MERIDEN — A request to establish a new grants manager position in the city’s finance department received the backing of both the City Council’s personnel and finance committees Monday night.
A series of votes supporting that personnel measure were along party lines, with Democrats on both committees backing them and Republican and We the People Party councilors voting against them.
The grants manager position, according to a draft job description, would report to the city’s finance director if the position is approved by the council. That person would be responsible for researching available grants, including federally funded, state funded and other grants funded through foundation or local sources.
The proposed position would be responsible for monitoring all grants, with the exception of the federal Community Development Block Grant and health department grants. It is also responsible “for reporting the financial position of all grants and working closely with the Director of Accounting and the Director of Finance to ensure audit compliance.”
According to figures shared during Monday night’s joint meeting, the position’s annual salary, excluding benefits, is $105,000.
City Finance Director Kevin McNabola told personnel and finance committee members that the position would oversee around $150 million in grants, except for CDBG funds and those received by the Board of Education, which separately manages its grant funds. CDBG funds are currently overseen by the city’s department of Economic and Community Development and not the Finance Department.
That person would be responsible for assisting and collaborating with other city department heads to identify grant opportunities and write applications. That individual would also be responsible for ensuring the city complies with various grant reporting and auditing requirements, McNabola explained.
It was estimated that 75% of this individuals’ time would be spent on tracking grants already received by the city, and around 25% around seeking new grant opportunities, according to discussions.
That explanation came in response to a question from personnel committee chairman Larue Graham.
Councilor Michael Carabetta asked McNabola whether the proposed $105,000 salary is the average for such a position. McNabola responded that the salary level is for a position that is considered to be a “higher level job.” As such, city officials seek a “higher caliber candidate as well,” McNabola said.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati asked McNabola a series of questions, including “what additional benefit” would the city get with the potential increased time devoted to grants.
“As of right now, we don’t have the capability to search for new grants,” McNabola said in response, adding that the duties of ensuring compliance and tracking with grants currently falls upon him and the director of accounting.
Still, the mayor sounded skeptical that the benefits of the position outweigh its cost.
“I don’t think this is something we can afford right now,” Scarpati said, later suggesting that the city could consider seeking a contractor to manage such grant reporting and compliance — similar to the consultant currently working with the city on managing its federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
City officials noted that while contracting would come at an additional cost — as much as $150,000 — it would be easier to terminate a contract than it would be to terminate an employee.
Councilor Yvette Cortez asked McNabola if he had to estimate, how much money a new grant person could “really bring into this city.”
“Are they going to be able to bring in $5,000, or are they going to be bringing in more than the investment of $116,000?” Cortez asked.
McNabola responded, “Just based on the volume of grants out there… it’s in the millions.” The finance director, in response to a follow up question from Cortez regarding whether the city has an employee who is a trained grant writer, stated, “To my knowledge, no.”
City Manager Timothy Coon followed up that he used to teach grant writing, and is “as close to a certified grant writer as we have in the city.”
Cortez stated that given the monetary investment the city could gain, she would be “in full support” of the proposal.