Bayonne PAL Executive Director still thinks CDBG funding cuts ‘smell fishy’

"KT" Kim Torello insists 'something's wrong' despite city officials arguing otherwise

Continuing his back-and-forth with city officials, Bayonne Police Athletic League (PAL) Executive Director “KT” Kim Torello still believes “something fishy” is behind the city’s cuts to funding for the non-profit, and said so at the most recent City Council meeting.

Torello previously addressed the council at its September meeting, alleging that the PAL’s funding support, drawn from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, was not yet awarded.

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Torello has charged that the funding was cut in an act of “political retribution” because he ran on former City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski’s council slate during her May mayoral campaign.

However, multiple city officials responded that the funding had been awarded in August, denied any cuts were political in nature, noted that a number of organizations that relied on the federal funds received cuts after the city’s overall CDBG program was cut by $159,000 because Bayonne has improved economically, and highlighted other funding opportunities that were available to help the PAL.

In 2022, the city was awarded approximately $1,374,343 in CDBG funds, down from approximately $1,511,913 in 2021. The PAL routinely requests $75,000 in CDBG grant funding each year, and was awarded $25,000 in 2019, 2020 and 2021, but only $16,650 in 2022 due to the reduced federal funding.

At the October 19 council meeting, Torello again addressed the council about the CDBG funding cuts to the PAL. But first, Torello apologized for the tone of his remarks toward City Councilman At-Large Loyad Booker at the previous meeting. Previously, Torello had vocalized his frustration with Booker for allowing the funds to be cut. Booker accepted his apology, but said that he has been working with children in Bayonne for years.

Torello again addressed CDBG funding cuts to the PAL. He said he didn’t plan on coming until he “saw” a story by the Bayonne Community News and the Hudson Reporter, which he erroneously called the Hudson County View, prior to attending the meeting.

Torello hadn’t read article, argues over content anyway

According to Torello, he took issue with an alleged statement that “the Community Development Block Grant funding, everyone was cut” which he claims was “not true.” However, the story in question never stated that “everyone” of the approximate 19 non-profits that applied for the money received a funding cut.

Instead, the story featured Law Director Jay Coffey, CDBG Executive Director Samantha Howard, and Mayor James Davis noting that some applicants including the PAL faced funding cuts because the overall program took a $159,000 reduction as the city improves economically, as well as disputing the other allegations made by Torello.

Torello took issue with Davis’ published response to his allegations. He specifically spoke on why he was unaware the PAL was granted the CDBG funds in August, when he was not at the meeting.

“We have the mayor saying that I should do my homework before I come up and speak, because I wasn’t at the August meeting when the resolution was passed to give the Bayonne PAL a substantial cut in money,” Torello said.

Torello explained the PAL normally gets its CDBG letters in early May. He alleged that despite this year’s CDBG award letter being received in September, it was dated June. Torello added that he reached out about the letter tree times in June and was told it was not done yet.

“Low and behold, it was mailed, and I have the stamp, the next to the last day in July. I didn’t receive it until the 15th of September,” Torello said. “How am I supposed to be here in August, when I didn’t get the letter until September 15?”

City Council President Gary La Pelusa addresses the PAL’s CDBG funding in October.

‘Something’s wrong’ Torello alleges

“Are you following this timeline?,” Torello said. “Something’s wrong. There’s definitely something wrong here. I even called in August and asked about the letter, and I was told ‘It didn’t pass or come across my desk.’ So if it was signed on this date, June 3, why is everyone telling me it’s not coming across their desk. There’s a reason. I’ll reiterate it again, just like the last time.”

“Try and wrap it up please,” La Pelusa said, noting Torello had exceeded the five minute time limit for public comments.

Torello then complained that La Pelusa did not meet with him after the meeting in September or call him.

“Wrap it up? You were supposed to call me,” Torello said. “You were supposed to call me, alright? But every time I sit around and wait for you, you go in the back and you don’t come out. That’s not fair to me, that’s not fair to the organization.”

La Pelusa said he had “valid excuses” for not responding, just as Torello had “valid excuses” for his actions.

“You’re coming here and you’re giving me valid excuses, right?” La Pelusa said. “I’m listening to every valid excuse you have. I can give you valid excuses as to why I didn’t call you as well. I have a dying mother in Pennsylvania I’ve been visiting. You want me to go on?”

“That’s fine, that’s fine,” Torello said. “I understand that.”

Torello doubles down, alleges something ‘doesn’t smell right’

Torello continued to falsely allege that the BCN story was incorrect due to his inaccurate interpretation that it claimed that “everybody” got a CDBG funding cut. He also wrongly claimed the story came from City Hall.

“Not everyone got cut, and if you add up the people that got cut, it totals $9,000 and the PAL gets cut almost $8,000,” Torello said. “How is that fair? I had no intentions of coming in arguing about this, but when statements come out like that I have to defend not only myself, but the children. I am overwhelmed by the children.”

La Pelusa then noted that none of the council members made those statements. “None of those statements were made by this board,” he said. Rather, other city officials including Coffey, Howard, and Davis were the ones who contributed comments to the story.

Torello admitted that he didn’t read the story he was talking about, only skimmed through it, inadvertently proving Davis correct that he does not “do the homework” before speaking to the council.

Weimmer asked Torello some questions about PAL funding. He said the cuts amounted to about $8,350 which he rounded up to $8,500 “because it sounds better.”

Weimmer asked what the funds would go towards, whether is be salaries or expenses. Torello confirmed that salaries at PAL are paid for by other grant funds, and that this money would help hire teachers for the homework program.

Federal funds would hire teachers for PAL’s homework program

“This money that I needed this year is because I’m overwhelmed with children for homework, and need money to pay two more teachers,” Torello said. “I don’t have that much money. Teachers today, to stay after school, you have to give them $50 an hour. I opened up a second classroom again because it’s so severe.”

Torello emphasized times were tough for the PAL as it provided services for more kids than ever.

“In these trying times, we have more basketball teams, that we’re getting back to where we were in the ‘70s,” Torello said. “But how many times can I go to the same people for sponsorships?”

Despite the time limit having passed, Weimmer added she had some ideas to help fund the PAL.

“I don’t want to take up more of anybody’s else time, but I have some ideas that I’d be happy to share,” Weimmer said.

“You’re more than welcome to come down and we can sit and discuss this further,” Torello said. “I’d never turn down an invitation from anybody up here.”

Howard stepped in to back up the points she and other city officials had made on the topic.

“On October 14, we sent a letter out to all the non-profits letting them know that there was additional CDBG funding,” she said.

“We did not receive it,” Torello said.

Howard disputed that: “I have an email with all the non-profits on there.”

CDBG Executive Director Samantha Howard explains there is additional funding available for the PAL.

Other funding available for the PAL’s needs, officials say

According to Howard, it’s very easy to apply for that money which has to be spent. She said the PAL has not done so yet.

“We are working on that,” Torello said. “Of course, it wasn’t put to me that way when I spoke to…”

Howard interrupted Torello to disagree: “But I have the email, and I will share the email with everyone. All you have to do is write a summary of what the project would look like.”

“Ms. Howard, this is not a general attack on you,” Torello said. “I talked to you recently and I told you what a splendid job you do. This is the facts relating to the article in the paper. The numbers that come out has nothing to do with you.”

Howard said there is money available that the PAL could take advantage of.

“I’m listening to you as a colleague and just letting you know that there’s literally 100 percent relief for you and a one-pager that you could have given me, and you wouldn’t have even had to come out tonight,” Howard said.

PAL working on application for other federal monies

Torello said he was working on it, and reiterated he was not attacking Howard. She said she understood that.

“You need money,” she said. “There is money to be had. Some of these things are so simple. All HUD is asking for is a one-pager and next month you can have the dollar amount based on their approval.”

Weimmer said this was a good solution to the PAL’s problem “That’s a wonderful resolution. Thank you for sharing,” she said.

Torello repeated that the timeline of when he received the CDBG letter did not add up.

“This still does not make sense,” Torello said. “It doesn’t.” The conversation ended there, in total approximately 15 minutes long.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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