Grants are those pesky funding mechanisms that take your tax dollars, ship them to Washington, D.C., have them divided up by Congress in their “budgeting” methodology, then shipped back for a specific purpose two or three years later.
That is, if you had the best application for said funds – which includes saving local tax dollars for matching the federal or state portion of the grant.
And around and around the world goes.
The interesting thing about all of these so-called grants is two-fold: First, the amount of money that comes back into local coffers and, two, – just how far the programs go.
For instance, the $50 million in federal funds that is coming into Livingston Parish (specifically, the Amite River Flood Basin) for use in “cleaning” and weir repair.
Before this goes further, to be clear, the money is needed and necessary to help maintain the flood basin. In fact, all grant money is, in some way, shape, or form, necessary.
The work done by Livingston Parish to pull all of this together in the wake of the Great Flood of 2016 cannot be ignored.
However, the project that is being funded has not been undertaken since the 1950s.
How often should it be done? Probably once every decade.
With regard to roads and smaller drainage projects, the parish held off on spending money in 2017 to hoard cash to match grants, increasing their ranking in the application process.
The result was an increase of $8 million per year, in 2018 and 2019, to conquer more road and drainage needs.
That’s $16 million, on top of the $1.5 million or so the parish has to spend on its road overlay program per year.
The rest of the road program funds go toward road bonds, which were issued in 2006 and will be paid off in 2021.
Bonds are another funding mechanism wherein governmental income or increased revenue in taxes is used to pay debt for an initial payout.
The initial payout for the parish on roads was $50 million in 2006, which was estimated to cover 50 percent of the roads in Livingston Parish.
Eventually, the bond payments outweighed the interest, which ate into the road funds and here Livingston Parish sits – with some roads having never been overlaid and those that were taken care of a decade ago are now in disrepair.
See the pattern?
For the most part, grants - or their debt-inducing counterparts in bond issuances – fill funding gaps for infrastructure projects, but they do not provide long-term structure to make sure that these projects take root and hold.
Once those road bonds are paid off, the parish then will have $6 million per year to spend on road overlay. Now, that’s mostly sales tax revenue.
So much of the new retail coming to Livingston Parish will help, but it takes five or more years to see a significant jump – $6 million per year, $100 million (in 2006 roadways and dollars) to complete a full overlay of roads, a figure that doesn’t include large-scale drainage projects or improvements and/or widening (Buddy Ellis, Dunn Roads for example), and you start to see the problem.
The grant process makes sense, in a way, requiring responsibility on the local application end to make sure that the funds are being spent wisely and municipalities have some skin in the game, but it requires local saving – not spending – and reliance on a higher funding power.
Which is backward.