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Second mayors’ meeting held

The first congregation of the Blackbelt Mayor’s conference at the University of West Alabama was a chance for local leaders to get to know each other. By Friday’s second meeting at the Higher Education Center in Demopolis they were ready for action.

The mayors gather with representatives of various aid organizations to learn the proper methods to secure funding and some of the possibilities.

Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson said they were proud to be able to gather once again because of the common issues they faced.

“The reason we have decided to gather is because there are a lot of issues that we face in the Blackbelt as mayors,” Williamson said. “To me there are a lot of issues that are easier for us to work on if we work on them as a region. If we can collaborate and work together as a region we can really do a lot.”

Williamson said at their last meeting they addressed the need for funding. The purpose for their current meeting was to find a way to apply for grants and other money’s.

“One thing we learned at the first meeting is that we need to learn more about going out and getting funding,” Williamson said. “We need to learn how to go out and get funding. We have some groups here today to help learn how to go out and get the funding we need.”

R.L. Condra, who is the Washington D.C. representative for the Delta Regional Authority, was one of the representatives at the meeting to help map out a method for gaining funds. Condra said his group looked out for the “little guy.”

“We were created to level the playing field as far as grant writing goes,” Condra said. “A lot of the smaller towns can’t afford grant writers and have a difficult time applying to grants. We try to level the playing field and give smaller towns a chance at grants.”

Condra said they are able to funs counties that are considered in distress percent and those that are not 90 percent with only 10 percent matching funds.

Condra said they use groups such as the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission as their eyes and ears to help get the information about some of the grants offered out to the public.

“When you send your applications to them they look through them to see that all the I’s are dotted and everything is in place,” Condra said. “The then forward the Applications to the DRA and we then forward our projects to the governors office, the governor makes his selection of eligible projects and they are voted on and approved.”

David Barley, Manager of Technical Assistance and Community Empowerment with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs said there are several grants available with their organization each year.

“ADECA has an annual budget of $100 million to $130 million a year all of which is federal funding,” Barley said. “You can get funds from several different agencies and most of the funding is divided into different categories. Some is directed to specific agencies, while some is open to communities and some is open to private entities.”

Barley said there was one grant in particular that attracted attention from Blackbelt mayors.

“The Community Development Block Grant program is the one most are interested in,” Barley said. “That is a very flexible program. It provides for water and sewers, streets and roads and housing repair. Just about anything as local community would need to do.”

Barley said there was also another grant that dealt with street, roads, sewers and other needs to help drawn industry.

The final speaker, John Clyde Riggs, who is Executive Director of the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission, shed more light on grants available. Riggs outlined some development program issues that could be very helpful.

“In the Community Development Block Grant program there are a number of funds you can apply for,” Riggs said. “There are certain thresholds that you have to have in municipalities or a jurisdiction. Number one 51 percent of the people in the area have to be low or moderate income. That is the main program that you have. That one is to provide infrastructure to them and drainage and funds for a community center.”

Riggs said these funds could also be used for downtown revitalization programs.

Riggs advised the mayors to take a look at their special needs also.

“There is a special fund for special needs like a sewer system that has gone out,” Riggs said. “If you can document that you have a special need that is a threat you can get money to repair that.”

Riggs said he was very excited about the Blackbelt Action Commissions efforts and said they have seen exciting results that will lead to major changes.

“This year as part of the Blackbelt Action Commissions efforts and recommendations from the Infrastructure Commission, John Harris and the Governor have agreed to put a pot of money aside for the Blackbelt counties that is a $1.5 million amount that is called recaptured funds, or funds that have not been used on other projects. There is going to be an additional five CDBG projects funded throughout the Blackbelt because of that. That is a great advantage for us.”

The mayors planned a third meeting for the next business quarter. The next meeting will be Friday July 22, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Butler Civic Center.