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Ogdensburg housing administrator shelves rehabilitation grant applications

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OGDENSBURG — The administrator of the city’s housing rehabilitation program has declined to apply for and administer grants for the coming year, an act some City Council members said is a breach of his contract.

James A. O’Neill, president of C.W. Augustine, DeKalb Junction, notified the city that his firm will not write Community Development Block Grant applications, leaving the city without a grant seeker or a program administrator as an Aug. 17 application deadline approaches.

“I am disappointed that C.W. Augustine pleaded to us to be able to write the grant. They are under contract as housing administrators for the city and it is disappointing to hear that they are not following through on their obligations as administrators to write the grant,” Councilor William D. Hosmer said. “They should be honoring that contract or I find them in breach of contract.”

The city’s contract with the firm requires 30 days’ notice for termination by either party.

Interim City Manager Philip A. Cosmo said Mr. O’Neill did not explain the withdrawal. “He just declined to participate at this point,” Mr. Cosmo said. “He didn’t really give us a reason.”

Mr. O’Neill said Thursday that his company’s rationale was stated in a memorandum to the city, but Thursday afternoon no member of City Council had seen the document. The Watertown Daily Times is seeking a copy under the Freedom of Information Act.

C.W. Augustine’s exit left some council members wondering if Ogdensburg would be able to submit an application for state funding in time.

“I am very concerned that our having a grant application is in jeopardy,” Councilor Jennifer Stevenson said. “Our city definitely needs and could use the funds if awarded them.”

Mr. Cosmo said Ogdensburg will turn to the Development Authority of the North Country to apply for and possibly administer its housing rehab grants, but he was unsure whether the applications would be submitted before the deadline.

“We’re in the process of partnering with them,” he said. “We’re going to try as hard as we can to get it done in the normal timeline.”

In the last year, council members have accused C.W. Augustine of misleading them, signing off on poor workmanship, failing to inspect rehabilitated property adequately and violating federal procurement guidelines after problems with Ogdensburg’s housing program led to the dismissal and resignation of city staffers.

Councilor Wayne L. Ashley advocated an incremental approach to reforming the program.

“A bad housing program is worse than not having one at all,” he said. “We need to get our house in order before we administer any more grants.”

Mr. Ashley recommended an independent audit of the housing program.

In May, the City Council supported C.W. Augustine’s pursuit of housing rehabilitation grants, but planned to issue a request for proposals for a new housing program administrator.

“To come to the City Council, to request our support, to tell us you are writing that grant for us and then to wait until the last minute to pull out is very unprofessional, and I am very disappointed,” Mr. Hosmer said.

A public hearing for the Community Development Block Grant application remains scheduled for 10 a.m. today in City Council chambers.

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