Locals declare need for federal grant program

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 16, 2005

If anyone needs proof of how community development block grant funds have assisted residents of Butler County, just drive around.

The City of Greenville used CDBG funds to revitalize the downtown area and to improve sewage systems in the Methodist Hill neighborhoods. Just the week, the City Council approved a resolution to apply for funds for housing revitalization and sewer systems in the Baptist Hill neighborhood.

Those funds may be the last for a while.

President Bush recently proposed eliminating the funds in the 2006 federal budget, causing outcry from communities from across the country.

Many municipalities are offering resolutions at how bad things would be without the grants. The Butler County Commission voted Monday to adopt a similar resolution, and Chairman Jesse McWilliams said the program is important for many road improvements in the county.

&uot;We passed the resolution so that we could send it to Sen. Sessions, Sen. Shelby and Con. Everett to ask them to support not cutting the CDBG program,&uot; McWilliams said.

&uot;These grants are good to use in low-income, high-population areas.

Without these grants, Royal Crest Road, Montezuma Road and Poole Road would not have gotten anything done to them.&uot;

McWilliams said the grant funds could aid in economic development.

&uot;All the grants like that if they aren’t given to the county or to one our cities, it can be very hurtful,&uot; he said.

&uot;They don’t always provide what we need the most, but they provide enough to make improvements.&uot;

The block grant funding began in 1974 and is one of the oldest programs in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It provides annual grants on a formula basis through several programs.

The proposed budget would combine block grant and 17 other empowerment programs into two new programs that would be transferred to the Department of Commerce at a funding level of $3.71 billion. Block grant funding alone in fiscal year 2005 was $4.7 billion.

Both Houses of Congress recently restored the funding but have now placed caps on how much can be given out.

Local officials see gloomy consequences if the president’s plan goes through.

According to Mike Lewis, spokesman for Con. Terry Everett (D.-Enterprise), his boss voted to restore the program as it was.

&uot;Con. Everett understands the value of the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) to our local communities,&uot; he said. &uot;The Congressional Budget Resolution sets the overall Federal funding levels.&uot;

He said the resolution adds $1.1 billion to the CDBG program that should offset the predicted funding cuts requested by the president.

&uot;As you know, Congress takes the president’s

budget and changes it as it sees fit,&uot; he said. &uot;The U.S. Senate passed its version of the FY06 Budget Resolution on April 4,

2005 and both Houses are currently in conference to work out final differences.

Throughout the county, projects have including repairing housing, adding handicap accessibility to various places, improving senior services.

On Monday, Georgiana’s newest CDBG program goes into effect when a sewer rehab construction project begins.

City Clerk Barbara Clem said the program has been vital to many projects in Georgiana.

&uot;We used the grants for a paving project in the industrial project and also housing rehabilitation and sewer rehabilitation,&uot; he said.

&uot;If we had not had the grants, these projects would not have been.

Small towns like Georgiana could not do work like that without the CDBG grants.&uot;

In Greenville, Assistant City Clerk Sue Arnold said many projects have been completed using the grants.

&uot;You can’t really beat a grant that requires only a 10 percent local match,&uot; she said.

&uot;I have to agree with Barbara that here in Greenville, chances are that we would not have been able to do some of the things we done.&uot;

Arnold pointed out it is important to remember that when a grant application is made and funds are made available it isn’t a free money train.

&uot;There are applications that people have to complete and they have to be approved,&uot; she said.

&uot;They don’t just get the money and run.&uot;

Once Congress passes a budget, it will return to the president for his approval or his rejection.