UPDATE: City of Chattanooga plans to return $300,000 federal gra - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: City of Chattanooga plans to return $300,000 federal grant

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: After a meeting Thursday, city officials say they plan to return 300,000 dollars in federal grant money.

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said without the Ochs Center tracking data as part of the grant, the city cannot accept it.

The grant, if used, would have funded a prosecutor who focused on building cases in two neighborhoods.

The local research center recently closed its doors after falling upon financial hard times.

The city now says there is no one to help them meet the requirements of the grant.

The grant was applied for under former mayor Ron Littlefield's administration. Mayor Berke's office said the grant did not align with the city's new violence reduction initiative.


PREVIOUS STORY: The City of Chattanooga may have to return a $300,000 grant to the federal government after a local research center recently closed its doors.

Even though the city was awarded the grant in fall 2013 under former Mayor Ron Littlefield's administration, officials say they were just now starting to use the funds.

In a statement released to Channel 3 Monday, city officials cited the closing of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies as the reason why the federal dollars may need to be returned. 

The non-profit, which conducted research and analyzed local data, closed its doors April 30 due to a funding shortfall. The Ochs Center was supposed to be in charge of tracking data as part of the grant. Instead, the center is now working to find funding and has declined taking on any new projects.

“We are still in discussion with our partners, but are concerned that the closing of the Ochs Center will constitute a material change in the grant application, meaning that we will have to return the grant funds to the federal government,” said Marissa Bell, communications coordinator for the city, in a statement.

Part of the funds were designated to fund a special prosecutor through a federal Community Law Enforcement and Recovery program. The prosecutor, based on a program in Los Angeles, would have tackled cases in specified parts of the city. In Chattanooga, a prosecutor would have focused on cases in the westside and Alton Park. 

On Thursday, officials plan to meet with partners to discuss how they can move forward. 

More than a year ago, Channel 3 Eyewitness News approached Mayor Andy Berke's office asking if there were plans to accept the grant. 

At the time, Chattanooga Public Safety Coordinator Paul Smith said the grant was limited to only two neighborhoods while the mayor's Violence Reduction Initiative applied to the entire city. Smith said the model to tackle violent crime under Littlefield's administration did not line up with Berke's new program. 

Since then, the city has been working to try and use the grant dollars citywide and potentially hire a prosecutor to work in the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office.

Berke asked city council members to fund a federal prosecutor in July 2013. Meredith Edwards was hired in October. A month before Edwards began working in Chattanooga, the city learned from the Department of Justice that Chattanooga won the grant requested by the previous administration.

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