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How To Spend $2.5M

City officials, GRO-Warren contemplate money

September 24, 2010
Once City of Warren officials found millions of dollars tagged for Warren included in the state’s 2008 budget wish list, they started working to make sure that money actually makes its way here. Among the items on the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program (RCAP) list was a $2.5 million line item for “infrastructure, construction and other related costs” that are part of the “Warren Downtown Economic Development Project,” according to Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Director of Communications Mark Shade. Having a $2.5 million line item connected to the city is good, but it’s just a start. “No grant has been made,” Shade said. “There are a lot of projects in there. It’s a wish list.” The RCAP list is sometimes much longer than the supply of money behind it, Mayor Mark Phillips said. So, there’s no guarantee that the money will ever make it to town. Just in case, City Council voted Monday to “continue the process to secure this money and prioritize the projects that are being contemplated,” Phillips said. City officials are hopeful. Phillips said DCED has given accolades to the city and grants administrator David Hildebrand. “We have a great track record... of not only being aggressive (in applying) but when awarded being able to put it to use,” Phillips said. “That allows us to get their ear and gives them a step on their due diligence.” Because the city has a record of finding appropriate projects, state officials don’t often have to relocate grants to other communities, he said. Once the money is allocated, the recipient must have a suitable project. If the original recipient can’t come up with one, DCED has to work to find a new location with a worthy project. If the money is awarded, the city will have to come up with $1 in matching funds for every dollar of grant funding it wants to use. The money can be used “for projects that are owned by the City of Warren,” Phillips said. “They cannot be used for private business.” Proposed projects that would be privately owned, like the hotel and conference center, an expansion of the geothermal system, and the education center, could not receive any of the funds, but funding secured for those projects could qualify as matching dollars, Phillips said. Because of the connections between those projects and GRO-Warren, Phillips, who is the unpaid president of that agency, did not vote on the RCAP issue during the council meeting. “I didn’t want any appearance or thought of any persuasiveness on my part,” he said. Phillips said he has heard questions in the past about the decisions city officials have made regarding spending grant dollars. “Why didn’t the city take this money and build a factory to provide jobs?” he said. “We’re not allowed to.” Still, Phillips said he has no doubt the city would find a good use for the money and have the dollars spent within 12 to 24 months. “There’s not a shortage of potential projects that the city could continue to develop that could utilize this $2.5 million grant,” he said. GRO-Warren Executive Director Chris Cheronis would like to see the money available for use in the downtown streetscape project. “We are currently working with the DCED on the details of how that money can be utilized,” she said. “It’s all a good thing. $2.5 million is a nice chunk of money.” There was some confusion about the source of the funds. RCAP is also an acronym for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. According to officials with RCAP Solutions, that organization gives assistance primarily to water quality and waste-water projects. With the recent announcement that a group was looking to develop a waste-water treatment plant on the west side of town for Marcellus Shale gas well drilling water, Rural Community Assistance Partnership dollars would seem to be a good fit. Those are not the dollars the city is talking about. According to RCAP Solutions officials, the city has not received any Rural Community Assistance Partnership funds. Phillips said the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program dollars could not be used for the waste-water treatment plant project.


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