Ontario keeps team in Washington chasing project money

Adam Brown, Ontario city manager, at a recent city council meeting. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise).

ONTARIO – The Ontario City Council decided the city will continue investing in grant writing services through the end of a one-year contract begun last June. 

The contract with the Washington, D.C.-based firm Merchant MacIntyre has enabled the city of Ontario to apply for millions of dollars in federal funds that City Manager Adam Brown and firm co-founder Brent Merchant say the city would otherwise have had little chance of getting.

Despite the seeming promise of this venture, the city has yet to see any money from the work of Merchant MacIntyre because none of the relevant grants have had been awarded yet. 

The lag between application and award, Brown said, made it “difficult to evaluate success.” Nonetheless, the city is taking a bet on the service, agreeing to continue paying $6,500 a month in the hope the city will win several grants worth several million dollars.

The grant process is “incredibly difficult, it takes a lot of time,” said Merchant. “The city, from our perspective, has made a wise decision to approach these opportunities strategically. How do we start preparing these applications as far in advance as possible? Because they are so challenging to get.”

Brown listed several grants that the city is pursuing with Merchant MacIntyre’s help. They range from public art to economic development, and even some non-city functions like education. 

There is a $150,000 grant pending with the National Endowment for the Arts that would fund the city’s wayfinding system if awarded. 

“We want to work with (Four Rivers) Cultural Center and Black Lives Matter Ontario to get some culturally representative artwork,” said Brown. 

The city will find out in April if the money has been granted.

Ontario also is seeking two grants for projects on Northeast and Southeast Second Street that would spruce up the local infrastructure. Around $4 million will be requested from the federal Economic Development Administration. The money was originally apportioned as part of Covid-related CARES Act funding, and Brown and Merchant confirmed that more Economic Development Administration money is expected to become available with the new federal stimulus bill. 

The federal Department of Homeland Security may help the city buy two new fire trucks for the Ontario Fire Department in a grant of up to $1 million, and the city has also put in to receive money for another firefighter. 

The city is applying for another grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services in the amount of $200,000 to fund “affordable housing and wraparound services for tenants,” Brown said. 

At the state level, Merchant MacIntyre is assisting the city in applying for an Oregon Community Paths grant to finish the bicycle and pedestrian trail running from Lions Park to the north end of the city. 

“We need some planning to figure out how to navigate that route,” Brown said.

Merchant said in an interview with the Enterprise that the portfolio of grants Ontario is applying for showed an interest in advancing the city’s economic development. 

“How can we put projects together that help folks who are looking for jobs? How can we put projects together that retain jobs that might otherwise leave the city?” he said. 

Other priorities addressed by grants in the works, according to Merchant, included “making sure there’s equal access to services, whether that’s transportation, trails, or health” and “workforce development, making sure we’re identifying and pursuing grants that can provide education and training for students, postsecondary and adult learners.” 

Merchant confirmed that the firm had also partnered with Treasure Valley Community College to go after a grant for additional teachers for the rangeland management program.

Brown said that so far, he was satisfied with Merchant MacIntyre’s efforts. 

“What’s cool about them is they’ve not been particular about just doing the (municipal) city stuff,” he said. “Anything that benefits the city, they’ll go after.”

Merchant was similarly positive about the collaboration. 

“One of the things that stood out just real briefly is the city’s and Adam’s willingness to figure out different grant projects amidst everything else that the city has going on,” he said. “That requires commitment and vision to a certain degree.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.


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