Despite snags, city won’t give up grant

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Riverwalk project now a go

By Martin Salazar

Some last-minute maneuvering appears to have resuscitated a $120,000 state grant that the city of Las Vegas was on the verge of having to give up.  

Six months ago, the city of Las Vegas issued a news release boasting about a six-figure grant it had been awarded by the state Youth Conservation Corps to pay for work on the Riverwalk.

Best of all, most of that money was to go toward salaries for 23 youths and three supervisors to do the work.

So it wasn’t surprising that members of the city of Las Vegas governing body were taken aback on Monday, when a state official appeared before them to express his disappointment that the city was planning to turn back the $120,000 grant.

Ralph Gallegos, the assistant commissioner for special projects at the State Land Office, said he was distressed by a phone call from a city employee notifying the Youth Conservation Corps executive director that the city would be turning back the grant.

“I’m here to encourage the city to consider keeping it,” Gallegos said. “Seventy percent of the grant goes to youth salaries. That’s approximately $80,000 ... When we help our youth learn the value of hard work, it’s a win-win situation.”

Gallegos noted that the city probably received one of the highest grants. He told the mayor and Council that he was at the meeting to offer assistance from the Youth Conservation Corps and Land Commissioner Ray Powell so that the city could keep the grant.

Gallegos represents Powell on the YCC Commission.

“I can assure you, we’ll look into it because I’m surprised,” Mayor Alfonso Ortiz responded.

Acting City Manager Elmer Martinez acknowledged at the meeting that when he was appointed to his new position, he and directors began looking at all of the city’s commitments and evaluating the resources available to fulfill those commitments. But he said no directive was given to any employee to notify the Youth Conservation Corps that the grant was being returned.

Wendy Kent, executive director of the Youth Conservation Corps, confirmed to the Optic on Wednesday that she received a call from a city employee last week notifying the agency that Las Vegas would be giving back the funding, citing, among other things, changes in personnel. But she said the city employee called her back Tuesday to tell her he didn’t have the authority to turn down the grant and that the city was actually going to move forward with the project.

Martinez chalked the incident up to a miscommunication. He told the Optic he asked the employee to look into what options the city had, such as whether the city could extend the grant or amend conditions. Martinez said that under the terms of the grant agreement, the city is required to provide certain equipment that the public works department no longer has. But he said other departments have stepped up to ensure that the city can provide what is needed to fulfill the terms of the grant.

According to the news release issued by the city in December, the YCC grant is to be spent on three things. The youths hired are to work on restoring the Riverwalk, which includes removing noxious plants, picking up trash, removing dead or diseased trees and trimming trees and plants. The grant was also to be used to add things like trash cans, dog-waste systems, benches and picnic tables. The final component of the grant involves the installation of things like murals and signs.

Kent said she was told the city plans to hire the youths for the summer. The city itself will pay the youths and then submit a reimbursement request to YCC. It’s unclear if the city will be able spend the entire grant amount.

Kent said this is the first YCC project done in the city of Las Vegas. Besides improving recreational areas, it will reduce fire danger, she said.

“There’s needed work there,” she said. “They’re going to do what’s needed for the community, and those young people need work.”