Greater Good Grocery, other organizations frustrated by lack of NY grant payments

Greater Good Grocery officials said they are waiting on $150,000 in grant money promised to them by New York state more than two years ago.

The store, which opened on the North Side of Binghamton in Jan. 2021, has become an oasis for a community in which 46% of the population lives at or below the poverty line and lacked a grocery for 25 years.

Inside the store Wednesday morning, state Sen. Fred Akshar was joined by Broome County Council of Churches Director Joseph Sellepack and other non-profit officials to push for the delivery of the money they say they are still owed.

Also present were the Discovery Center's Assistant Executive Director Cheryl Dutko, and representatives from the Maine-Endwell Little League organization and the Town of Maine Emergency Squad.

Through an internal audit of the 52nd Senate District's programs, the State and Municipal (SAM) Facilities Program grants for 16 projects totaling more than $6 million throughout the district have yet to be paid, Akshar said.

"That number is significant," he said. "Our message today is really, very simple. To the state of New York, pay what you owe."

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What action has been taken for those affected

In a letter sent to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Wednesday, Akshar called for the office "to conduct a full and comprehensive audit of the Senate SAM grant, CCAP (Child Care Assistance Program) and EDAP funding sources as they relate to the balance of progress between our Minority and Majority Members in the Senate."

With a series of posters displayed inside the store, Akshar compared the unpaid projects to some of the paid ones, noting the unpaid ones are Republican projects.

"The elevator in Albany is no more important than the elevator in Endwell for the SEPP housing," Akshar said. "Or the upgrades to a baseball field for a little league in Long Island are no more important than the upgrades to a little league field in Maine-Endwell."

52nd District Senator Fred Akshar claimed over $6 million in grants have not been paid by the state to local projects in a press conference held inside Greater Good Grocery at 435 State St. Wednesday.
52nd District Senator Fred Akshar claimed over $6 million in grants have not been paid by the state to local projects in a press conference held inside Greater Good Grocery at 435 State St. Wednesday.

Some of the SAM grants with no movement located within Akhar's district include:

  • Greater Good Grocery Store: $150,000

  • Discovery Center upgrades: $66,875

  • Maine emergency vehicle: $76,000

  • Mirabito Stadium upgrades: $2,500,000

  • Maine-Endwell Struble Baseball Field upgrades: $80,000

In his last month as a state representative before replacing Broome County Sheriff David Harder, Akshar also requested in the letter a look into the cause of disparity between approval and reimbursement for all SAM grants, as well as a determination of the average timeline statewide between approval and reimbursement of the projects.

Many of the projects that were paid in 2022 predate Akshar's term:

  • Town of Dickinson town hall improvements: $46,615

  • Town of Hancock office addition: $100,000

  • Village of Lisle pool renovations: $56,638

  • Town of German road improvements: $60,000

Akshar said multiple attempts over the past several years to learn the status of the funding have gone unanswered.

Akshar said he asked his successor, newly-elected Lea Webb, a Democrat, to ensure the completed projects, like Greater Good Grocery, are reimbursed.

How grant recipients are responding

52nd District Senator Fred Akshar called on State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office to complete an audit of state grants in a press conference held inside Greater Good Grocery at 435 State St. Wednesday.
52nd District Senator Fred Akshar called on State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office to complete an audit of state grants in a press conference held inside Greater Good Grocery at 435 State St. Wednesday.

Sellepack said Greater Good Grocery was not solely a Republican project and does not understand it has become a "political lightning rod."

After receiving the grant, Sellepack said they had to secure a bridge loan to access the money they received through the SAM grant for the store because they were told it would be up to a year before they were given the money from the state.

"It's two years in and we still haven't seen any of the money," Sellepack said. "You're looking at a pretty significant additional charge that's going to put onto this grocery store in order for it to be here."

The Discovery Center's Cheryl Dutko, who said they have not spent much of the money awarded to them, echoed Sellepack's thoughts.

"We're there for the education and enrichment of children and we wanted to upgrade our security and safety," Dutko said. "It's been like when you're stuck in snow and your tires are spinning. There really were no answers coming from Albany for us either."

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This article originally appeared on Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Broome County projects yet to get money from New York grants