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City officials seek help in Washington

May. 11, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Mayor Steve Williams and other city officials traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with members of West Virginia's congressional delegation.

The purpose of the meetings with Rep. Nick J. Rahall and Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller was to discuss projects that are on the horizon and to ask for their assistance in obtaining federal grant funds, said Brandi Jacobs-Jones, director of administration and finance.

Joining Williams and Jacobs-Jones on the day-long trip Wednesday were Huntington Sanitary Board Director Kit Anderson, Police Chief Skip Holbrook, Fire Chief Carl Eastham and City Council members Mark Bates and David Ball.

Huntington officials began making annual trips to meet with congressional representatives in 2008 when David Felinton was mayor. Manchin, Rahall and Rockefeller told Williams that Huntington is the only city in West Virginia that meets with them on an annual basis.

"I learned this week that it's critically important for our legislative delegation to learn what we're doing on the ground here," Williams said. "In Washington, they are truly in the beltway and respond to issues in a political framework. We're able to come in and talk to them about real-life issues and frame a context from which they can make decisions and help us."

Huntington has had a high success rate in receiving federal grant funds since city officials began making the annual trips, and it's largely because of support from its congressional delegation, Jacobs-Jones said. Initiatives such as the Weed and Seed Program in Fairfield West and the Old Main Corridor on 4th Avenue can be attributed to grant funds that were facilitated by the delegation, she said.

The city is now applying for grant funds to bolster public safety, which was one of the key talking points during Wednesday's trip. The Police Department is applying for a COPS Hiring Program grant to add five new officers to the force. The grant, if awarded, will fund the positions for three years.

The department also has applied for two grants to address crime issues in Huntington's West End. One of the grant applications, submitted to the Project Safe Neighborhoods Violent Gang and Gun Crime Reduction Program, would focus on 9th Street West and the Coach's Inn. The grant is part of a larger initiative to eradicate crime and slum and blighted conditions from the West End through targeted law enforcement and code enforcement initiatives and community partnerships.

The second grant application, submitted to the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, would include funding for a coordinator to oversee the "West End Initiative" as well as new code enforcement officers.

Another project discussed with Manchin, Rockefeller and Rahall is FEMA's required certification of Huntington's floodwall to update flood insurance studies and insurance rate maps in Cabell County. The certification process, which had an initial deadline of Nov. 3 of this year, is estimated to cost the city approximately $900,000. The city has sought to stretch those costs over two fiscal years, Williams said. Manchin's staff was instrumental in confirming that the city could proceed with its two-year funding plan, he said.

Officials also asked Manchin, Rockefeller and Rahall to write letters of support to FEMA on behalf of the Fire Department when it reapplies for a SAFER grant later this year. The grant would allow the department to hire six additional firefighters. The city was awarded the grant in 2010 but had to decline it because of the post-grant funding commitments.

Water-quality infrastructure also was discussed with the delegation. City officials believe there is potential for a dedicated funding source in the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which would provide direct loans to support flood-control and wastewater infrastructure projects. However, the Congressional Budget Office is trying to keep municipalities from using tax-exempt bonds for its non-federal match. City officials asked Manchin, Rockefeller and Rahall to support allowing cities to use tax-exempt bonds.

"The one point we tried to make with them throughout our discussion was that even though we are asking for assistance, we still have a sustainability plan," Williams said. "We're going to do what we're proposing whether we receive federal help or not, but the federal help speeds up the process."

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.



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