Government grants…There is no “free” money

The Rochester Sentinel
Voice of the People
12/19/14

There is no free money

Federal grants. State grants. It seems like you can’t read the paper without seeing reference to government grants being sought and received. Recently this has been the case for our area: the Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the USDA announced in the Dec. 17th Sentinel, the revitalization of downtown Rochester, the development of the Nickel Plate Trail and many other projects of recent years. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a grant is sought and received for the Times Cinema restoration.

This is not unique to the Fulton County area. Recently the town of Seymour in southern Indiana received a state grant of about $800,000 from the Indiana Department of Transportation to erect a welcome sign on the edge of their community. No doubt the seeking of grants is occurring throughout our country. It is always easier to spend someone else’s money even though we’re fooling ourselves when we think this is the case with government grants.

The issue is not the projects but rather the means of funding them. We send money via a bunch of different taxes to Indianapolis and Washington D.C. and if “lucky” some of it is returned as grants along with a lot of bureaucratic red tape and stipulations to receive the grant and administer it. Our country has amassed a federal debt of more than $18+ trillion. There is no “free” money.

One of the most frequent uses of government grant money is the creation of walking and biking trails. This grant money comes from gas taxes. Yes, tax money for the maintenance and repair of roads, highways and bridges is being diverted to trails. Again, the issue is not the project but how it is funded. A favorite phrase of those who advocate for the grants is “enhancing the quality of life.” Make no mistake, this is a sales pitch.

It is a matter of priorities and when spending your own money, i.e. at the local government level, a mindset of priorities will quickly come to the fore. If it appears to be “free” money, i.e. from the state or federal government, then the concept of “priorities” quickly disappears.

This matter and other Fulton County as well as Indiana and national government topics are being explored at www.myusagovernment.org, a recent project created to inform my fellow citizens.

Russ Phillips

Those Pension Cuts and What You Need to Know

http://blog.aarp.org/
12/16/14

Congress recently carved a hole in a 40-year-old pension law that has prevented employers from cutting benefits earned by those already retired. This change applies to people covered under multiemployer plans that are in critical financial shape.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is a multiemployer plan? This is a pension covering workers and retirees from more than one employer in the same or related industries, such as trucking or construction. (Most of them were established under collective bargaining between a union and the employers.) There are about 1,400 multiemployer plans with 10.4 million participants… (more)

FEDCO gets $99K grant

The Rochester Sentinel
12/17/14

Fulton Economic Development Corporation has received a $99,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The grant money will be used to continue FEDCO’s low interest loan program and to provide funding for training to eligible businesses in Fulton County, FEDCO said in a press release. Eligible businesses include startups that have met application requirements or existing businesses based in Fulton County with less than $1 million in gross annual sales and less than 50 employees.

This is the third and largest such grant the USDA has awarded to FEDCO in the past five years.

FEDCO Executive Director Terry Lee said the funding will provide a boost to an already successful program.

“These additional funds are a vote of confidence from the USDA and will allow FEDCO to help more Fulton County businesses start and grow.

We’ve created a very comprehensive program for small businesses that includes a wide range of resources and the USDA’s grant is at the heart of what we offer,” he said.

For more information, contact Amy Beechy at amy@yourprojectmatters. com or 574-709-7955.

(Related article: ROCHESTER, Ind., 7/15/10 — A $75,000 USDA Rural Development Grant awarded July 6 (2010) to the Fulton Economic Development Corp…FEDCO received a $50,000 grant last October…) (more)

How much are fuel taxes? Is now “perfect” time to raise them?

The need for infrastructure improvements (roads, highways and bridges) is receiving increased attention due to their condition and the now substantially less cost for gas. Given the latter, some are now saying it is the ideal time to act.

A Monroe County Indiana County Council member presents a clear picture of state excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel and also, as of 2013, how some state fuel tax was diverted from road construction and maintenance and how the sales tax (yes, we also pay 7% sales tax on fuel in addition to the excise tax) on fuel does not go towards funding of roads at all.

With the current reduced gasoline cost some are saying now is the time to raise the fuel tax. It’s not just the state excise tax on fuel but also the federal excise tax on fuel. According to NPR, raises on fuel tax are on the table in many states around the country and have recently been approved in several. As a tax increase is contemplated the caveat is what will be the overall fuel price when oil prices rebound. It never pays to think only of the moment.

(Related source: Federal gas tax increase of 15 cents is coming…or is it?)

More analysis of spending bill and clarification as to whether it was $1.1 T or $1.01 T

The National Priorities Project (NPP) is a source I frequently refer to. If not familiar with NPP I strongly encourage visiting at least NPP’s home page. I subscribe to their email list (no cost and only requires email and zip) and this can be done near the bottom of their home page.

NPP has an analysis of the recently passed spending bill and has some details not previously shared on this blog including:

Debt & Deficit

  • Officially abides by the spending limits ($1.013 trillion) of the 2013 Ryan-Murray Bipartisan Budget Act.
  • However, total spending is actually closer to $1.1 trillion, when you count emergency spending and appropriations from previous years that will actually be spent this year, bringing spending above the Bipartisan Budget Act limit.

What’s in the $1.1 trillion spending bill?

(The Washington Post on 12/10/14 published “What’s in the spending bill? We skim it so you don’t have to,” as reported by Ed O’Keefe, and republished below.)

This item has been updated and revised.

The $1.01 trillion spending bill unveiled late Tuesday will keep most of the federal government funded through next September — and it’s packed with hundreds of policy instructions, known on Capitol Hill as “riders,” that will upset or excite Democrats, Republicans and various special interest groups.

So, what’s in the bill? We’ve sifted through the legislation, consulted supporting documents from Democratic and Republican aides, and called out some of the more notable and controversial elements below. (If you want to review detailed reports on all 12 parts of the spending bill, click here.)

Please note: This is a fluid report that will be updated to add more detail or correct errors. What notable changes did we miss? What notable changes did you spot? Contact us or share details in the comments section below:

ABORTION:

The bill once again bans using federal funding to perform most abortions; blocks the use of local and federal funding for abortions in the District of Columbia; and blocks the use of federal dollars for abortions for federal prisoners. Republicans say that there’s also new language directing the secretary of health and human services to ensure that consumers shopping for health-care coverage on the federal exchange can tell whether a plan covers abortion services.

AFFORDABLE CARE ACT:

The law is still funded, but there’s no new money for it. There’s also no new ACA-related funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the two agencies most responsible for implementing the law. The bill also would cut the budget of the Independent Payment Advisory Board — what Republicans have called “the death panel” — by $10 million.

AFGHANISTAN:

Congress withholds funding for the Afghan government “until certain conditions are met,” including implementing the bilateral security agreement reached with the United States.

AMTRAK:

The nation’s rail passenger service earns $1.39 billion, the same amount it currently receives. The rail service carries passengers through 46 states and hit an all-time high of 31.6 million passengers during the last fiscal year, according to Democratic aides.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE:

The bill would dramatically expand the amount of money that wealthy political donors could inject into the national parties, drastically undercutting the 2002 landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul. Bottom line: A donor who gave the maximum $32,400 this year to the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee would be able to donate another $291,600 on top of that to the party’s additional arms — a total of $324,000, ten times the current limit. Read more on this here.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY:

The agency gets $8.1 billion, down $60 million from the last fiscal year. The agency’s budget has been slashed by $2.2 billion, or 21 percent, since fiscal 2010, according to GOP aides. The cuts mean that EPA will have to reduce its staffing to the lowest levels since 1989.

ERIC CANTOR:

Well, kind of. The former House majority leader stunned the political world by losing in a GOP primary last summer. But Congress agreed to provide $12.6 million for his signature legislative achievement — the Gabriella Miller Kids First Act, which authorizes new federally-funded pediatric research. The bill was paid for by slashing federal funding for political conventions.

FEDERAL WORKER PAY (AND CONFERENCES):

The bill allows a 1 percent pay raise ordered by Obama to take effect in January. And the legacy of embarrassing spending scandals at federal agencies persist as Congress once again banned or put limits on certain conferences, official travel and some employee awards.

FOOD SAFETY (AND THE FDA)

There’s $2.589 billion for the Food and Drug Administration, a $37 million increase from last year. There’s $27 million in new funding for the Food Safety Modernization Act. The Food Safety and Inspection Service would receive $1.016 billion, a $5 million increase.

GUANTANAMO BAY:

Once again the Obama administration is banned from transferring terrorism detainees to the United States from the U.S. military facility in Cuba. There’s also a ban on building or buying any facility in the U.S. to house detainees. But the bill allows for the ongoing transfer of detainees to other countries.

HEROIN:

In a modest attempt to address a growing crisis with the illicit drug, lawmakers are adding $7 million for a new anti-heroin task force run out of the Justice Department’s COPS Office. The money will be used as part of a competitive grant program for drug enforcement, including investigations and operations to stop the distribution or sale of the drug, according to Democrats.

IMMIGRATION:

The bill only funds the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees most immigration policy, until February. But negotiators gave new money for immigration programs at other federal agencies. There’s $948 million for the Department of Health and Human Service’s unaccompanied children program — an $80 million increase. The program provides health and education services to the young migrants. The department also gets $14 million to help school districts absorbing new immigrant students. And the State Department would get $260 million to assist Central American countries from where of the immigrant children are coming.

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE:

One of the GOP’s favorite targets will see its budget slashed by $345.6 million. The nation’s tax agency also would be banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.

ISRAEL:

There’s $3.1 billion in total aid for the country plus $619.8 million in defense aid.

JOE BIDEN:

The legislation once again enacts a pay freeze for the vice president “and senior political appointees.”

LIBYA:

The troubled country cannot receive any U.S. aid until the secretary of state confirms the country is cooperating with ongoing investigations into the September 2012 attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

JORDAN:

The Arab kingdom would receive $1 billion in economic and military aid, in addition to U.S. humanitarian aid for millions of Syrian refugees.

LIGHT BULBS:

The bill once again prohibits new standards that would ban the use of cheaper, less energy efficient incandescent bulbs. The proposal was first introduced and set in motion by the Bush administration, but the Obama White House allowed the change to continue, despite sustained consumer demand for older bulbs.

MARIJUANA:

The District of Columbia will be prohibited from legalizing marijuana for the much of the coming year. The development — upending a voter-approved initiative — shocked elected D.C. leaders, advocates for marijuana legalization and civil liberties groups. The bill also would block the Justice Department from interfering with state-level medical marijuana measures and prohibits the Drug Enforcement Agency from interfering with industrial hemp production.

METRORAIL:

The D.C. region’s subway and bus system would earn $150 million in federal dollars for continued improvements. That’s part of $10.9 billion set to be doled out for transit programs nationwide, including the construction of new rail and rapid bus projects in California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas. But Republicans stress that the bill has no new federal funding for high-speed rail projects, especially the ambitious Los Angeles-to-San Francisco routes envisioned by California Democrats.

MILITARY PAY AND PERKS:

Military service members will receive a 1 percent pay increase next year. But there’s a pay freeze for generals and flag officers. The bill also ends a five percent discount on tobacco and tobacco-related products sold at military exchanges.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY:

The agreement includes $24 million to complete the federal government’s contribution to the new museum being built on the Mall. The rest of the money will be raised through private donations.

NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH:

The nation’s premier medical research agency would receive $30.3 billion, a $150 million overall increase. Democrats noted that the new funding helps especially for ongoing Alzheimer’s and brain research programs.

OFFICIAL PORTRAITS:

You’re a government official and want an official portrait? You’ll have to pay for it (or raise the funds). The bill bans taxpayer funding for official portraits of any Executive Branch employees, lawmakers and heads of legislative agencies.

OVERSEAS MILITARY OPERATIONS:

There’s $1.3 billion for a new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund; $5 billion for military operations to combat the Islamic State, including $1.6 billion to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces; $500 million for a Pentagon-led program to train and equip vetted Syrian opposition fighters; $810 million for ongoing military operations in Europe, including requirements that at least $175 million is spent in support of Ukraine and Baltic nations.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY:

The bill stops assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it becomes a member of the United Nations or UN agencies without an agreement  with Israel. It also prohibits funds for Hamas.

PENSIONS:

For the first time, the benefits of current retirees could be severely cut, part of an effort to save some of the nation’s most distressed pension plans. The change would alter 40 years of federal law and could affect millions of workers, many of them part of a shrinking corps of middle-income employees in businesses such as trucking, construction and supermarkets. Read more on this here.

U.S. POSTAL SERVICE:

You like your mail on Saturdays? You’ll keep your mail on Saturdays. The bill requires the mail service to continue six-day deliveries, despite a years-long attempt to cut back on service to save money.

POTATOES:

White potatoes, to be exact. The Women, Infants and Children program that provides food aid to low-income families would receive $6.6 billion, a $93 million cut from the last fiscal year. But the program will be required to ensure that “all varieties of fresh vegetables, including white potatoes, are eligible for purchase” through the program, said Republicans. The change is a big victory for the potato lobby, which has long fought to be part of the food assistance program.

RACE TO THE TOP:

The bill cuts funding for Obama’s signature education initiative — a big blow to his education legacy, according to The Post’s Valerie Strauss. Overall, the Education Department would take a slight hit in funding; at $70.5 billion, down $133 million below the fiscal year 2014, but special education grants to states would get $25 million more than last year, up to $11.5 billion. There is also no funding for the controversial Common Core State Standards in this legislation.

RAILROADS:

Among other things, there’s $3 million to expand inspections along the roughly 14,000 miles of track used by trains hauling oil tankers.

SAGE-GROUSE:

In a victory for the GOP, the bill would ban the Fish and Wildlife Service from adding the rare bird found in several Western states to the Endangered Species List. Republicans argue that adding the bird to the list “would have severe economic consequences on Western states and the nation’s efforts to become energy independent.” But there’s also $15 million for the Bureau of Land Management to conserve sage-grouse habitats.

SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM:

The school lunch nutritional changes sought by First Lady Michelle Obama take a hit. The bill allows more flexibility to school districts to implement new whole grain nutrition standards “if the school can demonstrate a hardship” when buying whole grain products, according to Republicans. The bill also relaxes new sodium standards until they are “supported by additional scientific studies.”

SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE MILITARY:

There’s $257 million for the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs, including $25 million more to expand the Sexual Assault Victims’ Counsel program. But Democrats, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), are expected to make a final push to expand the program this week.

TRUCKING:

In a victory for the trucking industry, the bill blocks new Transportation Department regulations requiring truckers to get two nights of sleep before starting a new work week. The regulation slashed a typical trucker’s work week to 70 hours, down from 82 hours.

UNITED NATIONS:

The perennial ban on providing money for the ongoing renovation of U.N. Headquarters in New York remains intact.

U.S. CAPITOL (AND RELATED AGENCIES):

There’s $21 million to continue restoring the cast-iron Capitol Dome. And $348 million for the U.S. Capitol Police (a force with 1,775 officers). Lawmakers also plan to save $10,000 by allowing the congressional Office of Compliance to email congressional staffers about their employment rights. Old rules required the office to send such notices by snail mail. Finally, for the first time the agency formerly known as the Government Printing Office is now officially known as the Government Publishing Office.

VETERANS:

After a year of embarrassing scandals at the sprawling Department of Veterans Affairs, lawmakers are making good on promises to provide more money and oversight. There’s a total of $159.1 billion in discretionary and mandatory spending. Of that, $209 million was added to address new costs related to the bipartisan veterans’ reform bill passed last summer. The legislation calls for adding medical staff and expanding dozens of facilities. In order to specifically addressing the “wait list” scandal, the VA’s inspector general is getting a $5 million budget increase to continue investigating lapses in patient care.

WHISTLEBLOWERS:

The bill includes language ensuring that government contractors are not barred from reporting allegations of waste, fraud or abuse if they sign a confidentiality agreement. And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would receive a $500,000 increase for its enforcement of existing whistleblower laws.

WHITE HOUSE BUDGET:

There’s $222 million for executive mansion operations, a $10 million increase. The money pays for the National Security and Homeland Security councils, the Council of Economic Advisers, the vice president’s office and the executive residence. The bill doesn’t provide any new funding “to address security weaknesses at the White House complex,” according to Democrats. But the U.S. Secret Service would be allowed to use some of its funding “to prepare and train for the next presidential election campaign,” Democrats said.

WOLVES:

Well, only if you’re attacked. There’s $1 million in the bill “to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.”

YUCCA MOUNTAIN:

There’s no new money for the site, but current money for it must be spent pursuant to a recent court decision. Republicans say that the bill continues to leave open the possibility that the site could be used someday to store nuclear waste — but that won’t happen as long as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is around.

Michael Fletcher, Matea Gold, Christopher Ingraham, Valerie Strauss and Eric Yoder contributed to this report.

What notable changes did we miss? What notable changes did you spot?Contact us or share details in the comments section below.

(Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections. As of this time there are 2,132 comments following the Post article.)

Why do out-of-district students keep enrolling at Caston Schools?

The Administrator of this website lives within the Caston school district and has served as principal, teacher and school board member for the district. Thus, at times news about Caston Schools will be featured here. 

Currently 91 of Caston’s students live outside the district. This is about 12% of the total enrollment of 742. In the fall of 2009 there were 11 students living outside the district. In subsequent years the number continued to grow to…24…33…59…75…and the current 91.

Curious about Caston Schools? You’re invited to check out Caston’s tri-fold brochure here. The Corporation website is here.

Want more information or a tour? Contact Mrs. Lucinda Douglass, Superintendent, at 574/857-2035, ext. 336 or Mrs. Katie Miller, Elementary Principal at 574/857-3025, ext. 334 or Mr. Dale Osburn, Jr.-Sr. High Principal at 574/857-3505, ext. 310.

(Rochester) downtown planning in motion

BY WESLEY DEHNE

Staff Writer, The Sentinel
12/13/14

The Rochester Redevelopment Commission voted to engage Strategic Development Group Inc., or SDg, to develop revitalization plans for downtown Rochester.

On Tuesday, the commission interviewed four consulting firms for the job. It decided to negotiate a contract with SDg, worth $45,000, on Friday. Lee said he’d like to have a contract signed by Dec. 23.

The other three firms who responded to requests for proposals: Remenschneider Associates Inc., HWC Engineering and Development Consultants Inc.

Commission members scored the firms based on such categories as understanding project requirements, design approach/methodology, key personnel and roles, pertinent experience, consultant/ in-house resources, technical project management, responsiveness to owner’s concern, what they charge for their services and subconsultant selection.

On Friday, the five-member scoring committee scored SDg with 2,640. Remenschneider Associates Inc. scored ten fewer points. The committee was comprised of Rochester Redevelopment Commission President Terry Lee, redevelopment commission members, Ben Woodcox and Evan Gottschalk, Rochester City Clerk Shoda Beehler and Fulton County Plan Director Casi Cowles.

A first round of scoring produced results so close that Amy Miller, grant administrator at Cornerstone Grants Management Inc., suggested the committee could re-score the candidates.

It did so, and Remenschneider Associates Inc. and SDg, tied. The redevelopment commission then voted 3-2 to negotiate with SDg, which scored higher in the first round.

“We need to make sure we’re happy with them before moving forward,” said Lee, “The scope of work needs to be agreed upon.”

SDg’s strengths – their approach to study, being heavily involved in planning, taking a broad look at the downtown area and then focusing on more specific projects – were noted. Commission members also noted some perceived SDg weaknesses, among them a lack of focus on historical preservation and a unique identity and a lack of engineering personnel.

Redevelopment commission members appreciated SDg’s comparison of Rochester’s downtown to the mall in Muncie, in terms of size and consideration for retail opportunities.

The commission plans to use a $40,000 grant from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs to pay for the redevelopment plan. A $4,500 match is required.

Woodcox said other downtown revitalization projects were successful because at least 10 percent of the community lived downtown. Cowles suggested focusing on housing and downtown events before providing retail opportunities is putting the cart before the horse. “Prerequisites for this being successful are someone to be a clear champion to spearhead the project and a steering committee to pursue and suggest ideas,” Gottschalk said.

FEDCO helps with train depot, Times Cinema, Rochester downtown

12/6/14

FEDCO (Fulton Economic Development Corp.) serves as a growth and development partner for business and industry and as a community development partner for cities and towns of Fulton County.

Following are several recent newspaper articles of recent efforts of which FEDCO has been a part.
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