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County gets aggressive on grants

County officials are getting aggressive in going after grants to supplement local funds for community projects.
Grady County Commissioners gave County Administrator Carlos Tobar the go-ahead to apply for two grants that could help fund improvements at Barber Park and road construction for the Tired Creek Lake project.
Commissioners met with Building & Grounds Superintendent Brian Harrison, Recreation Department Director Becky Bracewell, Archway Professional Sharon Liggett, and consulting engineer Stacy Watkins during a workshop prior to the regular meeting Tuesday.
Tobar briefed commissioners on a grant opportunity through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources that could be invested in a Barber Park safety improvement project that would include replacing lighting at the four original fields at the park as well as addressing traffic congestion and traffic flow in and around the park.
The county administrator has had preliminary discussions with city of Cairo officials and Grady Electric Membership Cooperative to partner with the county on the major park improvement project.
With the board’s approval Tuesday night and contingent on the participation of the city and Grady EMC the county will apply for a maximum of $100,000 through the 2013 Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The grant requires a minimum of 50 percent in matching funds for each selected project.
Tobar is anticipating the city and county would invest Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds to finance improvements to Longbranch Church Road including widening the street and constructing center median turn lane(s) at existing park entrances as well as turning lanes for existing park exits.
In addition to the road improvements Tobar is hopeful grant funds will help pay for replacing 30-year-old wooden poles and field lighting.
Recreation Department Director Becky Bracewell told commissioners that private citizens interested in donating money for park improvements have contacted her and expressed an interest in making donations if the money is stipulated for use at the park.
Commissioners agreed Tuesday to establish a restricted account and all money donated will be earmarked specifically for Barber Park lighting and restroom renovations.
Under Tobar’s plan the county will commit $50,000 from the county’s general fund this year for the lighting project and an additional $25,000 from the general fund next year as part of the county’s cash match for the grant application.
The deadline to apply for the grant is Nov. 27.
In the assessment of Building & Grounds Superintendent Harrison the county will be forced to do something about the lights and electrical service at the park in the next few years regardless. He recommended applying for the grant in hopes of obtaining additional money to defray the cost of the project.
Vice Chairman T.D. David asked if the county could reconsider applying if the city or Grady EMC did not commit to the project and Tobar indicated it would take a partnership between the city, county EMC and private donors to make the project a reality.
“It’s the ‘if’s’ that bother me,” Commissioner LaFaye Copeland said.
Commissioner Elwyn Childs suggested bringing in the state Department of Transportation and request a traffic light be installed at the intersection of Longbranch and Georgia Highway 112/93 North.
Consulting engineer Stacy Watkins agreed and suggested it could be made part of the grant application.
Archway Professional Sharon Liggett reminded commissioners that a work group focused on health & wellness has recommended adding alternate access to the park. Tobar acknowledged that is something that also needs to be considered as part of improving safety at the park.
Commissioners voted unanimously to authorize Tobar to apply for the grant and to commit the general fund and proposed SPLOST proceeds necessary for the project contingent on participation by the city, Grady EMC and private donors.
Commissioners also met with Watkins Tuesday night to discuss a Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank grant application that is due Oct. 31.
Watkins made county officials aware of this grant opportunity after learning about it recently while working with another government client that is seeking grants for a bridge replacement project.
According to Watkins, the county can apply for up to $4 million, but the most that individual governing agencies have been awarded is $1.5 million.
Watkins and Tobar are looking at the GTIB grant to help pay for roads accessing the new Tired Creek Lake.
Rough estimates for some road projects providing access to the lake, not including interior road projects, total approximately $3 million, according to Watkins.
“You are going to have to spend some money on roads at the lake so you might as well spend grant money rather than your own,” Watkins said Tuesday.
Commissioner Charles Norton questioned the need to identify specific road projects until the ideal locations for the lake amenities have been determined.
“Once we get an idea where the sandy beach and marina will go we will have a better idea where we need to invest in roads,” Norton said.
“If there are not going to be any amenities off State Park Road why would we spend money on that road now?” Norton added.
Vice Chairman David reminded the board that Watkins was only looking at major access roads and he suggested using preliminary engineering reports would give the county flexibility to adjust projects once the final engineering is complete and total costs known.
“We can hedge on what roads we plan to do, but we don’t want to miss this opportunity,” David said.
Commissioner Norton said he was not opposed to committing the SPLOST funds for the required match, but he was against committing to specific road projects until the location of lake amenities is finalized.
Tobar is recommending leveraging SPLOST funds currently on hand as well as new sales taxes to be collected over the next few years for lake road projects. The county administrator is also planning to use additional state funding for road improvements on the lake road projects.
“We can’t spend all of the SPLOST just on the lake, we’ve got other roads that are in bad shape,” Commissioner Childs commented.
Tobar concurred and indicated that is not in his plans.
The board was also unanimous on authorizing Tobar to apply for the GTIB grant.
“We still have some work to do, but we will get both of these grant applications sent in,” Tobar said.

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