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D.C. Activists Fighting Gray Proposal To Repurpose Stadium Funds

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Some neighboring residents are opposing a proposal from Mayor Vincent Gray that would make it easier for the D.C. government to tap into funds that were supposed to be set aside for the ballpark neighborhood.
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Some neighboring residents are opposing a proposal from Mayor Vincent Gray that would make it easier for the D.C. government to tap into funds that were supposed to be set aside for the ballpark neighborhood.

Neighborhood advocates are up in arms over Mayor Vincent Gray's proposal to change the agreement for the Community Benefits Fund, which was created when the Nationals baseball stadium was built.

City leaders at the time said tax dollars collected from businesses around the ball park would be dedicated to community projects.

Gray's proposed budget for 2012 would make the Community Benefits Fund "subject to the inclusion of its fiscal effect in an approved budget and financial plan." Translation: it will get easier to divert money away from the fund because the mayor and the council would have to decide where the fund's revenues should go each year -- instead of it being a given that the money will be set aside to benefit the ballpark neighborhood.

Outside the Navy Yard Metro station near the stadium, organizers with the group Washington Interfaith Network have been trying to raise awareness about the fund.

In 2004, estimates predicted that the Community Benefits Fund could mean $500 million in funding for the neighborhood. Organizers, who have been talking to people and handing out fliers outside the stadium during games, say city politicians are now reneging on the deal.

John Moore, now with St. John’s Church Lafayette Square, was one of the citizens that helped put the Community Benefits Fund deal together back in 2004.

"There have been no community concrete projects done with the Community Benefits Fund to date," he says. "Because of the economy, the money has been diverted into other uses in the city."

It's true -- Gray is not the first mayor to dip into the fund. Mayor Adrian Fenty took money from the fund to help balance the budget starting in 2009, according to the [Washington Post]http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/mike-debonis/post/gray-budget-would-renege-on-ballpark-promises-advocates-say/2011/05/09/AFL4qKZG_blog.html).

People in the neighborhood aren't convinced that they'll ever see that money come back to them, especially if the mayor's budget gives the D.C. government carte blanche to spend the money as it sees fit.

"Our fear is when the economy gets better, this same money -- if they get rid of Community Benefits Fund -- will no longer be available to do what the politicians said htey were going to do when it was set up," Moore says.

That means the money promised for library construction, school funding, and other programs that were part of the Community Benefits Fund agreement will have to come from somewhere else.

It's unclear at this point whether the D.C. Council will go for Gray's proposal, but a few of them told the Washington Post last week that the move makes them uncomfortable.

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