ATLANTIC CITY — After months of attending City Council meetings seeking answers about when her nonprofit organization could expect to receive funds promised by the city almost six months ago, Shalanda Austin finally got the response she was looking for Wednesday night.
Mayor Frank Gilliam told Austin, founder and director of In My C.A.R.E., that the $25,000 the girls mentoring program had been waiting for since December would be released “any day now” during a public comment period of the council meeting.
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Gilliam told The Press of Atlantic City he would sign off next week on the release of $1.32 million in remaining endowment funds gifted to the city by MGM/Mirage Corp.
Reached Thursday, Austin said she was excited by the mayor’s pronouncement and even rode the elevator with him while leaving City Hall on Wednesday night. Gilliam assured her the funding was coming.
She said the program has been counting on the money to fund things such as food for the nearly 30 young girls every Friday or group trips. Without the money, things have been rough, she said. One young woman who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting said she recently had to add water to the ketchup bottle so there would be enough for everyone.
“It’s been a struggle,” Austin said. “To be promised something and look forward to it has been difficult. Waiting on money you’re supposed to get to perform the basics of the program has been a challenge.”
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When MGM presented the city with a $5 million endowment in 1996, the terms of the agreement stipulated that the mayor, council president and an MGM representative would be responsible for divvying up funding for projects that benefit Atlantic City residents and businesses.
In December, former Mayor Don Guardian and Council President Marty Small Sr. identified 10 city projects and organizations that would receive the remainder of the funds.
An attorney for MGM, Joe Corbo, reportedly waived the company’s participation in the negotiations.
Gilliam, who defeated Guardian in 2017 and took office in January, has held off on putting his signature on the agreement. When asked about the delay publicly, the mayor said he wanted the opportunity to review the projects and have input as to where the money would go.
“We finally got the documentation that gave us the comfort to move forward on signing off on those checks,” Gilliam said on Thursday. “It was never any intentional purpose of not cutting those checks. But, in my opinion, it’s poor fiscal responsibility to be cutting checks without documents that support the checks you’re cutting.”
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The other projects slated for funding from the MGM endowment, according to a December news release from Guardian and Small, are:
Robinson Small Daycare, $25,000
Turning Point Day Center for the Homeless, $50,000
Maine Avenue Promenade, $400,000
Second Ward playground, park and ball field, $300,000
Kingston Avenue playground, $250,000
Police Athletic League of Atlantic City, $150,000
Atlantic City Police Foundation, $75,000
Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City, $25,000
Art Dorrington Ice Hockey Foundation, $25,000