By Pall Gudeirsson
“Come on and take a free ride”
(The Edgar Winter Group)
Is there such a thing as a free ride when it comes to seeking and procuring “contributions” from other governmental agencies? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Although grants are a tremendous fiscal resource that the city has prudently employed to fund a variety of capital projects and programs, there are subtleties that ought to be contemplated before hitchin’ a ride.
The city has a decentralized approach to grant management where our knowledgeable staff, commissions, federal lobbyists and elected leaders identify and seek appropriate grants to address specific community needs. Many vital projects and essential programs would not have been possible without these bequests; however, we must also be cognizant of the real costs.
Consideration for accepting grants should include a review of ongoing maintenance costs for capital projects, as well as the considerable cost of applying, administering, monitoring, auditing, and accounting for the grants. Often, “matching funds” are required which means that a funding source to equal the amount of the grant must be identified. Moreover, when accepting subsidies for programs, it should be recognized that ongoing grants will cease to exist at some point in time, which means that recurring costs will have to be absorbed by the city and programs will have to be eliminated or replaced with other funding sources. As an example, Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grants are accepted on an annual basis and fund a Sheriff’s deputy; however, our financial forecast assumes that the grant will disappear. Thus, when the grant goes away, the city would be responsible for funding the position. Are grants still free?
It is also important to stay aligned with our goals and priorities and not allow the acceptance of a grant to interfere with other established priorities, unless there is a conscious decision to do so. If other programs are shoved aside due to limited staff resources, more critical programs may not get completed. We should also avoid the “bridge to nowhere” concept where a project is built since there are funds available—and would be lost if not spent. An actual example in another city was the addition of a “roundabout” thoroughfare because there were grant funds available to do the project and, if not accepted, it would have been diverted elsewhere. Yup.
As always, my key point is not to spend the grant funds before actually receiving the bucks or having an agreement in place to reimburse the city for expended funds. Ka-ching.
Now, taking the green eyeshades off, let’s look at the benefits and positive outcomes of attaining grants. Indeed, the city has received over $35 million in grant funding over the past 10 years, which has been allocated to a series of worthy endeavors. We have been exceedingly successful in obtaining high profile and high dollar grants for a number of projects as listed in the table. Need I say more?
Additionally, two current and noteworthy grants include an OCTA grant of $176,000 to support the city’s Bicycle Corridor Improvement Program, which will help fund the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route signage, and parking improvements. This will provide bicycle parking and way finding signage through San Clemente. Us bicyclists will also be able to use our new iPhones (and other mobile devices) to use the Quick Response (QR) codes to locate local businesses and navigate bike routes through our bicycle friendly city. An additional $1 million will help fund the Avenida La Pata Off-Road Bike Trail.
There is an incalculable value in improving and maintaining our City infrastructure and providing vital programs to our citizenry. Are grants a free ride? No, but I do like the free bike rides.