SEBASTIAN — The Sebastian City Council decided Wednesday evening that it would consider splitting a $100,000 federal grant between improving the restrooms at Riverview Park and assisting local veterans.
The council’s decision to split the money was also split, with a 3-2 vote. After nearly an hour of wrangling amongst council members and staff, Mayor Richard Gillmor proposed a compromise between allocating the grant to the park and veterans. He suggested that – if allowed – the city should dedicate $75,000 to install a lift station at the Riverview Park restroom facility to tie into the water and sewer system and the remainder set aside to help veterans.
Much of the debate swirled around using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant for veterans services. A letter awarding the grant asked the council to consider such use of the funds.
Councilwoman Andrea Coy, a veteran, told the council that she went to the local Veterans Services office to find out what needs there are.
“There’s not a waiting line in the office for anything,” Coy said. She added that the one thing she did hear is that the government won’t help disabled veterans widen their front doors and without that, it’s difficult to get their wheelchair through.
“There’s no waiting list for that,” either, Coy said.
Members of council, generally, agreed with the assessment that there are few needs the city could help with for veterans.
“Let’s not try to create a need,” Councilman Don Wright said.
Councilman Eugene Wolff took exception to the presentation by staff pertaining to what the HUD grant could be used for.
“I’m extremely disappointed in staff,” Wolff said, adding that he could see no evidence that they made any effort to research veterans needs. “It’s not a professional attempt by any means.”
City Manager Al Minner countered, explaining to council – as he did at the prior council meeting – that neither he nor staff has expertise in the HUD program. He added that if the council wanted to pursue veterans causes, he would recommend hiring a consultant to help.
Vice Mayor Jim Hill recommended that instead of trying to take the money to use on something the city hadn’t planned on, they should allocate the funds to a project budgeted for this year.
“Let’s stick to the priorities,” he said, adding that the council could later work to use future HUD funds for veterans needs.
“It’s a very nice gesture,” Wright later said about working veterans’ needs into the funding, “but it’s not very effective.”
Coy voted against splitting the funds, explaining that the consensus of the council – after a planning exercise – was to use the funds on the park’s bathroom, not on veterans.
Wright, too, voted against splitting the funds, telling the council that by doing so, it would make administering the funds more difficult for the city.
Coy suggested that next year’s allocation, which could be more than $100,000, might be used to build apartment units at either the VFW or American Legion to serve as temporary housing for homeless vets.
Before final approval of allocating the funds, the Sebastian City Council will hold a public hearing on Nov. 17.