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Columbia Missourian

Four organizations denied 2013 block grant funding

By Raymond Howze
September 9, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia will still see fruit trees planted around the city this year. Just not as many as expected.

The Columbia City Council approved next year's Community Development Block Grant funding on Tuesday, which allocates money to organizations and projects meant to benefit the community. The allocations will be gain final approval as part of the larger city budget for fiscal year 2013, which is scheduled for a vote by the council on Sept. 17.

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Four organizations that applied for 2013 funding were denied. They include the Interfaith Day Center, Columbia Montessori School, the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association and The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.

Approved funding included $209,000 to install downtown ramps at intersections and make the curbs more ADA compliant. In addition, the Boone County Council on Aging was awarded $36,000. All together, the commission approved $922,000 in grant money for 2013.

One of the four denied applicants, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, requested $40,000 to expand its urban fruit tree planting. The commission cited reasons for denial such as tree planting — a low priority need on the Consolidated Plan — and a lack of specificity as to how many trees were to be planted or the number of residents. The commission also cited a lack of control over tree-planting sites, which would have increased the "risk of the project's long term effectiveness."

Randy Cole, the community development coordinator for Columbia, said the toughest part about determining where the funding goes is having limited resources and increased needs.

"A big problem we have is we've been cut on the amount of funds we have," Cole said. "Oftentimes, we have projects that are valid, but aren't funded because we have a limited amount of money to allocate."

Adam Saunders is the co-founder, and community and advocacy coordinator for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. He helped the center apply for the grant funding. Saunders said they would have liked the money, but they now will have to rely on previous funding sources.

"It (grant money) would have been another layer," Saunders said. "We're not going to shut down our doors because we still have multiple streams of revenue — it was a missed opportunity for both partners."

A missed opportunity, Saunders said, because the organization's requested funding was going to go toward a sustainable community project. 

"Planting fruit trees is an investment in the community's future and requires upfront work for a sustained return to the community," Saunders said. "The trees are a very solid strategy to increase access to fresh fruits for all people."

People from the center plants trees at local churches, schools, parks and community gardens. In addition to apple, peach and pear trees, they also plant raspberry and blackberry bushes at the same locations. 

Funding for the center currently comes from four main sources: selling fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets, operating a landscape company, a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant as part of the Farmer's Market Promotion Program and various donations.

The center has planted more than 100 fruit trees in urban areas of Columbia during the past three years. However, the trees require a significant amount of care and maintenance , which is one reason the center applied for a grant.

The amount of care and maintenance also went into the commission's decision to deny the funding. The funds the organization requested would have gone more toward personnel instead of direct service, Cole said. 

The money allocated for the approved projects will be available starting in the spring of 2013.