The Central Susquehanna Community Foundation received complaints about the way a $25,000 flood relief grant was disbursed in Shickshinny but determined the money was distributed equitably, the foundation's CEO said Wednesday.
The grant money was raised by the Berwick-based nonprofit to aid victims of the September 2011 flood and distributed to Shickshinny in late 2011. The borough assigned a committee to disburse the grants, and a total of 29 awards were distributed in $1,000 and $450 denominations to residents whose homes were damaged by floods last year.
Central Susquehanna Community Foundation CEO Eric DeWald said 30 to 40 grant applications were received.
On Tuesday, Mayor Beverly Moore confirmed that some community members were upset over the way grants were distributed to flood victims.
People who had a lot of damage to their first floor were told, ‘Well, you have flood insurance.' Other people who had damage to their basement got grants, Moore told The Times Leader. Along with that, people on the list got a grant and they walked away from their house.
Moore was asked about the grants after a state police fire marshal said someone set fire to her son's vehicle while it was parked in front of her Canal Street home early Tuesday morning, one of two arsons in the borough that day.
DeWald said he met with borough employees and committee members after receiving several complaints about the grants and reviewed documentation of damage to the homes of grant recipients.
We feel comfortable that the committee in Shickshinny did everything that they needed to do to distribute grant money fairly and to let everyone know that grant funding was available, DeWald said.
He said grant availability was advertised in newspapers and announced at community meetings for disaster victims, where FEMA grants and other sources of flood relief also were discussed. Committee members also collected FEMA loss statements and receipts from grant recipients and in some cases verified damages in person.
After receiving a complaint that a person had been living on the second floor of a home that received only first-floor flooding, a committee member visited the house and found rampant mold growth, which rendered the property uninhabitable, DeWald said.
The committee really put in place a good process to verify that the money was distributed properly, he said.
The Times Leader learned some council members and their relatives were awarded flood recovery grants.
DeWald said his organization received complaints about nepotism and cronyism playing a role in grant awards and that grant committee members were asked about it, but maintained the grants were distributed fairly.
The reality of it is that Shickshinny is a very small town and there are family members who did receive funding, DeWald said. But it was verified that they were in the flood and they did have losses, so we didn't think it would be fair to exclude family members from this process, but we didn't see any evidence that they received favoritism in any way.
Brian Caverly, a member of the committee, said the committee's decision to award grants wasn't a political thing.
This was a group that was trying to provide grant money to people who were in the flood, he said. It's a small town. … There was no effort made to disqualify anyone because they were on the committee. I think the committee did a scrupulous job of making sure everything was documented and done in an upright manner, perhaps because people might be critical of that type of thing.
Though he said he didn't hear any firsthand, Caverly said he was aware complaints had been made to other committee members and to the foundation.
It's unfortunate, but I think it amounts to small-town politics, he said.
Caverly said he was under the impression his daughter was awarded a grant, though her name was not on a list of grant recipients provided to The Times Leader.
Borough Secretary/Treasurer Melissa Weber said at a Nov. 7 council meeting the other committee members were Pastor Terry Hughes, Gary Powlus, Councilwoman Rosalie Whitebread and Weber.
Powlus, Whitebread and Weber did not return messages seeking comment. Hughes could not be reached at a number provided by his church, First United Methodist in Shickshinny.
State police Fire Marshal Ron Jarocha ruled Wednesday that a fire at a vacant apartment building in the Mocanaqua section of Conyngham Township was set.
The fire at the building at 3 Main St., owned by Colleen Hartley of Shickshinny, was reported at 1:57 p.m. Monday, according to state police. It was the third arson in the area this week.
Jarocha ruled Tuesday that a fire at 194 Susquehanna Ave. reported at 3:52 a.m. Tuesday and a vehicle fire in front of 151 Canal St. reported at 5:24 a.m. Tuesday, both in neighboring Shickshinny, were set.