Federal grants help small towns with infrastructure

by Aim Admin | Jun 1, 2017 | LegislatorsMediaMembers

Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

(This is part of an ongoing series on the positive impacts federal community development funds have on local communities.)

When Waterloo undertook a major storm water project, the town received funding from the federal Community Development Block Grant, a program “critical to small communities like ours,” Town Manager Tena Woenker said.

“We need to provide safe sidewalks and clean neighborhoods, good water and sewer infrastructure,” Woenker said. “And we need the assistance of grants or low-interest financing because we don’t have the population to support some of those expensive infrastructure pieces.”

The $500,000 grant helped the town improve infrastructure servicing a major manufacturing facility, and install storm water lines in two older neighborhoods. Those types of projects aren’t easy tasks for any community of any size, Woenker said.

“It is our responsibility to be fiscally responsible and plan for the future,” she said. “Sometimes despite all the saving we can do, we have to have some help.”

Waterloo’s population is stable, but its small size means it doesn’t receive the revenue of a larger city. Yet, some projects, such as water infrastructure and paving, cost the same regardless of population size.

“We only have 2,000 people, and our property values tend to be a little bit lower than bigger cities,” Woenker said. “Because of that, we don’t generate the revenue we need to pay for a water tower, for example. A water tower in a city of 20,000 is not much more expensive than a water tower for 2,000 people.”

Small communities apply for Community Development Block Grant funds through the state. Reporting standards are rigorous, and the state expects applications communities submit to be of high quality, she said.

“To have that professionalism as they are doling out the money ensures taxpayer investments are getting a great reward,” Woenker said. “It’s not just about throwing money at projects. We’re building great quality in our community.”

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