DO IT YOURSELF
“Grants can be difficult, and research can be difficult, especially for tight application deadlines,” says Omie Ismael, co-founder and CEO of eCivis, which assists cities and counties in seeking grant and loan assistance for public projects.
“Public works has the broadest spectrum of projects in local government—everything from roads and bridges to waste-water and sewers to parks—and public works projects pull from many different funding agencies,” he says, including the federal departments of housing and urban development, transportation, interior, energy, and agriculture, as well as their state equivalents.
Each year about $480 billion is allocated to state and local governments for competitive grants and loans (which are awarded to agencies whose projects receive the highest rankings as determined by the funding agency), Ismael estimates. As the amount of federal funding available for local public works projects decreases, managers are increasingly relying on each other to learn creative ways to receive funding.
“Because of the need for dollars that are shrinking, you become acutely aware of all the organizations that provide grant funds,” Grammon says, decrying what he believes to be an increase in unfunded mandates.
Bostic agrees: “Rules and regulations are necessary, regardless of whether or not we can afford to pay them. But I've learned over the years it doesn't do any good to get mad, stomp my feet, and cuss.” Instead, he taps his contacts for insight into funding alternatives, such as in the case of the treatment plant upgrade. Others share his sentiments.
In July 2007 the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) launched the $250 million South Louisiana Submerged Roads Program to restore roads damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. New Orleans Public Works Director Robert Mendoza joined the city's Regional Planning Commission (RPC) in lobbying to create the program.
“I've really worked my contacts at the commission and DOTD to learn about as many grants as possible, and have used their help for the grants we've started to receive,” says Mendoza.
Ismael, of eCivis, encourages managers to plan ahead well before seeking the appropriate funds.
“A typical funding cycle is four to 12 weeks from solicitation to deadline, so it's hard to demonstrate your need effectively in such a short timeframe,” says Ismael of the time it takes to gather statistics, letters of support, and historical evidence that granting agencies look for.
He suggests including other departments within the city or county who might undertake part of the construction or engineering of the project. “Collaborative efforts have been given a lot more priority in grants,” Ismael explains. “It shows the agency's dedication to getting the project completed.”