In recent years the City of Findlay has attempted to run government at the speed of private business.
While that may work with some things, there’s no good reason to fast track grant applications, unless there’s a rapidly approaching deadline — or you want to avoid public input.
Yet, City Council appears intent on rushing a grant request for what would seem to be a routine project involving improvements to Logan Avenue. The project involves lowering the existing roadway so curbs can be installed, along with storm sewers and a larger waterline.
Normally, council would have given three readings before giving authorization to Service Director Brian Thomas to apply for a grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission. But on Tuesday, it did so after a single reading.
Had the matter gotten three readings, council members would have had time to look closer at the project and the details of the grant. Those affected by the project would also have had an opportunity to learn more, too.
Now, relatively little will be known about the Logan Avenue project until after the grant application is approved.
City officials apparently haven’t learned much from the fallout over the proposal to add bike paths to Blanchard and Lincoln streets.
Findlay is positioned to receive $2.75 million from the state for those two projects, which have gotten considerable negative response since being unveiled earlier this summer, almost three years after the city first applied for the grants.
Council has yet to approve the city’s share of funding for the project, but it may be hard for members to say “no” to $2.75 million despite the opposition.
The divisiveness of the bike path projects should be reason enough for the administration to consider adopting a formal review process for grant applications.
Auditor Jim Staschiak made that suggestion Tuesday based on “best practices” of the Government Finance Officers Association.
The GFOA recommends that governments develop a formal grants policy that addresses various steps to be taken prior to applying for or accepting grants.
Generally speaking, such a process would allow for better vetting of projects by council and the public.
Had such a process been in place, community input on the bike path projects could have been received sooner, and perhaps taken into consideration by officials.
There are other reasons why Findlay should adopt a grant policy. Grants often come with strings attached. There can be restrictions on how the money is used, and penalties can be assessed if a grant is administered incorrectly. That can negatively affect city finances.
There is no such thing as “free” money, of course. Whether grants are state or federal, they’re funded by taxpayers.
The city’s grant process appears to operate like this: Apply for a grant now, and give the public details later. By the time later arrives, most of the discussion is over. Projects seem all but a done deal.
Putting the cart before the horse is not the best way to operate city government.