Councilor: ‘Slow down’: Wells pleads to make sure funds available to meet grant obligations

A Wapakoneta City Council member hopes city administrators heed the signs along most road construction sites — slow down — especially when it comes to grant applications.
Councilor-at-large Wilbur Wells expressed his concerns Monday with the city leaders regarding applying for multiple street and improvement grants in the future prior to learning the city’s financial status to be able to match those grants obligations.
The projects include reconstruction or repaving of East and West Auglaize streets, West Mechanic Street and Short Road, improving Heritage Park and installing sidewalks.
“The concern I have is that we have paid a lot of bills that we are still waiting on the grant money to be reimbursed to the city from the state and federal governments,” Wells told the Wapakoneta Daily News after Monday’s council meeting. “My concern is I do not want to over-extend the city and not have the funds to pay for our match for a grant because the state hasn’t paid us back yet.
“I just want to slow down,” the councilor-at-large said. “I don’t want to not apply for grants and take the grants and accept them. I just want to slow down and to do this responsibly.”
Many grants require the city to pay the entire bill and then the city has to wait for that portion of the project to be completed and approved and then the reimbursement is made.
While no councilors brought up the possibility of borrowing money from Enterprise Funds to complete projects so the city would be paying back itself instead of a financial institution, they have discussed the possibility in the past.
Wells said he wants to see the General Fund free and clear of debt after years of paying for projects on the books for decades.
“I don’t want to see the General Fund under any obligation to anybody whether it is a city Enterprise Fund or it is another financial institution,” Wells said. “The city General Fund is scheduled to be out of debt in 2013 — let’s leave it that way. There is no reason to over-extend and borrow money from somebody else just so we can obtain a grant.
“Let’s hold off and do it responsibly, when we know our money will be there and I am sure the grant money will be there when everything is reimbursed,” he said.
Mayor Rodney Metz agreed with Wells that city leaders should proceed cautiously, but the grant applications will likely be filed by the city after the state has already reimbursed the city for these recently completed projects.
“We will have to watch the dollars that we have, especially with General Fund revenue down, but there are projects not scheduled for this year but for three or four years down the line,” Metz said. “So we will be OK, we have time before we have to match some of these grants.”
The mayor said he is not totally against borrowing from the Enterprise Funds, but it is more likely the Enterprise Funds will be used on several projects to pay for infrastructure work related to water, sewer and electrical, which is one of the expenses for which the fund can be used.
He also voiced no doubt the city will receive the reimbursements when the money for the next round of work is needed.
“I have no doubt that we will receive the money,” Metz said. “We need to understand that we receive the money once the project is done — there is a lot of paperwork to be completed. You have to wait until the project is totally completed and the grant closed.”
He provided an example of Bellefontaine Street. The street reconstruction project was completed in 2010, but for the grant to be paid in full it required grass to be grown in the tree lawn which could not be fulfilled until this year.
After a 15-minute discussion on streets and sidewalks, during the meeting Council President Steve Henderson placed the issue with Wells and the Finance Committee he chairs to determine the city’s position regarding finances available for future street projects and other improvement ventures.
Councilors passed a series of resolutions for city administrators to proceed with street, sidewalk and enhancement grant applications.