Stark County considers hiring rural grant writer position for area communities

·4 min read

Jul. 20—STARK COUNTY, N.D. — Following the introduction of hiring a grant writer to service rural communities within Stark County and fund high priority infrastructure projects, the grant committee met this week to continue discussions on what this position would look like and how it can be fulfilled.

On Monday, Stark County Auditor/Treasurer Karen Richard opened the meeting, looking for input on how to move this idea forward due to the smaller cities within the county that are struggling. Along with Richard, Stark County Commission Chairman Carla Arthaud, Commissioner Neal Messer, Park Director Lisa Heiser, Emergency Services Director Shawna Davenport, and Development Director West John Heinen of the North Dakota Community Foundation provided feedback.

"... What we're trying to accomplish today is figuring out a potential path for these communities to assist them to pay for these projects through grants," Messer said. "And I guess we're out in front of our skis here. We should be talking about what are those options... My question would be to those of you who have done this, are there opportunities out here for these small cities that would cover the projects... that the smaller communities have presented to us?"

On the emergency management side, Davenport noted that there are hazard mitigation grants available for certain circumstances.

"Those have to be tied into our hazard mitigation plan. So if some of those things are listed in our mitigation plan, then we can use those dollars," she said, adding that the route is limited to one project per year.

Heinen noted that additional "If you want to tackle the problem of finding revenue for grant revenue, grant money for these kinds of projects, you really need someone and that's what you can talk about. Have someone dedicated to it. Well, if you're going to do that, you want to make sure that the person is well paid — good compensation (and) the right compensation," Heinen said, adding that the position potentially salaried at $50,000 wouldn't be adequate for the amount of work the individual would have to do for all the rural communities within Stark County.

In a previous

interview

, Richard highlighted that South Heart's estimated cost for the city's undersized water main replacement is $4.91 million. In Richardton, the high priority lift station replacement costs $430,000, sanitary sewer lining averages $260,000 and drainage improvement — a lower priority project that needs to happen over the next three years — is $60,000. This temporary position would be paid for using funds that the county received through the American Rescue Plan Act, she said, explaining that this would help lighten the load for taxpayers instead of using the county's funds to support those infrastructure projects.

"... I want to know what we're looking at before we open this whole can of worms, what are we looking at dollars?" Richard said during Monday's meeting. " ...Once these things are fixed, we probably don't need a full-time grant writer."

Davenport added, "It does take a lot of time and you have to be in constant contact with them because you need all their financial information and it is a process."

Heinen continued, saying that it will come down to how the county wants to structure this program and the expectations of the grant committee.

"What do you want to get out of it? And what areas do you want somebody to tactfully focus on or a hierarchy to focus on? That way, you can figure out what skills you're looking for. And is a consultant the right way to do it or is it (a) private person a better way to look at it?" Heinen said. "... How do you judge an individual or even a consultant on effectiveness? You don't want somebody coming in getting $75,000 a year, working out of their home — which will probably happen — doing basically a lot of research and then wind up with no grants."

Though the idea is to have an individual in charge of writing the grants, a certain percentage should go back to support this program for years to come, he said.

"The grant writer can't get everything... (They have) to be building in that percentage that goes back to make this whole system work for everybody," Heinen said. "... What I see in a lot of grants is that a lot of people will live off their grants, like you had said before, 'Get your grant money, build the building and forget you got to operate it.' Now what do you do? There are nonprofits that have lost their buildings because they forget that they actually had to operate it."

In the coming weeks, the grant committee plans to continue their conversations to come up with a tentative plan moving forward.