Use them,

Published 5:03 pm Saturday, December 20, 2008

By Staff
don’t lose them
Many counties, cities and towns in eastern North Carolina rely on grant funding to pay all or some of the costs associated with projects such as providing water and sewer service and improving substandard housing.
Sometimes, a county, city or town is required to provide some money and/or in-kind services to receive a grant. Often, there is no “match” required. Many counties, cities and towns look at grants as “free” money because they do not raise that money by taxing their residents. They are right, to some degree.
Sometimes the source of a grant is a private organization that raises revenue by way of fundraising projects and contributions from donors. But when a grant comes from a state or federal agency to a local government or nonprofit entity, more than likely that revenue came from taxpayers at the state and/or federal level. When that is the case, it is not free money.
Granted, there are people who disagree with how some grant money derived from taxpayers is spent. They probably would not argue about spending money to provide sewer service to an area where homeowners face failing septic tanks. They also worry, and rightly so to some degree, that accepting grant funding means accepting conditions concerning how that money can be spent.
When it comes to grants, one thing to remember is that if one’s county, city or town does not pursue such funding, other local governments will go after that money. A county, city or town that fails to pursue grants is doing its residents and taxpayers a disservice. Grants allow local governments and nonprofit groups to provide programs and services that could not be provided otherwise, unless taxes were increased or fees charged.
Take the City of Washington for example. During its meeting earlier this month, the City Council dealt with six grant-related matters, including a $75,000 grant to help low-income families become first-time homeowners. Beaufort County received a similar grant. The city and county each have a nonprofit partner to help carry out the programs.
Belhaven is poised to benefit from a $495,910 grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center to install a new force main for its wastewater-collection system. The town has experienced major problems with its wastewater-collection system. Without the grant, the town likely would have to delay the project until it could find money to pay for it or abandon the project.
Back to the City of Washington. If the city chose to use city taxpayers’ money to replace grant funds to pay for some of its projects and programs, it would have to increase the property-tax rate by a penny for each $60,000 block of grant funding it replaced. Under that scenario, replacing $600,000 in grant funding with taxpayers’ money would mean a 10-cent jump in the tax rate.
Taxpayers in most counties, cities and towns in eastern North Carolina would not accept that, nor should they.
As long as grants are available under reasonable conditions, Washington, Belhaven and other area governments should seek them, accept them when offered and use them to better the lives of their residents.
If they don’t, that money will go elsewhere. It might as well come to this area.