Recovery funds help local communities

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Capital News Service
LANSING – St. Joseph County energy-efficiency, law enforcement and construction efforts are benefiting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, local officials say.
For example, the Obama Administration has made law enforcement-related grants to Three Rivers, Sturgis and St. Joseph County.
Three Rivers received $43,000, according to county Economic Development Corp. grant writer Marcia Saunders.
In collaboration with county and state agencies, Three Rivers is using the money for a new program called the Nurturing Communities Initiative. It is a community-based, family-centered program for youths, students and families.
The Sturgis Housing Commission received $93,816 to improve sidewalks and parking at Maple Towers Apartments, a public housing building for senior citizens.
“We are expanding our parking lot from 33 spaces to 56, from zero Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant spaces to four and widening our sidewalks to meet federal requirements,” said James Blasius, executive director of the commission.
Blasius said the project had “been on the backburner” because it ran out of funds in 2004 after the commission purchased land and had a house removed.
“So it’s been sitting there for the last four or five years waiting to be completed,” he said.
Blasius said construction started last spring and will end this spring.
In addition, a stimulus-funded state energy program is providing money for several St. Joseph County projects.
Three Rivers received $56,660 from the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth to improve energy-efficient lighting in city buildings, Saunders said, and Sturgis received $67,892 for energy-efficient improvements in its city buildings.
The St. Joseph County Jail has been tentatively approved for a $267,153 grant, according to Saunders.
“That one’s kind of exciting in that it will be placing solar thermal and solar photovoltaic systems at the county jail for electric and water-heating purposes,” Saunders said.
Undersheriff Mark Lillywhite said the project would make the jail more energy-efficient, lower electric and heating costs and reduce the amount of energy used to heat water for the facility.
Lillywhite said the project is still in its preliminary stages and that there’s a long way to go before finalizing the grant.
Lillywhite said the problem is that the grant requires matching funds from the county and that needs board of commissioners approval.
Saunders said the county has also applied for a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for residential energy audits and retrofits.
“That would be huge for our county if we’re awarded that,” she said. “That’ll put some people to work.”
Meanwhile, Glen Oaks Community College graduated its first class of 14 energy auditors in December, which is why the pending grant is so important, Saunders said.
The graduates came through the Michigan Works! program because they lost their previous jobs, Saunders said.
“This grant would put them to work and also provide work for local contractors,” she said.
She said it would create one full-time and one part-time job and “save regular folks money because it’s not going to be income-restricted. Anyone in the county could apply for the funds, and it’ll be a loan program that we can revolve and continue some sustainability.”
The Three Rivers Police Department received $178,000 for the first three years’ salary for a new officer. The grant requires the city to pay for the fourth year and engage in more community policing activities, Chief Thomas Bringman said.
“We want to do meetings in different neighborhoods, service clubs, meetings at schools, neighborhood watch – any kind of group that would like to have an officer come in and talk about a subject of interest to them,” he said.
Bringman said the department received 88 applicants for the job and hired one earlier this year. The new officer is currently training.
“Once that person is capable of working on their own, that’ll free up a more experienced officer to get involved in some of the community policing things,” he said.
Bringman said his department took part in the project to try more community-involved activities.
“Sometimes people like to get somebody in a room and just ask them, ‘Well what about this?’ and ‘What about that?” he said. “It gives the public a chance to get to know officers, and we also get suggestions.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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