When the Nathaniel Foster House (circa 1729) on Bayshore Road in Villas faced demolition, the Cape May County Historical Society sold the property to the county Open Space program, which then leased the property to Lower Township for preservation purposes.

Thanks to grant money ($235,000) from the county and state, the house will be conserved.

The house also received a $15,000 Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund Historic Site Management Grant in 2012, helping fund the preparation of a National Register nomination and conditions assessment.

Grants can come in amounts from thousands to millions of dollars, but all are vital to getting thingsdone for governments, organizations, and non-profits.

Most grants sought by local government organizations come from government sources, however, there are private foundation grants available to entities like arts and humanities groups.

Getting back as much of the tax dollars sent to the county, state and federal governments as possible takes a savvy fiduciary officer.

Colleen Crippen, assistant treasurer for Lower Township, applies for county Open Space program grants for the municipality and assists the engineer and hired private consultants with other grants.

Grants for facilities go through consultant Mark Blauer, of Blauer Associates, while state Department of Transportation (DOT) grants are usually handled by other private consultants. Consultants are paid by contract with the municipality, Crippen explained.

Some grant projects are small, like creating or refurbishing a park, and some are larger, like extending water or sewer systems. The county issues grants for things like preserving open space to helping commercial fishermen purchase boats.

According to the county's website, “The Revolving Fishing Loan Program started in 1984 with a grant provided through the Small Cities Community Block Grant Program with oversight by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.”

Also, the site explains the county’s Open Space program, “On Nov. 9, 1989, the voters of Cape May County approved by a 2 to 1 margin a ballot question endorsing the establishment of a trust fund to preserve open space and agricultural land. The trust is funded by a county property tax of 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation and currently generates approximately $1.3 million a year.

"Since its inception, the program has preserved approximately 4,000 acres of open space and farmland (over six square miles). Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, the Open Space program was expanded to include park/recreation development and historic preservation projects.”

Most government grants begin with a request for proposals (RFP) and can be issued by local, state or federal government. Grants are often referred to as “free money” because they do not have to be repaid.

While grants take some of the burden for a project off the taxpayer, they are funded through taxpayer dollars. Also, grants can be matching, meaning a municipal government must provide money to receive them.

One of the larger state grant programs is the DOT Local Bridges Fund, which is funded by state gas taxes.  According to an Aug. 6 press release from DOT, three Cape May County bridges will receive a total of $2.9 million from the program.

Townsend's Inlet spans one through seven replacement will receive $1 million, Ocean Drive over Middle Thorofare Bridge railing replacement will get $1 million, and Corson's Inlet substructure rehabilitation will get $919,000.

Other large grants in the county include a federal $3 million grant for a drone facility in the Tech Village at the Cape May County Airport. That grant came from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.

Crippen pointed out that grant money is really a reimbursement, and that projects are often started and partially completed before the money comes in.

“Once a grant is awarded, we can add it to the budget, so work or disbursement can begin. For example, the DOT will award 75% of a grant right away and the other 25% when the final report is submitted.”

Some grants are re-grants or pass-through grants that are received by a government entity, then used to fund programs that are operated by other organizations.

One example is the county Department of Human Services, which provides health services using federal, state and county funds. At the county level, the office serves as the grant’s management office through which many statewide initiatives are made operational.

The funding streams administered by the department are as follows: New Jersey Department of Children and Families, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, New Jersey Department of Human Services, New Jersey Division of Addiction Services, New Jersey Division of Mental Health Services, New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, New Jersey Governor Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission.

Diane Weiland, director, Cape May County Department of Tourism, said many departments in government seek out their own grants to fund programs within the department.

“Grants often supplement the budget to fund programs that we might not otherwise be able to do," Weiland said.

She said her department has applied for a shared grant with Cumberland County through the state Division of Travel and Tourism to promote tourism in the South Jersey shore area.

Grant money has been used for various purposes in the past, Weiland explained, including developing mobile websites, expanding the traditional tourism season and surveying visitors to see what brings them back and forth to the area.

Grant money not used must be returned to the government agency that awarded it. According to Weiland and Crippen, that almost never happens.

“Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton makes sure we spend the money,” Weiland said, with a laugh. “Seriously, we don’t want to send money back, it could affect a future grant award.”

Crippen has been administering grants for Lower Township for over 27 years, and for the Neighborhood Preservation Program before that. She has seen changes in the process over the years.

“In addition to my work with grants, I am the assistant treasurer and I help with payroll and our health and benefits program. Before applications, tracking, RFPs, and administration were electronic. It was a lot to keep track of. It’s easier now,” Crippen said.

DOT grants are posted yearly on their website, and most RFPs are announced by email, or there is a website where Crippen can go to look for grants.

“All grant applications to government entities are submitted electronically now. It saves a lot of paperwork,” said Crippen.

Tracking how grant money is spent is serious business, Crippen explained, with receipts, invoices and project progress submitted electronically to the issuing body every quarter.

Grantors also visit the municipality to audit grant files.

“Usually, a state auditor will come in twice a year to look through the files to make sure everything is on track,” Crippen said.

To contact Carl Price, email cprice@cmcherald.com.

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