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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Zoning Office seeks ‘reasonable budget’ to sustain its operation
Board encourages management to explore federal grants

With a budget it deems inadequate, the Zoning Office management, led by administrator Therese Ogumoro, is being encouraged by the board to explore federal grants to help sustain the agency’s programs and operation.

Saipan Tribune learned that the Zoning Office is appropriated only $128,000 for its personnel and all other expenses this fiscal year—an amount described by the agency officials as not enough to continue performing the office’s critical responsibilities. The office is currently manned by seven personnel.

“Our office continues to work hard in looking for any funding opportunities and we hope the governor and lawmakers continue to support our requests for a budget to maintain our zoning program’s operations and personnel needs. Our staff of seven with minimum budget level for operations is very tight—with each staff multitasking between the numerous responsibilities of this office as a regulatory agency tasked to oversee organized land uses and developments…I hope that we get more support for a reasonable budget to sustain this program and its critical responsibilities,” Ogumoro told Saipan Tribune.

At their Dec. 27 meeting, board members talked about exploring federal funds to supplement its operational needs. However, its first attempt to tap a federal grant failed, primarily due to lack of matching requirements.

Ogumoro disclosed that Zoning applied for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Capacity Building for Sustainable Communities Initiatives Program” but its application was disapproved due to deficiencies. Saipan Tribune learned that this program grant amounts to $2 million and requires a 20-percent match.

“We learned that the reasons for not being awarded included insufficient justifications on criteria for threshold review. For instance, there was no matching funds identified and some required forms were not uploaded or were insufficient,” said Ogumoro.

She described a recent teleconference with the federal agency as “very informative” and she assured that Zoning will continue to explore other opportunities.

“The Zoning Board chairman [Diego Blanco] continuously encourages the Zoning Office to search for grant opportunities to help our local budget fund our operations and personnel and this has been on top of our priorities. We had sought the help of our Grants Management Office as well as the office of U.S. Delegate Kilili but so far, based on report from my staff, the answer has been the same…they’ll help us and let us know once any opportunity relevant to our Zoning program is identified,” Ogumoro said.

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