NJ Herald: Roundtable discussion looks at grant funding

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ALLAMUCHY, N.J., April 20, 2017 | comments
"We can't afford to continue going down this path as one of the most expensive states in the country," the congressman said.
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NJ Herald: Roundtable discussion looks at grant funding
By: David Danzis

ALLAMUCHY -- A group of municipal officials from Warren and Sussex counties gathered Wednesday morning for a roundtable discussion with federal and state representatives to learn about ways to procure more grant dollars for their communities.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Director Christopher Rodriguez and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Area Director Janis Rega discussed ways that local officials and administrators could help their communities through available grant funding.

"Part of what I've been saying for a couple of years now, and why I really wanted to bring everyone together, is that here in the Fifth Congressional District, where we all live, historically we have not done a great job getting dollars that we send to Washington back home," Gottheimer said. "The dollars that are spent in Washington and go back to states, go somewhere. So the question is, are we going to make sure that we get the dollars here that we qualify for or whether we're not and let them go to other states?"

Gottheimer said that the 5th District receives only 33 cents for every dollar taxpayers send to Washington. The state average is 68 cents back for every tax dollar sent to the federal government.

Of New Jersey's 21 counties, Sussex County ranks 18th statewide for its return on investment while Warren County ranks 20th.

"We can't afford to continue going down this path as one of the most expensive states in the country," the congressman said.

The money that does come back through grant funding helps pay for things such as fire trucks and equipment, water infrastructure, opiate abuse resources, national parks and roads.

"If somebody in my position doesn't go and fight to help you get those dollars back, your property taxes have to pay for (those things)," Gottheimer said. "So, in essence, you're getting double-taxed. Because you're paying once to the federal government and then you (have to) pay again to local government for the things you didn't get. I think that's outrageous and we're getting short-changed. It's a raw deal for New Jersey and for the Fifth Congressional District."

Rodriguez -- who grew up in Vernon -- outlined a new program for nine counties, including Warren County, that do not meet federal grant requirements for counter-terrorism funding called SECUR-NJ, or Security Enhancements Countering Unmitigated Risk in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie announced in March that the state-funded program would provide $1 million for those nine counties.

Rodriguez said that because the threat of terrorism doesn't respect borders, the SECUR-NJ program provides vital funding for areas of the state that the federal government has overlooked.

"The stark reality that we face is that our enemies, our adversaries, can strike at any time and at any place," Rodriguez, a former-CIA officer, said. "We now live in the most dangerous time since 9/11."

The state homeland security director said the state's share of the federal non-profit security grant program -- which is mostly for religious and educational institutions -- has increased from roughly $861,000 in 2014 to $4.2 million last year. But, he added, that it wasn't enough.

"Although we appreciate the increased support from the federal government, the stark reality is that nine New Jersey counties, are currently ineligible to apply because they don't fall within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's designated regions most at-risk of terrorism," he said. "To me, this is completely unacceptable."

Rega detailed programs that the federal Department of Agriculture provides for rural communities that are competing against suburban and urban locales for necessary funding. She highlighted the nearly $15 million that was provided to the Sussex County Municipal Utility Authority's wastewater treatment facility in Branchville as an example of ways the department has aided local communities in past years.

"USDA Rural Development is committed to the future of rural communities like those here in Warren and Sussex," said USDA Acting State Director Kenneth Drewes, via a prepared statement. "Through our various financial assistance programs, we touch rural America in many ways to help improve the economy and quality of life for rural America. With Congressman Gottheimer, we were able to share with Warren and Sussex Counties opportunities like the Community Facilities Program, which can provide assistance for a variety of essential community projects such as municipal buildings, fire stations, public works buildings, libraries and many others."

Vernon Township Mayor Harry Shortway was among the gathered municipal officials at Wednesday morning's roundtable. He said that thanks to Gottheimer and the congressman's ROI Director Jake Briggs, Vernon was "back in the running" for federal grant money for a new fire engine to replace a 30-plus year-old ladder truck in the township.
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