Bringing the Economy Home

Idaho Communities Compete For Dollars As Grant Funds Drop

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Fairfield, Id. hopes to receive federal grant funds to improve the town water system.

Twin Falls needs to upgrade its water system to meet the demands of the new Chobani Yogurt plant.  Fairfield needs a new pump, because its water pressure is so low that bacteria builds up in its pipes.  They’re just two of the communities applying for a decreasing pool of federal grant funding.

For Idaho cities and counties, one effect of the recession is this: funding for the Idaho Community Development Block Grant Program has fallen by a quarter over the last two years.  That’s according to Dennis Porter, a Community Development Manager with the Idaho Department of Commerce.

Porter says the program has about $10 million available this year.  The Idaho Economic Advisory Council will consider $8.8 million in funding requests at its meeting tomorrow.  Because this is only the first of four rounds of applications the council will consider this year, Porter says, it’s clear demand for funds will outstrip availability.  “We run into more demand than dollars,” he says.

Carleen Herring of the Region IV Development Association says the incremental loss of available grant funds can wind up putting Idaho towns and counties in a bind.  “The number of communities needing to upgrade their infrastructure remains pretty constant,” she says.  “Some of them just don’t make the cut because there’s not enough funding to go around.  They may have a critical project, but someone else may have a greater need in a particular cycle.”

Moreover, Herring says, smaller and less affluent communities find themselves having a harder time making the cut.  That’s because the Department of Commerce considers a community’s ability to share in the cost of a proposed project when it makes funding decisions.  “The smaller communities aren’t able to commit nearly the same share as larger communities,” Herring explains, “so it’s getting harder for the small communities to compete effectively.”

The current applications from cities and counties include a $500,000 request from the City of Twin Falls to fund infrastructure improvements related to Agro-Farma, Inc.’s Chobani Yogurt plant.  Another application comes from the City of Fairfield, population 400, to fund water system upgrades.  As StateImpact reported late last year, the town’s water pressure is sufficiently low that bacteria builds up in pipes and distribution lines.  Fairfield proposes to install a new well and pipes, among other changes.

In addition to the cutback in federal Community Development Block Grant Program funds, the state’s allocation for Idaho’s Rural Development Initiative has also dropped in recent years.  Its original annual budget, under former Governor Dirk Kempthorne, was $3.4 million.  This year, it’s $450,000.  The Legislature has allocated more funding for next fiscal year.  In 2013, it will rise to $750,000.


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