City looking at all angles for piece of the $787 billion pie

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury city government has a three-pronged strategy for taking advantage of the recently passed $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:
– Monitor federal programs.
– Ensure Salisbury’s name is on various state priority lists.
– Watch and be ready for necessary grant applications.
Doug Paris, assistant to the city manager, has been studying the economic stimulus package closely and dissected the possible funding opportunities for Salisbury City Council Tuesday.
Those opportunities could come in grants and/or loans for low-income housing, water-sewer infrastructure, police and fire protection, the Rowan County Airport, city bus service and broadband.
City Manager David Treme said he thought there would be more in the stimulus package for infrastructure and had hoped more of the money would pass directly to city governments, not through state and federal agencies.
Salisbury and other cities have numerous projects that could be started in 30 to 90 days, Treme said, and the biggest would be the Interstate 85 corridor sewer construction from Salisbury to China Grove.
The project, soon ready for bids, carried an estimated $6.5 million price tag when it was first discussed between the city and county several years ago.
The sewer construction would lead to jobs in the short term and economic development in the long run, Treme said.
Overall, it appears Salisbury will be in “extreme competition” for small amounts of money nationwide, Treme predicted.
In the weeks leading up to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the International City-County Management Association lobbied Washington officials for a funding mechanism in which the stimulus money would pass directly to federal programs, states and local governments.
Instead, the process has the money going to federal programs and the states, with local governments having to depend on obtaining funds from them.
“We would have preferred it the other way,” Paris said, adding the legislation really doesn’t give strong details on the flow of funds from the federal programs and states.
“We’re going to have to be on the lookout,” Paris said.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz participated in the Washington lobbying effort through the N.C. Metropolitan Coalition. N.C. mayors went to Washington in January with ready projects that would have created 100,000 jobs almost immediately with direct funding from the stimulus package, Kluttz said.
“It would have been wonderful if we could have gotten that money directly,” she said.
Kluttz said Salisbury has to be diligent in pursuing whatever money might be available.
Here’s a rundown of some of the funding opportunities Paris identified:
– Community Development Block Grants, $2 billion; and Neighborhood Stabilization Program, $1 billion.
Salisbury annually receives CDBG funds for its community development efforts. The stimulus expands the CDBG money available.
Salisbury already has submitted a $5 million application for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is being administered by the state. The stimulus money is in addition to the funds approved last year for that program.
City officials express strong confidence in the application they’ve turned in.
– Clean Water Revolving Funds, $4 billion; and Safe Drinking Water Funds, $2 billion. The state will be offering loans and grants from both programs.
Salisbury is sending a list of its potentially eligible projects to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“That’s a process that’s moving at this point,” Paris said.
– Community Oriented Policing, $1 billion; Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, $2 billion; State and local enforcement grants, $225 million; and Firefighter Assistance Grants, $210 million.
Salisbury’s strategy will be to research each grant opportunity and apply for funds if appropriate.
– Airport Improvement (AIP) Grants, $1.1 billion; Public Transportation (bus and rail), $8.4 billion.
Salisbury will contact Rowan County government and the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission in connection with the AIP grants. The Salisbury Transit Division’s requests for $240,000 toward expanded routes, $108,000 for subsidized bus fares and $722,000 for two 35-foot buses are already on a state priority list for stimulus-related money.
– Broadband Opportunities Grants, $4.7 billion. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration could serve as the conduit for these grants, which probably will focus on providing broadband for public safety and educational purposes.
Salisbury has started a $30 million effort to construct a fiber optic cable utility that will offer Internet, television and telephone services.
Paris said the city will wait for the Federal Communications Commission to define terms of the stimulus money and wait for the state to make clear what the process will be for grant applications.