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Grand Forks warily eyes once-dependable federal grant process

Concerns are mounting among Grand Forks leaders on federal grant funding—slashed in the Trump administration's 2018 budget, now on track for restoration by Congress, but still eyed warily as city leaders wonder what will happen next.

Those concerns were spotlighted on Monday evening. In a 6-0 vote, a city committee approved 2018 budget estimates for next year's federal grants, opening a window into city leaders' worries at what they see as unpredictability emanating from Washington, D.C.

Community Development Block Grant dollars, or CDBG for short, are disbursed by the federal government and allocated by the city to fund anti-poverty, disaster-relief and anti-blight programs. But this year's funds, normally delivered by March, have yet to arrive, and the 2018 budgetary cycle is now beginning late.

"Our program year is January to December. We used to reliably hear in February exactly how much we were getting, and then we would get our grant award in a month or so. So by the time the construction season started, we were signed, sealed and delivered and ready to go," said Meredith Richards, a Grand Forks city staffer who closely oversees the granting project. "This year, we didn't even hear until June how much we're getting, and we still don't have our grant award."

This year's $371,000 in funding is expected to be delivered this month. But it's late both on account of the bureaucratic delays at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Richards said, as well as budgetary uncertainty out of Washington, D.C.

The 2018 cycle is expected to move slowly as well.

"We will have an applicant workshop in the middle of November," Richards said. "That's the point at which we'll say our process looks pretty much the same, albeit pushed a couple months later in the year. (But) we may not follow our normal award process, (in which) you get your award document in March and you get the notice to proceed in April."

The council also voted 6-0 to make a $400,000 shift in this year's budget to keep abreast of changing federal regulations. The city is no longer allowed to keep so much of its funding in reserve in a housing loan fund program. As a result, it's moving the excess cash into a project for boiler and heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades at the Northlands Rescue Mission.

Both items require City Council backing for final approval. City Council President Dana Sande was absent from Monday's meeting.

"It's good to see that money come in, it's good to see what it goes towards, so it definitely would have an impact if it weren't there," City Council member Jeannie Mock said.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108