Various ‘buckets of money” can be confusing to the public

By Gary Milliman, Brookings City Manager January 26, 2011 04:00 am

Great job on the column in Saturday’s Pilot (“Bike paths and budget woes,” Jan. 22). 

When I saw the dual headlines in the Wednesday edition about the county being unable to fund basic services on the one hand, and grant funding being available for bicycle facilities on the other, I expected it to strike an ironic cord.

We receive notices of various grant-funding programs almost every day. Most of these are not applicable to basic local community priorities. In the past week, the programs have ranged from digitizing records of national historic significance to providing computer training for jail inmates. A funding program comes along occasionally that fits with something on Brookings’ project list. This is a result of a national categorical grants system whereby the federal government – the administration that’s currently in power – determines the priorities. 

This is not a new phenomenon; the first successful grant application I ever wrote in 1971 was to plant trees along a local commercial street; the national goal of the grant program was to create jobs, and we competed well because cutting holes in the sidewalk and planting trees is very labor intensive.  On several occasions, applications were successful because we had projects fully planned and “on the shelf” that could be dusted off and modified to fit whatever funding criteria was in vogue at the time.

Brookings applied for 18 projects under the federal economic stimulus program ranging from street reconstruction and water/sewer system improvements to hiring police officers. None were approved. We have also applied under categorical grant programs multiple times for parks funding, sewer projects, sidewalk installation, food bank building construction and police officers. 

Typically, we have not competed well because of factors like the local median income (compared to other communities) being too high, water or sewer rates being comparatively low, or we are not part of the “club” that has been in the grants game for many years, or we just don’t have the resources it takes to doggedly pursue the funding. Once you have participated in the “grants game” for awhile, your success rate improves because of the relationships built with the funding agencies, and because you can demonstrate that you have the systems in place to spend the money efficiently and account for it.

The only successes we have had in three years are: playground equipment at Easy Manor Park, several land use planning grants, environmental review for the Del Norte County Airport and construction funding for an emergency operating center – which was actually an earmark.  

In addition to the multi-use path, we have an application pending under the ODOT Safe Routes to School program for sidewalk installation where the schools meet the streets. We are competing against 20 other communities who have applied for the same dollars.

I really appreciate the fact that this can be very confusing to the public; that there are various “buckets of money” (or, as is the case with the federal government “buckets of debt”) from which local government draws to undertake community programs, and while some of those buckets are full, others are dry. I wish it were simple.