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To get funding, you have to ask

The phrase of the day at Monday’s Mayors Conference at the Trackside Blues Caf/ in York was “If you don’t ask for funding, you’ll never get funding.”

One of the guest speakers for the event was Bea Forniss, Special Projects Director for ADECA. Forniss said she could not stress the importance of applying for funds enough.

Forniss said Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has shown a commitment to helping this region, but the communities have to help themselves to a certain extent.

“The governor has told us Black Belt, Black Belt, Black Belt,” Forniss said. “But, we have to change the way we do things. If we don’t, we are still going to be saying Black Belt, Black Belt, Black Belt, and we’ll not have done any more than what we have done for the Black Belt.”

Matching funds, Forniss said, are a problem for some communities seeking Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). But, she said, her office is committed to preventing matching funds from presenting a barrier.

“We are going to help you out,” Forniss said. “We need for you to apply for the funding and if you can’t come up with the matching funds we are going to figure out a way to come up with whatever you need.”

Many communities, Forniss said, have made several improvements to their cities by using recaptured funds. But, she said, without an initial application for CDBG grants this was not possible.

Forniss encouraged local leaders to keep an open line with her office and told them she was committed to giving them honest and accurate answers on any questions they may have.

In January, some Black Belt mayors made a day trip to Montgomery to meet with Riley one on one. Among them, was Livingston Mayor Tom Tartt. Tartt said they were pleased to get answers to their questions from Riley, but unfortunately, some of the answers were not good news.

“One of the key things we talked about was the possibilities of getting something in the automotive industry near our area,” Tartt said. “We finally got some news, unfortunately, it was not the news that we were hoping for.”

Riley told them the two major reasons for this were the plant upping its employment figures and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Kia announced last month they would need 2,000 to 2,500 workers as opposed to the 1,200 originally thought. The company feared they would not be able to meet this number in East Mississippi and West Alabama, Tartt said.

Katrina’s financial problems and widespread devastation were the final factors in Kia looking elsewhere, Tartt said.

Despite the bad news from Kia, Tartt said, the group stuck together and let Riley know they were ready to do what it takes to bring industry to the Black Belt.

“We wanted him to realize that we in the Black Belt and west Alabama are here to work together,” Tartt said. “We feel like what is good for Marengo County and Greene County, Sumter County and Choctaw County is good for us all. That is what we wanted to indicate to him.”

Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson, who also made the trip, said it was a learning experience they should continue.

“One of the things we learned was the importance of regionalism,” Williamson said. “This is not going to be our first and only visit to the governor’s office. I think it is important for us to let the governor know that we are over here.”

Williamson said they planned to hold similar meetings on an annual basis, or more if possible.

The mayors will gather again in March for their monthly meeting, this time in Livingston. The meeting is schedule for Friday, March 24 at 10 a.m.