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Published: Thursday, 9/4/2003

Fayette's block grant funding in jeopardy

BY KARIN KOWALSKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FAYETTE - For the first time in its history, the village no longer automatically qualifies for Ohio Small Cities Community Development Block Grants, and village officials may contest the decision.

The funding relies on an area having a majority of lower-to-moderate income housing, and recently released U.S. Census figures indicate that number has dropped to 48.9 percent of the village. To qualify automatically for the formula grant and water and sanitary sewer program grant the village has received in the past, it must be more than half lower-to-moderate income.

The grants, administered by the state, provide money for economic development projects that generate or retain permanent jobs in the private sector. The village received $54, 500 in 2002 for a project this year, and expects $91,000 this year for a west end sewer project.

As it is now, if the village wants community development block grants for a project, it will have to survey the area affected by it to see if it is more than half lower-to-moderate income. If it is not, the village cannot have that funding.

“We're still trying to figure out a response,” said Tom Spiess, the village's interim administrator. “I think this is a good trend; I just want to make sure it is a correct trend.”

Village officials are considering investigating the census data to defend their eligibility for funding. The village's shrinking tax revenues make officials suspect reports of increased incomes.

According to the census, between 1990 and 2000, the median family income in the village increased by 47 percent. At the same time, the village's withholding tax revenues dropped by $25,000, Mr. Spiess said.

Mr. Spiess met with Jan Burkhard, Fulton County's grant coordinator, last week to discuss the village conducting its own survey of incomes, but no decisions were made.

The village is in contact with the Ohio Department of Development's Bureau of Statistics to find out more about how the census surveyed it.

The village council's idea is to mail a survey to about 530 households and have a third party, such as Fulton County, evaluate the information.

It probably will cost between $500 and $800 for postage, not counting the cost of the evaluations and the labor to produce and evaluate them. Village officials are waiting to hear from the statistics bureau.

The Ohio Department of Development, which helps administer the community development block grants, is required to distribute them according to census figures, said the agency's spokesman, Rachel Caldwell.

She said the federal program may change as more communities are finding their eligibility change since the median incomes were reported in 1999 when the economy was better than it is today.

Although the U. S. Census Bureau does consider challenges to the numbers it produces, it will not change the data it collects when different jurisdictions conduct their own surveys, and it will not endorse those surveys, said Mark Tolbert, a spokesman for the bureau.

A city can commission the bureau to do a special census in between regular counts. This usually happens when a city grows quickly and needs more state or federal funding, said Jay Waite, the census's associate director.



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