Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Funding program takes new direction

'More options' seen by river cities

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — A hoped-for “consortium” of Northern Kentucky river cities that would combine to obtain state grant funds has taken a different turn.

        Officials say the new ideas may actually prove to be better methods of picking up grant money.

        The original plan, devised by Southbank Partners and Brighton Center, called for Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton and Fort Thomas to join forces as an entitlement zone that would guarantee annual state funding through grants.

        But in a meeting last week with state officials, members of Southbank's River Cities Government committee learned that the entitlement zone proposal could be submitted only as a pilot program because of some problems with county borders and population levels.

        “There are two such programs, in Georgia and Florida, that are working,” Brighton Center Executive Director Bob Brewster said Tuesday.

        The good new is, officials with the state's Department of Local Government have put the River Cities group on the path of additional funding methods that could actually make it easier for the cities to obtain grant money as a group.

        “The state has suggested looking into what are known as Section 108 grants,” Mr. Brewster said. The state allocates millions of dollars each year in such grants, he said, and through Section 108 the river cities could obtain economic-development initiative grants.

        “We could do the same kinds of things we do with CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money, but without being an entitlement zone,” he said. CDBG funds are used for development, rehabilitation of existing structures, and infrastructure improvements.

        Newport City Commissioner Ken Rechtin, who attended last week's meeting as a member of the River Cities Government committee, said his impression was that “the change in direction actually could be better for all of us. It gives us more options in obtaining grant money.”

        While the original proposal for an entitlement zone would give the consortium cities guaranteed funding each year, it precluded individual grant applications. The cities could use Section 108 money and still apply for other grants.

        Mr. Brewster also pointed out that the Section 108 funds could be just what Southbank has been looking for to develop a community development bank. The development bank would provide guaranteed continuous funding for the participating cities.

        “We would use the Section 108 money for initial deposits into the bank,” he said. “We would then seek investors for the bank. We've already had some very positive reaction from prospective investors.”

        He said a revolving loan fund would be put in place, with the cities able to make “loans” for various projects.


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