Conroe, December 22 – The procedures and track record of the Montgomery County government’s Community Development Department came into the spotlight when Department Director Joanne Ducharme tucked a $45,000 salary increase for herself over two years in a flood buyout housing grant application to the federal government that the Commissioners Court considered on December 19, 2017. In order to attempt to justify her salary increase, Ducharme angrily presented a lengthy report concerning the work of the Community Development Department. Her report raised a number of issues about which Montgomery County citizens should have concerns.
The Community Development Department’s charge is to apply for and obtain Community Development Block Grants (“CDBG”) from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
History of Community Development Block Grants
In 1974, the democrat-controlled Congress passed the Housing and Community Development Act to address “urban blight” in America’s inner cities. The democrats in Congress were able to get Republican support by framing the program to consist of block grants from the federal government to states and certain private organizations. Republicans liked the decentralization of the program by the marshaling of the funds to state and local governments as well as private organizations. President Gerald Ford, very weakened politically after the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Ford’s pardon of Nixon, signed the CDBG legislation into effect as federal law.
In a 1978 amendment to the Housing and Community Development Act, which the far more left-leaning President Jimmy Carter signed into law, the federal government tightened CDBG controls and largely eliminated the involvement of private organizations as recipients of federal block grants.
Since 1974, the federal government has distributed funds to more than 1,250 local and state governments across the United States.
Montgomery County’s Community Development Department seeks those grants, which in many respects seek to bring federal tax dollars citizens have paid back into this community. Under federal law, the emphasis of the grants is to alleviate poverty and to assist low- and moderate-income families in urban areas, although the 1978 amendment permitted the allocation of up to 30% of the funds annually to rural areas as well (a major Carter presidential platform issue since he had come from rural Georgia).
Pay day loans?!
Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have advocated vast increases in the County government’s involvement in activities that would normally be the realm of private industry.
On Tuesday, December 19, Ducharme described a grant program for which the County has applied that would set up a pay day loan service for low- and moderate-income families in order to compete directly with those private pay day loan companies that charge higher interest rates. There’s no question that some pay day loan companies engage in sharp lending practices. The question that arose during Ducharme’s angry report was whether the Montgomery County government should become a loan service.
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack, who holds a conservative outlook that doesn’t fit very well with Doyal’s, Meador’s, and Riley’s government advancement viewpoint, interrupted Ducharme during her report and said, “That [the County becoming a pay day lending service] may go way beyond what government should be doing.”
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack: “That [the County becoming a pay day lending service] may go way beyond what government should be doing.”
Ducharme at first acknowledged that her Department would “compete” with private lenders. After Noack expressed additional objections, Ducharme backed away from the program and haughtily said that she and her staff would merely “oversee” the program (whatever that means), “because this is Montgomery County where we don’t do things like that.” Ducharme’s parting shot on the issue was her claim that CDBG grants actually fund other local governments around the United States to become pay day lenders.
Clearly, the citizens, Noack, and County Attorney J.D. Lambright and his staff must remain vigilant to make sure that Ducharme doesn’t attempt to create pseudo-private business organizations under the auspices of Community Development Block Grants.