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CAO: Cuts to funding program would hurt county

Imagine, if you will, a Lawrence County without much of Ironton's downtown revitalization, without the Ironton Hills shopping center, and without The Point industrial park.

Those are projects, among many others, that have been funded in part by the Community Development Block Grant program, which, if some Washington officials have their way, may soon go the way of the dinosaur.

The program was created in 1974 as a way to provide adequate housing to those with lower incomes and help enrich communities that may not have a lot of funding of their own.

In the more than 30 years since its inception, the program has ballooned to require a price tag of $4.7 billion. Around one-third of that money goes to public improvement projects and one-fourth to housing projects.

The rest of that sum is divided amongst public services, economic development, land acquisition, housing loans and miscellaneous items.

The CDBG program has come under fire from the Bush administration, which says that the work the program overlaps with too many other government programs.

In Bush's plan, the CDBG services would be merged with 17 other smaller loan, grant and tax incentive programs. Funding for the program would also be cut by $2 billion.

Congress has put the kibosh on that plan, but they have yet to put through its annual spending bill, which will let supporters and detractors of the CDBG program know where it stands financially.

Lawrence County residents have good reason to wait for a decision on the program with their collective breath held and fingers crossed, as the CDBG has been a critical facet of financing in Lawrence County.

Ralph Kline, executive director of development with the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, estimated that the city of Ironton receives $1 million a year from the CDBG program while the county gets around $2 million.

Were those dollars to dry up, it would have serious consequences for the county, Kline said.

"We wouldn't be doing a lot of water and sewer projects in targeted areas, so the only other way of undertaking those projects would be to find alternative funding," Kline said. "Typically that's going to come back to the users, and increased user costs."

"We also probably would not be able to pull together competitive deals for some of our economic development projects, and you would have needy individuals who would probably not have emergency repairs done to their homesŠit would have a major impact on the community."

All is not lost, however, as a decision on the program has not yet been reached. Kline encourages any county resident concerned about the dissolution of the program to contact their Washington officials, to make their feelings known.

"We've been pulling together letters and resolutions urging our congressional representatives to hopefully act reasonably," Kline said.

"Hopefully the public could be involved, a simple e-mail, telephone call or letter to the congressional offices would help."

Lawrence County's representative is Congressman Ted Strickland who can be reached at 1-888-706-1833 or via e-mail by visiting http://www.house.gov/writerep/.