Small cut in state budget spells huge loss for Alabama communities

Published 1:44 am Saturday, August 29, 2015

By Jim Byard, Jr.

“They’re cutting off their nose to spite their face,” is how one mayor described the Legislature’s proposed 54 percent funding cut to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

ADECA is a vital state partner that empowers Alabama’s 462 municipalities and 67 counties to move forward on projects that boost local economies and improve the lives of residents. The combination of local leadership with state partnership is a time-tested way to tackle urgent community needs.

In actual dollars, the budget cut proposed by the Legislature for ADECA is just over $5 million, about one-quarter of one percent of the nearly $2 billion general fund budget. But losing that small amount of money will have huge consequences for your community and many others across Alabama.

That $5 million allows ADECA to secure hundreds of millions of federal dollars that local governments use to pay for their community’s high-priority projects.

Take the Community Development Block Grant for example. Last year ADECA provided $31.4 million in federal CDBG funds to communities across the state. These projects resulted in improved water and sewer services, construction of senior and community centers, new or improved parks and trails, safer roads and neighborhoods, new or expanded businesses and, most important, the creation of hundreds of new jobs.

To obtain these funds for your community, ADECA must ensure the program is administered in accordance with all state and federal laws and regulations. We must establish a fair process for awarding grants, train grant recipients in legal compliance, provide monitoring and oversight and fully account for the funds. It will require $1.3 million to perform these administrative functions in the coming year. This is a tremendous return on investment: If we provide similar CDBG funding next year, local governments will receive $24 million in federal funds for every $1 million in state funds. Now that is an excellent return on state taxpayer dollars!

With Gov. Robert Bentley’s leadership, ADECA secured $64.1 million in special CDBG disaster relief funds that made a vital difference to communities recovering from the April 2011 tornado outbreak. Without ADECA’s experienced staff, this would not have been possible. If our modest funding needs are not met, we may not be prepared when the next disaster strikes.

The CDBG program is only one of many administered by ADECA, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, Recreation Programs and a dozen more. Every project we fund with these federal dollars was initiated by your city council or county commission. Local officials listen to your concerns, determine priorities and then look to ADECA for financial support.

Covington County received at least $1.1 million in grants awarded through ADECA in the past two years including funds to alleviate sewage and drainage problems in Florala and Red Level and to provide safe drinking water in Heath. A $99,292 grant enabled a local industry to expand and create 20 new jobs in Opp.

Without ADECA resources, many community needs would be unmet. These grants also mean more local jobs and more paychecks that help the overall community to prosper.

There is a way to solve the budget crisis facing the state. Governor Bentley has recommended a plan that would enable ADECA to continue providing vital resources to Alabama communities. The survival of these programs, and the future of residents across the state, will depend upon the decision your state Senator and state Representative makes over the next few weeks.

Jim Byard is director of the  Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.