Counties vary in their approach to stimulus

By William K. Alcorn

An economic-development director, a food co-op store and revolving-loan funds are among the proposals.

Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties’ community-action agencies are proposing radically different plans to spend the combined $2,374,513 in federal stimulus funds they have received.

This particular pot of stimulus money, provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and disbursed through the Ohio Department of Development’s Community Services Block Grant program, is to be used to “create and preserve jobs, promote economic recovery and assist those most impacted by the recession.”

How the agencies accomplish that is pretty much up to them, subject to approval by the state’s Department of Development, said Carol Bretz, executive director of the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County.

Here is the gist of their plans:

Community Action Agency of Columbiana County

Bretz, working in partnership with the county engineer and county commissioners, submitted a plan to fund a director of county economic development. The agency also would hire a full-time agency planner and subsidize a farmer’s market with the $445,661 it is slated to receive.

Funding an economic-development program, including hiring a director and agency planner, with the majority of its grant is a plan she thinks may be unique in the state, Bretz said.

She said she had discussed getting funding for a development-director position last year with Engineer Bert Dawson and Commissioners Penny Traina, Jim Hoppel and Dan Bing.

It doesn’t seem like a good idea to expand services for 18 months (the period in which the money must be spent) and then take them back when the money runs out, she said.

“Of the many wonderful services the agency provides, what we really need are good-paying jobs,” and that is what she believes a development director could produce. “We’d like to have someone on board by Aug. 1.”

“We’ve allocated enough money to attract a good person — $60,000 and up, based on experience and a documented track record. We want someone with experience in the manufacturing sector. We want to retain the businesses we have in Columbiana County, not just bring in new businesses,” Bretz said.

The full-time agency-planner position would be responsible for writing grants, setting up an annual fund-raising drive, improving the agency’s outcomes-reporting system and working with the media. The position will be funded for 12 months with the expectation that the individual hired will secure sufficient funds to make the position permanent, she added.

The third item to be funded is a farmer’s market in 2010. In part, 250 low-income households will be eligible to receive $50 in coupons to be used at participating farmer’s markets in the county. The coupons will be in $5 increments and can be used to buy fruit, vegetables and honey.

Mahoning/Youngstown Community Action Partnership

A major goal of the partnership’s proposed spending plan is to expand partnerships and alliances with city and county agencies to extend successful programs rather than start new ones.

MYCAP’s plan is its answer to the question of how can it work with young people and working families to help them become financially successful, said Richard Roller, agency executive director.

“We plan to increase the skills of the personnel involved in our programs, [the skills] that will last beyond the grant period, in order to impact as many county households as possible. You can’t just add people because the money is going to end in September 2010, while the enhanced skills will not,” he said.

For instance, Roller said, its Head Start program has 12 teachers with two-year degrees. “We are exploring how we can help them get to four-year degrees, perhaps by employing temporary workers while the teachers go to school,” he said.

The partnership is slated to receive $1,192,643 in community-services stimulus money.

The agency is looking to gain economies of scale by working with other nonprofit groups and government entities to supplement programs, particularly energy and youth programs, which are the partnership’s focus, Roller said.

One initiative Roller is particularly excited about is working with the Youngstown City School District to expand the district’s After School Alliance program into more schools.

“I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and this is one of the first times that the city, county and school districts have been willing to get over some of the hurdles — lack of money, union and turf issues — to work together. I am hopeful that this is a sign of things to come,” Roller said.

Two of the biggest barriers to employment are transportation and child care, he said.

As a result, one of MYCAP’s goals with the grant money is to establish a downtown day-care program at the agency’s offices at 101 E. Federal St. The agency would use this central location to allow working families more effective and efficient access to child care and transportation throughout the county, Roller said.

Trumbull Community Action Program

TCAP’s plan has four legs, said James Abicht, agency president and chief executive officer.

First, the agency wants to expand services for seniors by developing a chores program that would help with tasks such as mowing lawns, cleaning house, running errands and grocery shopping, and also hire a “fix-it” person, who would do small home repairs and projects.

“We would hire an experienced person who would take a couple of trainees with him, so not only would we help seniors, but we would provide handyman training for two people,” Abicht said.

He said the plan also includes expanding the agency’s food co-op program by establishing a co-op store in its headquarters building, the former West Junior High School, at Palmyra and Austin S.W. in Warren.

“We expect to have the store up and running by October. We hope to create four jobs and that the store will be financially self-sufficient by the time the grant money runs out in 18 months,” Abicht said.

The third part of TCAP’s plan is the purchase of six new minivans for its Community Action Transportation System. The vehicles will not only keep the system operating but also keep six people working, he said.

Also, Abicht said the agency plans to start a dial-a-ride program to transport seniors.

The final leg of the plan, which Abicht said is still in the development stage, is a small revolving-loan program. It would target specific populations, women and minorities, to help them get started in business with loans of up to $5,000.

“This is the one I’m personally most excited about. To me, that is what community action is supposed to be all about ... helping people overcome poverty,” Abicht said.

STIMULUS MONEY \ How it will be spent Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull County’s community action agencies have proposed plans to spend the combined $2,374,513 in federal community services


Total received: $445,661

Economic development initiative: $311,229

Community Action Agency planner: $100,901

2010 Farmer’s Market Program: $30,096

ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) reporting: $3,435


Total received: $1,192,643

Even Start-Employment Support: $384,606

After School and Summer Feeding: $45,978

Revolving Micro-Loan Program: $96,778

Training and Technical Assistance: $29,750

Workforce Development-Energy Support Services: $137,385

Workforce Development-Operations: $36,703

ARRA Compliance and Administration: $106,502

Senior Support Services-Prescription Assistance: $70,350

Youth Enrichment Services: $50,000

Youth Employment and Enrichment Services: $234,591


Total received: $736,209

Community Action Transportation System, Dial-a-Ride Program: $171,069.

Food Co-op: $189,213

Senior Care Program: $274,903

Micro Revolving Loan Program: $101,024

Source: Community Action Agency of Columbiana County, Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, Trumbull Community Action Program