Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fiscal Federalism and the Federal Grant Process

The Cities of Shorewood and Tonka Bay are fortunate enough to have a Three Rivers Park Light Rail Transit (LRT) trail that borders their cities and acts as a corridor for safe non-motorized commuting in their respective cities. One large problem with this path is that is crosses multiple roads of varying sizes. Currently, one of the largest roads crossed is County Road 19 near the intersection of Smithtown Road. This area represents a hazard to those using the trail system and those driving on County Road 19 as both parties are at risk. There have been numerous accidents that have occurred at that location making it a prime area for improvement.  When speaking with Alex Meyer, Three Rivers Parks District Landscape Architect, he said that a grant was obtained via the federal government to improve safety on the Light Rail Transit corridor.  When examining the procedures required to obtain a federal grant, it can quickly be seen the complexity and difficulty in obtaining one. Compared to Hennepin County’s budget, Three River’s Parks uses considerably less for debt service.

Three Rivers Parks district has both the administrative ability to complete the complicated federal application, ensure the project meets milestones and goals, and engineering assets to get the grant approved. Additionally, they have the financial capacity to be able to pay their share of the 80-20 grant on $3 million as their debt service is less than 1% of their total expenditures, far better than comparative jurisdictions, and they have used been decreasing expenditures over the last three years. The Shorewood-Tonka Bay Bridge crossing excellently illustrates pros and cons of the federal grant system as well as vertical integration of fiscal federalism.

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