Going after grant money takes time, effort and talent
hen the budget is stretched, it’s nice to have a little help. A variety of local, state and federal grant funding opportunities are out there. It just takes some time to find them.
Eric Milliron, Mt. Lebanon’s Commercial Districts Manager, was able to find nearly $1 million in state grant money to defray the cost of the municipality’s $3.9 million Vibrant Uptown streetscape project.
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) gave the municipality a $750,000 multimodal grant, and another $291,500 from the Gaming Economic Development Tourism Fund.
The Multimodal Transportation Fund provides grants to encourage economic development as it ties in with safe and reliable transportation.
Money can be used for “the development, rehabilitation and enhancement of transportation assets to existing communities, streetscape, lighting, sidewalk enhancement, pedestrian safety, connectivity of transportation assets and transit-oriented development.”
The Gaming Economic Development Tourism Fund takes 5 percent of gross profits from all casinos, racetracks and other gambling venues. Grant money can be spent on economic development, community and infrastructure improvement, job training, public safety or just projects that improve a community’s quality of life.
Finding grant money takes time, “lots of preplanning, and some luck,” Milliron said.
“Some just come across your inbox, like the money we got for bike racks and cigarette urns,” the plastic cigarette butt receptacles placed along Washington Road. Milliron said applying for and receiving the money for those improvements was almost automatic. Other grants can be more involved.
State Rep. Dan Miller was instrumental in securing almost $10 million in grants to help fund St. Clair Health’s Dunlap Family Outpatient Center, a 280,000-square-feet, six-story building that features three stories of medical services, including operating rooms, endoscopy facilities, such diagnostics as MRI, CT scan and phlebotomy, as well as physician office suites and two stories of indoor parking on the bottom floors.
Part of the plan called for a realignment of the intersection of Firwood Drive in Mt. Lebanon and North Wren Drive in Scott, cutting down on driver and pedestrian confusion at the poorly aligned intersection. Almost half of that project’s $2.9 million cost, $1.25 million, came from the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s Multimodal Transportation Fund Program.
Another $8 million from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) helped with the project’s $155 million price tag. The RACP is a grant program administered by the Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational and historical improvement projects.
“That was a big win,” Miller said. In addition to the money for St. Clair, Miller secured another $771,428 for a streetscape project in Castle Shannon in RACP money at the end of 2020.
Milliron was thankful for Miller’s help in securing the multimodal grant.
“Dan went to bat for us on this, and it really helped,” Milliron said.
Milliron secured a $10,000 matching grant from the Pennsylvania History and Museum Commission to hire a historic preservation consultant. The consultant will work with the municipality developing design guidelines for storefronts in Mt. Lebanon’s National Register of Historic Places Historic District.
With design guidelines in place, Mt. Lebanon can look to the DCED for façade grants for commercial buildings on Washington Road. Using grant money as a way to leverage more grant money makes the cash go further. Matching grants are another opportunity.
The Mt. Lebanon Public Library receives a match from the Jack Buncher Foundation for donations made during Love Your Library Month in September. This year, that amounted to $21,800. The library also received $3,500 from Waste Management, through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which gives tax credits to companies that fund educational programs. Teen Services Librarian Katie Donahoe plans to use the money to buy musical instruments and take-home instrument-building kits for the Teen Sound Studio program. A grant from the Kathryn DiNardo Foundation pays for the library’s popular speaker series. This year’s speaker is Amor Towles, whose 2016 novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list.
The public works department receives annual funding from the state’s Community Development Block Grant program to cover a portion of the cost of ADA ramp upgrades, and annual Recycling Performance Grants from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The grants are based on total recycling tonnage and on a community’s recycling rate.
The Mt. Lebanon Police Department paid for the body cameras each officer wears with a $55, 000 grant from the Department of Justice.
In 2019, Mt. Lebanon received a grant for $268,149 from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for traffic improvement, including installing dedicated right turn lanes on the Segar Road approach to Bower Hill Road and the Bower Hill Road approach to Washington Road. The money came from PennDOT’s ARLE (Automated Red Light Enforcement) grant program. The program stemmed from new technology that provides photo evidence of drivers running red lights at several intersections in Philadelphia and in Abington Township in Montgomery County that have a high volume of crashes. The technology eliminated the need for police officers to monitor the intersections and has generated seven- and eight-figure fine collections annually. In 2010, PennDOT established the ARLE grant program with money collected from the violations. In 2019, ARLE grants totaled $15.4 million.
“There’s a skill to writing successful grant applications,” said Milliron. “Just getting ready to apply, gathering all the facts, getting information from our experts, like Gateway Engineering and others, takes a lot of time. Also, you really need to be aware of who your audience is.”
Some of the larger grants can take months from application to receipt of funds. As the Vibrant Uptown project enters its second phase, Milliron is searching for more local, state or federal money.
“Applying for grants can sometimes take a lot of staff time,” Milliron said, “But it’s worth it when the money comes in.”