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County waits for word on federal funds

Funding for the $100 million Ironton-Huntington, W.

Monday, September 20, 1999

Funding for the $100 million Ironton-Huntington, W.Va., Empowerment Zone grant depends upon Congress’s budget deliberations this month, local officials said following a Washington, D.C., trip.

Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Ironton and several of the grant’s writers joined officials from zones in Cincinnati and Columbus last week to urge federal lawmakers to guarantee the funds.

"The thinking while we were there was that they will do everything they can to fund (the Empowerment Zone), and I believe they will," chamber executive director Pat Clonch said.

"But they said it has to be a priority for the administration (in the White House)," Mrs. Clonch said, adding that insiders indicated several programs have higher marks right now.

"The only thing we can do is keep the heat on," she said.

The Empowerment Zone provides the two states $10 million each year for 10 years to attract new industry and build on the area’s infrastructure. It targets poor areas in Huntington, W.Va., and Ironton and establishes areas for industrial job development, such as the former South Point Ethanol plant site.

The area expected to receive $10 million this year when the feds approved the zone designation, but only got $3 million.

Congress said dollars would be short, so local officials planned the trip to stump for continued – if not guaranteed – funding, said Bill Dingus, OUSC dean and chair of the chamber’s legislative committee.

"We told them in our area when we make a commitment, we stick with it and we would like for you to do likewise," Dingus told chamber members Friday.

Senate Bill 1437 and its companion in the House guarantees funding for the next nine years, but it is not likely to pass, he said.

If the bill is funded during federal budget deliberations this month, then other parts of that budget will have to be cut and they indicated they could not find those cuts, Dingus said.

"I believe there will be continued funding ," he said, but added that for how long and for how much remains unclear.

"The question is whether it’s a White House priority," Dingus said. "Each of us needs to be legislative liasons."

Mrs. Clonch said zone funding will likely come down to a last-minute cliffhanger in Congress, even though all southern Ohio legislators are pushing.

Still, with one-third of this year’s $3 million going to Ironton, several projects have moved forward, zone officials said.

Grant writer Ralph Kline of the Ironton-Lawrence County Area Community Action Organization listed a master plan for developing the South Point site and a plan for Ironton waterline improvements as just two of the benefits reaped so far.

The zone also has funded city curb and sidewalk improvements, the OUSC daycare center, the Marting Hotel project’s support services, and a number of medical and homeless service projects this year, Kline said.

In addition, the zone allows tax credits and incentive packages that cannot be matched by other areas of the Tri-State, he said.

Without continued federal funding of the Empowerment Zone, all the time spent by dozens of residents and businessowners in mapping out the next 10 years worth of improvements will be wasted, and ongoing projects could be jeopardized, Kline said.