Heflin City Councilman Shannon Roberts said the city doesn’t have the money to pave its roads, which will inevitably need that normal maintenance.
“I’m just not sure where the money’s going to come from,” Roberts said. “I’m very hesitant to keep expanding our infrastructure when we don’t have the funds to take care of what we have.”
Rooks brought up the project during the council meeting Feb. 11.
People from the apartment complexes bordering Almon Street, also part of Alabama 9, regularly walk along the road to the restaurants and stores on Ross Street, Rooks said.
“That ditch is their main thoroughfare,” agreed Councilman Jerry Gaines.
But it’s dangerous, Rooks said.
“I almost hit somebody coming up Highway 9 the other night,” Rooks said. “They were not walking in the ditch. They were down in the street.”
He suggested the sidewalk could be funded through a grant from the federal Transportation Alternative Program, which supports projects aimed at pedestrians and cyclists as well as projects that offer non-drivers access to public transportation. The grants, offered through the Alabama Department of Transportation, top out at $400,000 and require the city to pay a 20 percent match as well as the preliminary engineering and inspection costs.
Rooks asked the council members for their consent to pursue the grant, which has an application deadline of May 2.
Roberts, however, asked how the city was going to come up with the match. Rooks brushed off the comment with a joke, but Roberts wouldn’t be put off.
“Seriously though, we don’t want to get into another situation where we get a grant and then we have to turn it back in,” Roberts said, reminding the council about the Community Development Block Grant the city was forced to decline in April.
That grant, which the previous city administration declined, was intended for a handicapped-accessible playground. On two occasions, city leaders had to decline it because they were unable to find the money for a local match.
Roberts said after the meeting he was afraid continuing to apply for grants and then declining them might hurt the city’s relationships with the granting agencies, eventually making it more difficult to win grants.
Roberts said he’s not against the project, he just wants to have a plan in place to pay the city’s part of the project if it wins the grant.
Jim Plott, spokesman for ADECA, said that in general, every grant cycle is a clean slate. In most cases a returned grant wouldn’t hurt the city’s chances on winning another grant.
“We’re going to listen to any kind of argument, I think,” Plott said.
Diane Glenn, principal planner for East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission and the grant writer who helped the city interpret the playground grant, said the block grant program wouldn’t hold the return of the grant against an applicant unless it was something that happened over and over again. However, she said every program is different.
Rooks on Thursday said he was investigating the project further, to see if it would be feasible for the city to pursue it. His next step was to see if the Alabama Department of Transportation would allow the sidewalks, since they would be on the department’s right-of-way, he said. ALDOT may also suggest another way to fund the project, Rooks said.
Rooks said he’s not fixed on the idea of the sidewalk grant, but he would like to tie the apartment complexes back to town.
“We don’t have that much surplus money to spend,” Rooks said. “We have to prioritize our projects.”
Glenn was adamant in her advice to the city.
“They should not apply for the grant unless they have the match funds set aside,” she said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.