All Federal grants, such as those discussed below, are our tax dollars. By now, all of us should know there is no free lunch. The fundamental question is this: does the government have the constitutional authority to take money from taxpayers and then give it to someone else for purposes that benefit the government’s agenda? This question wouldn’t be asked if we believed the government and its’ citizens shared the same goals. But the government is less and less the people’s agent. It is more and more the representative of entrenched bureaucracies and interest groups. Federal, state and various other organizations funnel money to those who live on grants and use the money to encourage specific behaviors by citizens. It is even used to influence and bypass voters. Many grant recipients are often no more than lobbying groups attempting to cajole, bluff, buy, intimidate or blackmail Americans into voting for and accepting a big government vision.
In a recent article , we began to explain what is occurring in Billings, MT. There was a grant application made to the Partnership for Sustainable Communities by the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). It appears they did not get the “Livable Communities” grant this year (which may be a result of the last minute presentation by Yellowstone Business Partnership (YBP) to the MPO in Billings). According to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), this grant would “impose an urban Utopian fantasy through an unprecedented intrusion of the Federal Government into shaping local government.” If this grant becomes reality, locally elected officials will lose power and decision making ability. They will no longer be able to represent or act on behalf of their local constituents. Along with grant money will come an overwhelming amount of regulations and guidelines. It is unlikely that YBP and the Partnership for Sustainable Communities will be tardy with their presentation next time. They will certainly try again and may succeed if the people in Yellowstone County don’t speak up.
The grants offered through the “Livable Communities” program aim to impose a Washington based, central planning model on the recipient localities across the country. This program is designed to steer local communities and regions toward high density, public transit oriented neighborhoods that concentrate large numbers of people into small geographic areas connected by train, bus, bicycle and walking paths. YBP has already developed a transportation co-op called LINX and is trying to implement its’ active control over the regions’ public transportation. Billings has also constructed walking/biking trails that were originally funded with grants from the Montana Department of Transportation (CTEP funding) and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – Recreational Trail Grants. The County Commissioners are struggling to find an appropriate source of funding for maintenance of these trails. Billings citizens have complained that snow cleaning on the trails seems to take precedence over roads. The crux of the debate is whether or not to use gas tax revenue or money from the general fund to keep the walking/biking trails in operation. This is an example of another problem with grants. The money looks good, everyone wants nice infrastructure, but after the grant money runs out, how does a community pay for the mandated requirements?
Another problematic and prevalent grant program is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that began almost fifty years ago during the “Great Society” urban aid efforts. These grants were intended to fight poverty. However, the program has proven to be a wasteful mess. Sweet Grass County and the City of Big Timber are feeding at this trough (below you can verify the complete record of the previous BT City Council Grant Frenzy). The se grants are viewed as additional revenue for the City and County. The result is increased dependence on Federal dollars, increased spending, more municipal employees, fluctuations in revenue and a reduction in tax raising effort. It is up to us at a local level to tell our elected officials to stop using every social-engineering grant that might be available to our City and County. Sooner or later, the conditions attached to that money will transform the City and County into the complete mess described above as an urban/suburban Utopian fantasy. We need to use only those grants that are essential.
What ever happened to the idea of SAVING money for a rainy day? We are aware that local governments have liquidity requirements. The local government in our area is required to have a 20% back up fund. But considering the precarious tax-revenue situation in Sweetgrass County, is 20% enough to see us through a steep decline in revenue? What if the mine became less profitable or even stopped operation? Why not grow more in the private sector and increase the tax base in a healthy way? Does government have to spend every cent it gets from taxpayers and then go into debt spending more? Is this the method for long-term prosperity?
These grant programs are nothing short of national social welfare. Grant money is not free money and it is often a waste of our federal tax dollars. Our nation is hemorrhaging money and yet, the list of grants and special interest funding is endless. Do you disagree? Then take a look at the latest spending bill that almost made its’ way into law. And who stopped it from becoming law? People like you and I who sent a message to Washington. The first place we can control this is at the local level which is why we need to pay attention to which grants our elected officials are considering and whether the agencies providing those grants have a self-serving political purpose and a liberty destroying agenda.
As humans, it is difficult for us to refuse money. But if we continue to say YES to everything that looks like a handout and YES to every ‘do-good’ bundle of money, we will lose something vital to the human spirit and specially precious to the citizens of Sweet Grass County: independence.
These are all verbatim notes taken from the minutes of City Council meetings that occurred between Jan.2006 and Dec. 2009. Comments in parenthesis are for clarification and were not part of the notes.
January 3, 2006: Mayor Taylor reported she wanted to apply for an Urban Forestry Grant of $150 which requires a 35% match from the City. The trees will be placed around the City Hall parking lot.
January 16, 2006: She (Diana Taylor) will be attending the Mayor’s Academy in Bozeman on February 1-3, 2006. The entire Academy is funded through a private grant.
Mayor Taylor and Councilman Thomas met with Randal Popelka, aide to Senator Conrad Burns on Thursday, January 2, 2006. Mr. Popelka advised there are three types of grants available. STAG grants are geared toward wastewater projects, federal highway dollars are available with 80% being federal and a 20% local match, and EDI grants which are geared toward libraries and museums. He indicated EDI grants are very competitive and range between $200,000 and $400,000. Considerations for this money could have been the library, Moose building, or City/County complex. Councilman Thomas would like to explore a City/County Complex. The four block McLeod Street renovation was considered to be the project most likely to qualify for highway dollars. A grant form had been sent for and Mayor Taylor will fill it out and see what happens.
February 6, 2006: In December 2005, Councilmembers approved Mayor Taylor submitting a Letter of Intent to the Main Street Program. Diana related there is no project funding attached to the program. They assist in finding available grants, and defining how you want your project to progress.
Mayor Taylor reported she filled out the grant form from Senator Burn’s office, and has sent it in.
February 21, 2006: (There was discussion about the use of the Sewer Bond money but I will leave it out since it is not a grant)
Mayor Taylor advised the Council she is making an Arbor Day Proclamation, in conjunction with receiving the tree grant.
March 6, 2006: (Page Dringman advised Big Timber needs to amend the Master Plan to conform to the mandatory elements of a Growth Policy. Although it is policy and not regulatory, most funding sources require it.)
April 17, 2006: Mayor Taylor brought up Senator Max Baucus’s interest in wind generation and a new tax incentive program called CREB, Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. She stated Sweet Grass County has signed on with Matney-Frantz Engineering, to prepare a grant application. Councilwoman Coffey-Avey moved to join with Sweet Grass County in submitting the CREB application. (Motion carried) The City will reimburse the County a portion of the $500 grant application fee.
June 19, 2006: Mayor Taylor related she spoke about the Stene Park idea with Jeff Gamble at the MSU For a Day event……. Part of the cost can be paid for with grants that are in the works at the present time.
July 3, 2006: Mayor Taylor informed the Council she was contacted by Senator Conrad Burns’s office and that $150,000 in Historic Preservation Funds, requested by the Big Timber Carnegie Library, has been earmarked as such and gone into committee…..
She also noted the grant she submitted for federal highway funds, to redo four blocks of McLeod Street, is in the works. One to two million dollars is scheduled to be earmarked by the middle of July. Notification will happen in 2007.
October 16, 2006: Sarah Mayer spoke of the Brown Fields Assessment Assistance program, offered through the Environmental Protection Agency, as it regards contamination that may or may not be present at the Stene property. The assessment is part of a feasibility study to determine if this site is suitable for reclamation. Dornix Park Citizen’s Committee asked Council approval for Mayor Taylor to sign the application they filled out for financial assistance in this endeavor.
City Attorney Frazier also mentioned he received a card from Senator Conrad Burns’ office stating the Main Street grant mayor Taylor submitted has been approved. The Mayor will look into it further.
November 6, 2006: The mayor mentioned a Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) meeting is to be held in Helena on November 21, 2006 from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Mayor Taylor asked if any Councilmembers could attend.
December 4, 2006: Mayor Taylor spoke about the Clean Renewable Energy Bonds meeting she attended this afternoon. The Internal Revenue Service has given the City of Big Timber bonding authority for $902,895 and the County received authority for $1,788,465. Neither the City or the County has decided if they will issue bonds to fund wind energy machines.
Senator Baucus is working to secure grant monies to help these entities with some of the start up cost.
SGHS was awarded a Learn and Serve grant from the Department of Public Instruction, and feel they can assist in the effort to develop Dornix Park as a means of learning about serving your community. The grant award is $9,000 per year for three years.
December 18, 2006: Councilwoman Coffey-Avey moved to authorize Mayor Taylor to secure a Line of Credit to cover any shortfalls the Carnegie Renovation Project might incur.
January 2, 2007: Montana Senator Max Baucus is looking into the availability of grant money to help defray some of the up front costs.
Mayor Taylor reported Chris Mehus told her about Horizons, a program sponsored by the Minnesota based Northwest Area foundation. Horizons goal is to combat poverty and stagnation in small towns, and re-instill small town pride.
January 16, 2007: Mayor Taylor reported on the Horizons meeting she attended, along with Councilmen Warwick and Thomas. ….. (They used the Delphi technique to create a “vision”.)….. After a vision is chosen the group applies for a $10,000 grant to help facilitate their “vision”.
March 2, 2007: Tom Biglen commented the Mission Statement for Dornix Park is for restoration and remediation……. He said they are committed to making the park happen without tax dollars.
Discussion continued regarding access to the site and increased insurance costs.
March 19, 2007: The 1999 Hard Rock Mine Impact Plan Amendment for East Boulder Mine provides for Stillwater Mine contributing a proportionate share (13.3%) of either a sports complex or improvements to the City Park as a grant. That share is $53,200. (Although, the HRMB stated the amount owing to Big Timber was $53,992.68. Where is the $792.68?) Mayor Taylor requested adjustment of the Impact Plan to include the alternative development of a new park.
Big Timber has applied for and received Arbor Day grants in the past. Mayor Taylor applied for a 2007 grant of $150. Tree Cities can apply for $400.
She (Page Dringman) also stated having an updated Impact Plan, or lack thereof, can be a deciding factor to most granting agencies.
Councilman Warwick Noted the poor condition of the sidewalks in the McLeod Street business district. He asked that the Council consider patching some of the worst spots. Discussion was held. Mayor Taylor will look into using CTEP funds for this, and intends to ask the County to donate their CTEP funds as well.
April 2, 2007: (This is part of the response to a request from CORA to use some of the Stillwater Impact Funds.) The SMC grant has already been designated for Dornix Park but the City will try to contribute some funding to the grass sod effort. Clerk/Treasurer McPherson remarked the City could possibly find around $4,000 but will need to take a closer look at the budgets.
May 21, 2007: John Beaudry presented the City of Big Timber with a check for $53,200, which was the grant amount for Parks and Recreation noted in the 1999 Hard Rock Mine Impact Statement that was amended for use at Dornix Park. (Remember that the amount authorized by the Hard Rock Mining Board was $53,992.68. What happened with the difference?)
Discussion continued regarding water and sewer Preliminary Engineering Reports, which facilitate formation of a Capital Improvements Plan. There are funds available from TSEP, in the form of a dollar for dollar match, for PERs, and CDBG may have grant money available for development of a revised Capital Improvements Plan.
July 2, 2007: Sally Owen-Still, representing the Dornix Park Citizens Committee, addressed several of the concerns Councilmembers raised at the last meeting. At the Jun 18, 2007 meeting, the group requested use of the money SMC donated to the City for Parks and Recreation. Their plan for those dollars is to hire CTA Architects to develop a Master Plan for Dornix Park.
Sally stated funding to help with maintenance of the park will be done through establishment of a Friends of Dornix Park group, and fund raising efforts through that group.
Al Buerkle mentioned the three year Service Learning grant Sweet Grass County High School received is directly tied to this project.
September 4, 2007: Mike Costanti, of Matney-Frantz Engineering, told Mayor Taylor his firm is in the process of determining where the wind generators for the CREB program will be located and doing some wind mapping.
Public Works Director Rick Gibby and Mayor Taylor met with Chad Hanson and Bill Lloyd of Great West Engineering to discuss CTEP issues. Mr Lloyd is familiar with CTEP, but not the Safe Routes to School program, which he will familiarize himself with. The group is trying to plan a sidewalk project to take place during the construction of Busha Street next summer.
September 17, 2007: Lana asked the Council if they wanted her office to administer the CTEP and Safe Routes to School grants or if they were going to do it themselves. On the upcoming CTEP project City and County funds will be joined and she will be administering the County portion. She offered to administer the City’s portion as well. Councilmembers agreed it would streamline things to have just one administrator.
Mayor Taylor reported on CTEP and Safe Routes to School funding and the meeting she and Public Works Director, Rick Gibby, had with Bill Lloyd and Chad Hanson from Great West Engineering.
Bill Frazier commented the Montana Arts Council through the National Endowment for the Arts, bestowed a $1,000 Cultural Excellence award to the Big Timber Mural Project.
Councilwoman Coffey-Avey reported the Horizon’s program is holding a Partnership Summit through the Montana State university Extension Service. …………Crystal also commented an additional $15,000 grant may be available from the Northwest Area Foundation, which was born from the Great Northern Railway Company. The Big Timber group has gone through all the steps required to be eligible for the additional money.
November 5, 2007: Mayor Taylor stated as part of the Community Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP) application for sidewalk construction, the City must hold a hearing for public input regarding the project.
November 19, 2007: Mayor Taylor opened the Community Transportation Enhancement Program public hearing at 7:00PM. No one from the public was available to comment, and no letters were received prior to the hearing. Mayor Taylor closed the hearing at 7:10PM.
December 3, 2007: Mayor Taylor has the due diligence documentation ready to send to Jason Knopp at Great West Engineering, for attachment with the CTEP application. ……Councilwoman Coffey-Avey moved to go forward with submitting the application for a CTEP grant.
Over the past two years, Mayor Taylor has submitted grants to the senate finance committee for Federal Transportation Funds to renovate McLeod Street from 1st Avenue to 4th Avenue.
March 3, 2008: Mayor Taylor advised that, Bill Lloyd, engineer with Great West Engineering, stated his firm can prepare a Capital Improvements Plan for Streets for approximately $30,000. This CIP would form the basis for a street mill levy election. CDBG has grant funds available that will cover half of that cost. Mayor Taylor asked council approval for Great West Engineering to begin the application process for the CDBG grant. Coucilwoman Minette moved to approve allowing Great West Engineering to move ahead with the CDBG grant application.
Mayor Taylor advised she has continued communication with Senator Max Baucus’s office regarding Federal Transportation Funding for the McLeod Street renovation grant. She is making application for up to three million dollars to renovate four blocks of McLeod Street, from the Railroad Right of Way north of US 10 to the Carnegie Public Library, in its entirety.
On March 6, 2008, Jason Knopf, of Great West Engineering, will meet with Mayor Taylor and Public Works Director Gibby to review the CTEP and Safe Routes to School sidewalk project, along with the Busha Street project. The concrete work for these two projects is being bid together for a greater cost savings. Engineering for these projects is about 85% complete. If Big Timber is awarded the CTEP and Safe Routes to School grants, the out of pocket cost for the sidewalk project will only be $14,000.
March 17, 2008: Councilmembers made a decision to donate $2,000 to MANAIA, a youth empowerment program focusing on teenagers from 14-18 years old. Councilwoman Coffey-Avey informed the group the three day session scheduled for April 25-27, will cost $6,000. Sweet Grass county offered to donate $1,000 which was later upped to $2,000. District Court, the Sweet Grass County Sheriff’s office and the Sweet Grass Health and Wellness Foundation have offered to donate $500 apiece, and the Horizon’s group obtained a $1,500 grant from the Montana community Foundation for a total of $6,500.
We will know by the end of April whether we were successful with the Safe Routes to School grant and CTEP grant, at which time the bid will be let.
At the March 3, 2008 meeting, Mayor Taylor mentioned Great West Engineering thought they could put together a Capital Improvements Plan for streets for approximately $30,000. CDBG has grant funding for half that amount. If the City’s grant application is successful they would need to provide the additional $15,000.
April 7, 2008: Floating islands are not an approved technology with DEQ and the company (Floating Islands International) is in the process of applying for grants to further study the Wastewater application. They are looking for a City that will commit to host a two year pilot project.
Councilwoman Coffey-Avey moved to approve RESOLUTION #888-A RESOLUTION TO SUBMIT A 2008 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT APPLICATION AND COMMIT MATCHING FUNDS.
Councilwoman Minette moved to approve a $2,000 donation to MANAIA to help fund a weekend camp geared toward youth Empowerment.
June 16, 2008: She (Mayor Taylor) related Dornix Park Citizen’s Committee received a Stillwater Mining Company grant of $5,000 toward the entry pavilion and a mower for trails in the park.
On that same note, The Sweet Grass conservation District received a $15,000 grant to study the effects of a berm on Dornix Park property, and its’ relation to changes in the rivers’ course. ……..Once the study is completed, additional grant money is available to help with any project concerning the berm.
July 7, 2008: The City Council was recently notified the CDBG matching grant application they submitted for an updated capital Improvements Plan was approved. Great West Engineering will develop a CIP for water, sewer, and streets. When the CIP is complete the City Council may ask the voters to approve a voted levy for street repair and replacement.
Dornix Park committee is investigating available grant possibilities. Page suggested there may be Brown Fields dollars to help create wetlands.
July 21,2008: DPCC was awarded a $5,000 grant from Stillwater Mining Company to facilitate work on the trail system as well as funding an entrance sign that has since been designed by architect, Sally Gingras. They were also awarded a $15,000 grant from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to study the effect of an existing berm on the course of the Boulder River channel.
September 2, 2008: Councilwoman Coffey-Avey directed the Council’s attention to the brochure compiled by MSU Extension Service concerning the Horizon program in Big Timber. With the completion of the Horizon group’s final report to the Northwest Area Foundation, sponsor of the horizon program, the local group was awarded an $8,500 grant which they will use in the area of poverty reduction.
December 15, 2008: Councilwoman Coffey-Avey related she received a letter from Randall Popelka offering his services as an advocate for the City in securing project funding. His fees would be success based.
January 19, 2009: Mayor Taylor commented she would like the Council’s approval to seek a grant for developing an updated Water Source Protection Plan, as advised by Great West Engineering in their Preliminary Engineering Report for the water system. An updated plan would be approximately $20,000.
She also informed the Council she is working on a Safe Routes to School application, which requires a safety route plan for the entire city, and will cost $1,000 for the Engineer’s submission of the application. The grant provides $50,000 per year with no matching funds required.
February 2, 2009: Big Timber has street maintenance and construction needs of $4,580,000. Per initiative 105, Big Timber does not have current or future tax authority to fund their share of any federal grant for this size need.
March 16, 2009: Mayor Taylor reported that she has sent out several appropriations requests as well as requests for stimulus monies.
April 6, 2009: Dan (Tronrud) asked Kerry O’Connell, DES Coordinator, to apply for a COPS grant to fund a new officer for 3 years. Dan will fund one of the new officers that were recently hired. If it is granted the County has to pick up the officer’s salary starting the 4th year, or else pay back the grant money.
April 6, 2009: In anticipation of receiving approximately $41,000 dollars in Stimulus funding, Public Works has been soliciting bids for overlaying two blocks of Anderson Street from US 10 to 3rd Avenue. ……..They currently have one bid of $49,800 which would require the City to fund a portion of the project. They will also look into the Federal requirements attached to using Federal funding for a Stimulus project.
The Senators (Baucus and Tester) advised that both TSEP and CDBG have Stimulus funding available for these type projects. (Dornix Park)
A representative from Senator Testor’s office was in Big Timber to speak with Mayor Taylor about three appropriations requests she submitted: McLeod Street renovation, wind generation at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and Dornix Park.
The senator’s office sends applications to Montana cities and towns so they can request project funding…… Qualifying projects are then reviewed by the President’s office and may be then added to the budget.
April 6, 2009: She (Mayor Taylor) stressed that the Friends of the Library organization existed for the sole purpose of providing the library with supplementary funding to cover items the City cannot provide.
April 20, 2009: She (Mayor Taylor) remarked DNRC has planning grants available, on of which is for Wastewater pilot projects. Councilmembers have discussed floating islands in the past, and Floating Islands International has a bead on grant money that could be used as any match required by DNRC, should the Council decide to pursue this avenue.
May 4, 2009: Dan (Tronrud) remarked the County is working on budgets at this time. he is waiting to hear about whether he will receive a COPS grant or not. He is also waiting for some action of HB 2 which would seriously restrict funding for mental health and addictive disorders programs.
The City has been approached with offers from Trout Unlimited to assist in cleanup efforts, but the City needs to be able to prove sole ownership before applying for any grants to defray cleanup costs. (Historic dump site at the end of East Yellowstone Ave.)
Mayor Taylor advised DNRC has grant funding available for technical studies surrounding pilot projects. The City has a facility that could be used, including a control area for a floating island pilot project. Diana asked if the City can find $10,000 would the Council be interested in having Floating Islands International try to find another $10,000 as well, to fund a pilot project study? She noted the Source Water protection Plan grant application only required $10,000 of an available $20,000 which would allow for the additional $10,000 needed for this project.
The City Clerk notified the Council there were funds leftover from the Capital Improvements Grant and stated CDBG wanted to know if there were any other projects the City wanted to use it for or if they wanted to give the remainder back for another city to use? Mayor Taylor will confer with City Engineer Chad Hanson.
May 18, 2009: Mayor Taylor reported that we didn’t get the Safe routes to School grant.
June 15,2009: There are some state stimulus funds coming through for alternative energy projects. They thought Big Timber would be a good demo project. (about wind machines)
Mayor Taylor reported the City was approved to receive a $10,000 grant from DNRC to facilitate an updated Source Water Protection Plan. She had originally applied for $20,000 and was advised that if more money became available DNRC would reconsider the additional $10,000. The $10,000 grant is sufficient to cover the cost of the Source Water Protection Plan. The other $10,000 would have been slated for a Needs Assessment Survey, which the Council decided against doing.
July 6, 2009: Mayor Taylor received word the City will receive $40,491 as a result of the Montana Recovery Act.
Planning Director Page Dringman reported Johnson Controls recently gave a presentation to the Sweet Grass County Commissioners and others regarding Energy Performance Contracting. While EPC is not an outcome of the federal stimulus fund, it is a tool to assist local governments in pursuing stimulus money and other funding to facilitate energy conservation projects that provide cost savings at least equivalent to the cost of the study.
Kerry O’Connell advised the Council that the County Commissioners are in the process of updating their Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan, and asked the Council to review and note anything they want to modify. ….. There is also a special grant that goes along with this plan, including both natural and/or man made disasters.
October 19, 2009: A group of people, including Sally Owen-Still, Paul Gilbert, Warren Kellog, and Dan Rostad, was present to discuss Dornix Park Grants. In 2008, DPCC received a $15,000 grant to study to existing berm and how it affects the flow of the Boulder River.
Paul Gilbert, chairman of the Sweet Grass County Conservation District, explained what a conservation district is about…. Funding comes from 1.5 mills levied against properties within the district. Generally, funding is inadequate so they rely on grants and other funding sources. …….. Sweet Grass Conservation District has agreed to sponsor a grant to Dornix Park Citizens Committee through DNRC to move the berm and effluent water study to a point where the project will be ready for implementation and final design. ……. Grant funding is to bring an engineering firm in to articulate conceptual design and cost estimate which will prepare DPCC for implementation and final design.
In may of 2010, there is a grant program available called the Renewable Resource and Development Grant which uses coal tax funds to be provided to local communities for restoration projects.
There is an allocated amount of money ($35,000,000) that can be authorized in this region through the Corps of Engineers and this group is trying to get in early. In order to get this funding a procedure has to be followed and that is what Paul, Warren and Dan were here to help with.
November 16, 2009: Chris Mehus, representative for Beartooth RC&D, a local non-profit economic development organization (they secure grants) serving the counties of Sweet Grass, Stillwater, Yellowstone, Big Horn and Carbon presented Councilmembers with their current brochure……… The goal is to promote a strong, healthy economy as well as promote social conditions. Each year the County signs a Memorandum of Understanding with BRC&D, pays all fees and signs all related documents. The year end report is expected out in January or February 2010.
December 7, 2009: (re: old dump site) A representative of DNRC has advised Mayor Taylor that proof of ownership will be required in order to be eligible for federal grants.