Federal funds granted to Kent before the sequester took affect will not be affected by the automatic spending cuts according to city officials, but future cuts to the city's Community Development Block Grant program may occur.
Bridget Susel, Kent's community development director and former grants administrator, said millions of dollars in federal funds supporting the ongoing Crain Avenue pedestrian bridge and Harvey Redmond Bridge construction projects, as well as smaller projects, are safe from the cuts.
"Those funds that we have already received have been secured by a grant agreement," Susel said. "(The federal government) can't execute a grant agreement unless the funds are already there."
Congress and President Barack Obama signed off on the sequester, $1.2 trillion in domestic and military budget cuts over eight years, in 2011 as a spur to create a more well thought out, bipartisan plan to reduce spending before the sequester took effect. Congress failed to reach a consensus on a different plan and the sequester, which will lead to $109 billion in budget cuts this year, took effect at the beginning of the month.
In a blog post written earlier this month, City Manager Dave Ruller wrote that the sequester could affect the city by making future federal grants rarer and more competitive. He added that after checking with the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study and Ohio Department of Transportation, federal funds appropriated for the planned Summit Street improvements and S.R. 43 signalization appear safe, too.
"None of the funding agencies ... have suggested that the sequester would affect any of our federally funded projects," Ruller said. "This includes the signal work, Summit Street and street resurfacing projects that are federally funded."
Despite the apparent good news about the city's road and bridge projects, Ruller added that it is "dangerous drawing conclusions from such an uncertain situation."
Susel said one area where the city of Kent can take a hit from the sequester is in funding for the Community Development Block Grant program. The Department of Housing and Urban development started the block grant program in 1974 to allocate funding to local government for community development programs.
Projects that received block grant funding from the city in 2012 included the city engineering department's reconstruction work on Pine Street, Coleman Professional Services' effort to build housing for people with mental illness in the city and the Community Action Council of Portage County's furnace inspection and replacement program.
Susel said the Department of Housing and Urban Development has informed communities that receive block grant funding that 5 percent cuts across the board could occur this year due to the sequester. She said the city, which received more than $325,000 for block grants in 2010, followed by $270,000 in 2011 and $264,000 last year, had already planned to receive less money this year, even when it seemed the sequester could be averted.
"Quite honestly, the 5 percent reduction is something we've been wrestling with annually just on basic budget reductions that have been put in place," Susel said.
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