Niles township votes to apply for EDA grant

NILES TOWNSHIP — Monday evening, the Niles Township Board of Trustees met inside township hall, 320 Bell Road, Niles. Township trustees sat, spaced out 6 feet apart, with some donning masks as added protection against COVID-19.

According to township officials, the pandemic has affected more than just meeting attire and functionality. It has also affected the township’s budget, which, in part, led to a resolution to seek out grant opportunities.

Monday, the Niles Township Board of Trustees voted to pursue applying for an Economic Development Administration grant. The grant would be an 80/20 grant, with 80 percent of project costs covered by federal funds, matched with 20 percent local funds.

Described as a highly competitive grant, the EDA’s website says its investment priorities are designed to provide an overarching framework to guide the agency’s investment portfolio to ensure its investments contribute the most substantial positive impact on sustainable regional economic growth and diversification.

To be considered a competitive application, the township must include at least one of the following investment priorities:

• Recovery and resilience: Projects that assist economic resilience and recovery from long-term recovery from disasters and economic shock.

• Critical infrastructure:  Establishing the fundamental building blocks, including physical (e.g., roads, water, sewer).

• Workforce development: Projects that encourage job creation and business expansion, including infrastructure-related efforts.

• Exports and FDI: Projects that enhance community assets (e.g., port facilities).

• Opportunity zones: Economic growth in designated opportunities zones, which are economically-distressed communities where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Localities qualify as opportunity zones if they have been nominated for that designation by the state, and the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury has certified that nomination via his delegation of authority to the Internal Revenue Service.

Treasurer Jim Ringler, who brought the application opportunity before the board, said there were critical infrastructure projects within the township that likely fall within the grant criteria.

Previously, the township had plans to do bonding on particular projects, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those bonding plans were put on hold, Ringler said.

“The way I look at it, if this is stuff we were going to do anyway, why would we say no?” Ringler said. “We may not get it, but then we are no worse off than we were before.”

Trustees supported the resolution to pursue an application.

“I think we should try,” said Trustee Chris Vella to echoes of agreement. “I think we should pursue it.”

Should the township be awarded the EDA grant, Ringler said he believed it could provide the township some financial relief. 

“All we did tonight was say we are going to look into this further,” Ringler said. “If we can we can cover part of these critical infrastructure projects with grants, I think that benefits the township greatly.”