With the city increasingly relying on grant money to fund everything from new sidewalks and sewer upgrades to firefighters and an in-house health and wellness consultant, Mayor Steve Noble is seeking a beefed-up administrative team to handle the complex task of managing existing grants and seeking out new ones. Noble’s proposed 2019 city budget includes a request for $93,580 in new spending to fund a dedicated Office of Grants Management at City Hall.
“In 2016, I created the position of grants manager to bring some order to our grant process and increase our capability to seek out new grants,” said Noble, who wrote and administered grants in his post at the city’s Parks and Recreation Department before taking office. “Creating a centralized Office of Grants Management is the next step.”
Since Noble took office in 2016 and appointed Kristin Wilson grants manager, the city has been awarded $20.3 million from the state and nonprofit groups. The largest single award, $10 million, came from the state’s highly competitive Downtown Revitalization Initiative program. Wilson also administers grants left over from previous administrations. Overall, Kingston’s grants portfolio totals some $34 million, just $9 million less than the entire city budget.
The job is daunting, Wilson said. Most grants, rather than simply deliver a check to City Hall, reimburse the city for work as it is performed or once the entire project is complete. To get the money, administrative staff must account for every voucher and invoice and document that the work was done in accordance with guidelines laid out by the granting agency.
The grants manager must also document and track city employees’ work on grant-funded projects for use as an “in-kind” match for grants which require matching funds. For example, if a DPW employee spends one hour of their workday on a grant-funded project, that time must be documented separately from their regular hours and reported to the grants manager. The grants manager is also charged with community outreach on new projects, obtaining permits and other administrative duties.
“The grant-writing process can be the easiest part,” said Wilson. “Once you get the grant, there’s just a tremendous amount of management needs.”
To illustrate the job’s complexities, Wilson used the Build a Better Broadway project. The initiative will remake a stretch of Broadway in Midtown Kingston with new traffic signals, sidewalks, streetlights, bike lanes and other improvements. The project is funded by grants from four different state agencies — the departments of transportation and environmental conservation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. Wilson estimates that she spends 30 minutes to an hour each day just managing the Broadway project’s grants.
“We have to do reporting for each agency and we have to do it the way they want it done,” said Wilson. “The city is also the coordinating agency. Those agencies don’t talk to each other unless we ask them to.”
In addition to brick-and-mortar projects, grants pay all or part of the salary of about two dozen city employees. Among positions funded are several city firefighters who have a portion of their salaries paid through a Department of Homeland Security grant program. A grant from the nonprofit Novo Foundation pays for the city’s new health and wellness coordinator, while a $30,000 state grant offsets grants management expenses. In many cases, grants fund just a fraction of overall employee costs, but their hours must still be carefully logged and reported to the grant-making agencies.
To deal with the city’s ever expanding grant portfolio, Noble’s proposal would create a new Office of Grants Management headed by Wilson. The department’s total budget would be $256,000 per year with the majority of that cost coming through existing city resources. A clerk currently employed by the city would be assigned part-time to the office. Some $93,000 in new spending will go to hire a grants manager at a salary of $50,236 (the remainder of the new spending would go towards benefits). Wilson, meanwhile, would become director of grants management with a salary of $63,828.
Noble said that the new setup would put the city in a better position to pursue new grants. Noble added more staff would also help ensure the city gets as much reimbursement as possible out of existing awards.
Noble said he hoped eventually to add sophisticated grant-tracking software to the office. A $40,000 allocation for the computer program was included in a “requested budget” for the department, but did not make it into Noble’s final recommended spending plan. The software would track employee time spend on grant-funded projects and would allow the city to recoup administrative costs on some federal grants that are currently “left on the table,” Noble said. Noble said the software would also open the door to pursing some federal grants that are currently beyond the city’s capacity to administer.
“The state and private foundations are fine with just writing down hours on a timesheet,” said Noble. “The federal government is a lot more rigorous.”