NC: Price Talks Transportation Funding with Burlington

Jan. 24--U.S. Rep. David Price and staff from both his district and legislative offices visited Alamance County on Thursday, and met with Burlington and county leaders to discuss what Washington could do for this area.

Each year, Price, D-N.C., and his staff take a retreat to different sections of the 4th Congressional District, said Andrew High, Price's press secretary.

"This year, we're doing an intensive focus on the Alamance (County) part of the district," said High, who accompanied Price on his visits to Elon University, Glen Raven Inc., LabCorp, and TS Designs.

The conversation kicked off with a discussion about Community Development Block Grants, how the city has historically used the federal funds -- and how Burlington still needs them.

Mayor Pro Tem David Huffman told Price that Burlington has never used CDBG funds for operational costs, and money has been invested in "brick and mortar" projects, largely in the northern and eastern parts of the city.

But across the board CDBG money "has been whittled down," Huffman said. "It's definitely a smaller amount of money."

Noting the decrease in federal funds available to communities, City Councilman Celo Faucette told Price about the city's interest in a public transportation system and asked whether the current federal transportation grants would dry up, leaving Burlington in the lurch.

"Some of us are a little nervous," Mayor Ronnie Wall said. "We don't want to get cut off from a source."

"How solid is the commitment from the federal government?" Huffman asked.

"I, of course, can't guarantee the future," Price said but added, "These are firmly rooted federal commitments."

Price told Burlington council members not to "err on the side of pessimism," and referenced the town of Garner's progressive approach to building its own public transit system. Smaller than Burlington, Garner committed local funds to the project and received federal money to do roadwork, Price said.

"Garner has ventured pretty boldly and been rewarded for it," he said.

Price added that, while he couldn't earmark funds for a specific project, he'd "advocate strongly" on Burlington's behalf.

"What I can do is endorse your applications," he said.

Wall asked about other grant opportunities the city may not be taking advantage of, and Price said his Washington staff is currently in the process of compiling a guide to federal grants, which will be distributed to communities in his district in the next couple of weeks.

City Manager Harold Owen said that booklet will be particularly helpful to Burlington since, unlike other cities its size, Burlington doesn't have its own lobbyist on staff. And the guide will help departmental staff determine which grants are available and their individual timelines.

"It's a complicated process. It's timing," Owen said. "You need lead time to prepare for the grant(s). Often, it takes multiple years because you're getting in line and you're competing with a bunch of other people.

"It certainly will be helpful," he said.

Copyright 2014 - Times-News, Burlington, N.C.

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