobody knows, but with Verona already shouldering a $3.4 million library renovation and facing the prospect of a costly rebuilding of the firehouse closest to Everett Field, any mandate to build housing could be too much for the budget. At its April 17 meeting, the Town Council approved a resolution to urge the state legislature to reduce the affordable housing burdens on municipalities.
“The Trump Administration’s budget blueprint has proposed the elimination of the entire CDBG program, however, at a time when our nation’s infrastructure is ailing and our country is enduring an affordable housing crisis,” Verona’s letter to Frelinghuysen reads. “It is more important now than ever to increase CDBG funding to give communities the ability to address their infrastructure, housing and economic development needs at the local level. We ask you to oppose any legislation that would eliminate or reduce funding for CDBG in FY 2018. We would also like to extend an invitation to you and your staff to tour our CDBG-funded projects to see the benefits of the program firsthand.”
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is a Republican and he holds a key position in the new Congress, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Verona has been part of Frelinghuysen’s district, NJ11th, since a gerrymandering in 2012.
But if Verona’s Town Council was expecting a resounding “I’ve got your back” response from our congressman, they will likely be disappointed. “I appreciate having the benefit of your views and share them,” Frelinghuysen wrote in reply. He noted, as he had done in ultimately opposing the first Republican effort to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, that Congress “must review [the president’s] requests to assure the wise investments of taxpayer dollars.” But he did not categorically say that he would oppose the elimination of the CDBG program. Congress will take up the president’s budget proposal when it returns from the April recess.