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South Miami may lose $1.2 million in pool funding

South Miami may lose more than $1.2 million in funding to build the Murray Park Community Pool after missing the county’s deadline to start construction.

Six days prior to the June 30 deadline, interim City Manager Steven Alexander sent a letter to Gregg Fortner, executive director of the county’s Public Housing and Community Development agency, through which federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) are administered.

In the letter, Alexander requested a 15-month extension on the pool funding. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Fortner said he couldn’t see recommending an extension for that length of time, calling the request “unacceptable” and that his office has already targeted the money for “recapture.”

“We can’t tie up CDBG money for this long without it being spent,” Fortner explained. “The federal government will actually take money from us if we have too much money in our line of credit. When we tie up money like this we jeopardize our whole program.”

Fortner pointed out that the county first granted funding for the pool in 2008, and then granted more in 2009 and 2010, a combined $1,207,374.

“How long does it take to dig a hole, pour some concrete and put some water in it?” Fortner asked.

However, Fortner said that the extension is still under consideration and that no final decision has been made.

“I would certainly consider extending anything that had significant progress,” Fortner said, “but I don’t see any shovel in the ground.”

The city has already spent roughly $310,000 on the pool, which the city would have to pay back if the county denies the extension, according to the city’s capital improvements manager Jorge Vera.

Construction on the pool is scheduled to start in January 2014 and wrap up that August.

The decision of whether to extend the deadline ultimately rests with County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The mayor’s spokeswoman said that city and county staff will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the extension, and that the mayor will make a decision once he has been briefed before the meeting.

South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard said he wouldn’t be surprised if Fortner recommended denying the extension. Stoddard noted that county staff already recommended denying the extension before, but Gimenez ignored that decision and granted the extension anyway, resulting in the June 30 deadline.

Stoddard has said that in previous meetings about the pool, Gimenez appeared supportive and eager to see the project completed.

“I don’t expect anybody to change their position,” Stoddard said.

“Mr. Fortner has been trying to get back as much money as he can for reallocation, and I understand that’s his job,” Stoddard said. “Our job is to get this pool built.”

“We’re going as fast as anybody can go on it.”