GALLIPOLIS — Ohio Public Work Commission grants are coming to Gallia in the form of $617,104 to be used for county and village infrastructure projects.
Out of OPWC District 15 small governments program, Gallipolis will be receiving $187,227 for an improvement project. Rio Grande will receive from the district funds program $30,000 for street reconstruction alongside the Gallia Engineer’s Office $399,877 for Gallia road improvements in 2018.
Projects that applied for grant funding but did not score high enough for consideration included Morgan Township for Wilder Road improvements, Clay Township for Ann Drive resurfacing efforts and Gallia County’s Green Township Sanitary Sewer Improvements Phase II.
The OPWC grant funding was the center of a dispute between the Gallia Engineer and Gallia Commissioners in late October last year. The commissioners said by limiting the engineer’s request to apply for funding from $650,000 to roughly $400,000, it would potentially leave funds open for other Gallia projects such as the sewer project.
“The OPWC District 15, which includes Gallia County, is made up of 11 counties across southern Ohio,” said Gallia Engineer Brett Boothe during the meeting in question. “The OPWC District 15 receives an allocation of funds thanks to legislation passed by a statewide vote. The OPWC District 15 district funds available for 2017 are nearly $5.5 million. These grant dollars are given to entities within the district using a competitive scoring sheet developed by District 15 for ranking projects. The highest ranking projects regardless of the entity in the 11 county region will receive grant funding. If a project scores well, then the project has a good chance of receiving grant funding, else if the project does not score well, funding chances are limited.”
“Always in the past it has been looked at what benefits the county overall,” said Commissioner Harold Montgomery previously regarding county commissioner decisions. ”While recognizing the importance of paving, we’re under findings and orders (by the Ohio EPA) for sewer (improvements) in the county and our only source of funding (for OPWC funds) is out of Issue One for sewer. You have, as a county engineer, the opportunity to participate in additional criteria for funding. Even if your project is not funded in Issue One, it rolls into the LTIP funding. You might state there is $5.5 million in grant funding from the state (for the district). That is true for the district. But also in that, counties only receive a certain amount that is apportioned across the counties in the district.”
Commissioner David Smith previously said while there may be no written formula for grant funding distribution, he said the commissioners felt they traditionally could expect a finite amount of money, around $600,000, to come from the state to the county. That money would be divided in a way that reflected monetary requests from the county’s grant applications. Montgomery felt it was necessary to “share” that number among county projects while acknowledging also the importance of paving roads and building bridges.
Boothe has presently continued to not agree with the commissioners’ statements and felt that individual counties did not receive money apportioned by a formula for the sake of being in the district. He claimed money was divided by project scoring. While the district received a certain amount of money based on the population of all counties added together in the district, the individual counties inside received money based on project scoring. The commissioners took a differing position.
“There is a scoring criteria set by our district and the state has been perfectly clear and I’ve even spoken with the director of OPWC, Mike Miller, in Columbus,” said Boothe. “The law is straight. There is no allocation. What we are doing is that we have scoring criteria and we follow and abide by that scoring criteria. I think we got to give everybody a fair shake including cities, villages and including our county projects (at applying for grant dollars)…Even though we have a legitimate scoring system, trying to not allow an entity to apply for as much grant money as it can because (the commissioners) think it’s going to score better (than another project) and maybe affect their chances at getting funding is absolutely shameful.“
“As we said previously, Gallia County will get about $600,000 in funding from District 15 for this year and that’s just what happened,” said Montgomery. “Instead of the county engineer putting in for all the funds, we asked him to put in for only some four hundred thousand (dollars) to allow other projects to be funded and that happened. There’s (around) $400,000 going to the county engineer and the rest is going to the city and Rio Grande…Now, the Green Sewer Project didn’t get funded this round but we will resubmit for next year and have a stronger project and other funds committed.”
Montgomery noted the commissioners had also applied for federal funding for the sewer project but he felt the results would not be returned as quickly.
The OWPC was unavailable for comment as of press time.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.