I’ll start with the good news: In the last five years the City of Atchison has received nearly $9 million in outside grant funding.
Those grants have helped fund major highway maintenance, new playgrounds and trails, sidewalk replacements in Atchison’s oldest neighborhoods, and gap financing programs for local small businesses.
Grant chasing is a big part of how the City works to create value in our community, but it’s important that the grants we pursue match up with local priorities.
Several years ago, the City’s Economic Development Advisory Group (EDAG) decided they wanted to focus on growing the local culture of entrepreneurship and small business development. From there, the City applied to become an Entrepreneurship Community (E-Community) through a statewide entrepreneurship support organization called NetWork Kansas.
Two years later, we’ve closed 18 gap-financing loans for small business startups, expansions, and acquisitions in the local community totaling more than $850,000.
Similarly, the City Commission has identified sidewalk investment as a priority for several years now. City staff identified a variety of grant programs as a good fit for sidewalk investment and went to work writing grant applications. Six different grant awards totaling just less than $2.5 million in sidewalk projects have either been constructed in the last five years or will be constructed by the end of 2019.
Now for the bad news: Grant chasing means losing a little bit of control.
Grant programs, especially those sponsored by the federal government, come with a seemingly endless number of strings attached. Often those strings conflict with local preference.
Here’s one example: This spring the City will begin construction of two federally funded sidewalk corridor projects. Second Street — Commercial to Division — and South Fifth — Park to U streets — should both begin construction in the next 6 to 8 weeks.
Both corridors feature some existing brick sidewalks of varying quality and condition. Citing compliance concerns with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), federal projects can’t restore or rebuild traditional brick sidewalks. As a result, both projects will remove all existing brick sidewalks and replace them with concrete. Whether we wanted to keep the brick or not, that’s not a choice we’re allowed to make.
Unfortunately, if we want their money, we must play by their rules, and neither project happens without the federal funding.
The other drawback when trying to supplement the local budget with outside grants is that not every local priority aligns with available grant programs.
Every resident would like to have nice, smooth streets on which to drive. Improved code enforcement has been cited by many surveyed Atchison residents as a high priority.
Although we will work to find solutions for both issues, our needs and wants don’t always match up with available grant funding. This means we must be strategic when picking and choosing which projects and grants can help our city, while also trying to get the most bang for our local tax dollars.
While imperfect, strategic grant chasing will continue to be a critical part of the City of Atchison’s efforts to create value for our community.
– Justin Pregont