Getting a grant is not really money for nothing, like in the old song, because seeking out and applying for grants can take a lot of municipal staff time. But the money’s out there, and it can help pay for a lot of local-level projects and improvements, from synced-up traffic lights to design workshops to a big chunk of a brand-new fire truck.
“Traditional grants to law enforcement have dried up quite a bit in the last several years as money gets tighter,” says Police Chief Coleman McDonough. Even so, the police department has been able to get some funding from state and federal sources to step up enforcement and upgrade equipment.
The Mt. Lebanon Area DUI Task Force, composed of Mt. Lebanon and seven other South Hills communities, will receive $60,000 in state highway funds in 2013 to pay for officer salaries and related equipment needs for stationary checkpoints and roving DUI patrols. Last year, the task force purchased two portable breath-testing devices with $1,000 in grant funds.
The police department used to receive an annual allocation of state grant money to step up enforcement of aggressive driving and seat belt laws year-round. That money now comes in smaller chunks to be used during peak enforcement times. The most recent grant was $1,500 for use during the month of December, a time when partiers who have had one too many are more likely to be on the roads.
In 2012, the department received a used Tactical Rescue Vehicle—an armored vehicle to be used by the regional Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) team—from the Pennsylvania State Police. The state police purchased two of the vehicles using federal grant money about 20 years ago; when they upgraded to new vehicles, they donated the older ones to regional tactical teams across the state. The new tactical rescue vehicle replaced an armored truck that was donated in 2000 by an armored car company in Ohio, again at no cost to the department.
Another recent grant the police department received is $30,000 from a federal Justice Assistance Grant for new portable radios, chargers and remote microphones.
In 2009, the department received $38,700 from the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Bulletproof Vest Partnership. Each subsequent year the DOJ has funded half the cost—roughly $650 a year—of purchasing or replacing officers’ vests. Regardless of grants, the police labor contract mandates that all department vests be replaced every five years, and 2014 will be the year. Unless the DOJ changes its funding practices, McDonough anticipates receiving something close to the 2009 figure next year.
Susan Morgans, Mt. Lebanon’s public information officer and liaison to the Historic Preservation Board, says that the grant application process is a learning curve. The municipality received a $7,500 grant from the Pennsylvania Historic & Museums Commission (PHMC) for a workshop for municipal professionals titled “Good Design Makes Dollars and Sense”, sponsored by the Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board and the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh at the Mt. Lebanon Municipal Building in 2009. Working with the historic preservation board, Morgans also applied for, and received, a matching grant of $15,000 for a cultural resource survey of Mt. Lebanon’s built environment and a paid consultant who currently is preparing the nomination of a large portion of Mt. Lebanon to the National Register of Historic Places. But the path to the money wasn’t always a smooth one.
“The first time I wrote an application for a PHMC grant, I was turned down,” she says, “and told in a very nice way what I needed to do to improve the application process”.
Most recently, she secured a $220,000 grant from Duquesne Light in 2011 for the lighting of the Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated on Memorial Day 2012.
“All of these are examples of wonderful things we wouldn’t have without grant money,” says Morgans.
Although traffic often seems to be an unsolvable problem, grant money has mitigated some local traffic issues. After a successful project on Washington Road in 2007 that synced up traffic lights and dramatically improved the flow of traffic, last year Mt. Lebanon again received grant money from Allegheny County and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) for two projects; one will upgrade safety on Bower Hill Road in the area of St. Clair Hospital; the other will improve traffic flow along the busy road.
The Greenhurst/Segar/Bower Hill intersection in the immediate area of St. Clair Hospital is the oldest unimproved intersection in Mt. Lebanon, says Public Works Director Tom Kelley. The signals there, mounted on pedestals or telephone poles, are difficult to see and even harder to repair, because the conduit that feeds them runs underground and a problem can require digging up the roadway. Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Allegheny County Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, which required a local match of $150,000, new LED signals at Segar and Greenhurst will be mounted on poles and viewed overhead, making them more visible than they currently are at the roadside. The signal controllers will be fine-tuned, and repairs will be able to be made without tearing up grass or pavement. The improved intersection also will allow emergency vehicles to preempt the light, ensuring a green light and quick passage for ambulances headed to the hospital emergency department or fire trucks on call. Preemption currently is possible at most major intersection in other parts of Mt. Lebanon.
St. Clair Hospital provided $40,000 for the local match, so the $250,000 upgrade will cost Mt. Lebanon only $110,000.
The second grant, from the SPC—$343,030 with a local match of $85,788—will fund a retiming study and new signal timing upgrades to seven traffic lights along the Bower Hill corridor from Carnegie Drive, southwest to Sylvandell Drive. The upgrades include new GPS units in all seven locations; new LED signal heads at five locations; new countdown pedestrian signals at three locations; new pedestrian pushbutton signals at four locations; new signal controllers and controller cabinets; and pre-emption systems at four intersections that lack them now.
Kelley says most grants require some kind of a local match, whether in cash or in-kind services, such as in the case of the rain garden in Mt. Lebanon Park, which came together as a result of a collaboration among the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, donations from individuals and a $500 Volunteer Grant from Highmark. In this case, Mt. Lebanon donated the equipment and labor to excavate the site and will provide maintenance for the garden as needed. In-kind services can also mean providing engineering or design services for a project.
Kelley credits the environmental sustainability board with carrying the brunt of the load in seeking out and securing the funding to make the rain garden happen. That’s a big plus, as extensive grant applications can require a lot of staff time. Kelley estimates that formulating Mt. Lebanon’s Climate Action Plan in hopes of acquiring a grant following the municipality’s signing of the Kyoto Protocols in 2010, took up about 10 percent of his time over the course of a year. Ultimately, the time investment paid off in a $5,000 Community Sustainability Grant from the Local Government Academy for a greenhouse gas inventory update and a proposal by Duquesne University and Seeds, an environmental consulting company, to match the $5,000 grant with $33,000 worth of in-kind services.
Other recent grants the public works department secured are a Recycling Incentive Grant of $48,778 from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In 2012, the DEP cut incentive grants by 40 percent.
The DEP also awarded Mt. Lebanon a $6,000 grant to be used to explore recycling options. Mt. Lebanon and the other members of the South Hills Area Council of Governments are negotiating a new trash and recycling contract this year.
Says Kelley: “There are little pots of money out there, and while it does take away from your time to find them, [grant money] lets you go above and beyond your operating budget, and do some things you wouldn’t normally be able to do.”