No sidewalk grant in second try
by Rick DeClue · News · June 21, 2013

The City of West Branch learned late last week that their second attempt to land a state sidewalk grant failed.

The city had asked for just over $207,000 this year, after turning down a $250,000 grant in February 2012.

Safe Routes To School Program Director Kathy Ridnour informed City Administrator Matt Muckler of the decision. She said five applications received funding this year out of 40 submissions.

Former City Council member Dan O’Neil had opposed the first SRTS grant, but spearheaded the second application for funding.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he said, staing that the e-mail from Ridnour ranked West Branch’s application ninth out of 40.

However, he said the process that started the focus on sidewalks paid off, and the city is now doing more to repair or build sidewalks than before.

He points to the sidewalk projects on Oliphant and from Orange to the West Branch Middle School, as well as improvements to sidewalk approaching the College Street bridge.

“We’re getting things accomplished,” he said of the city. “We’re definitely in a better situation than two to three years ago.”

Local resident Jennie Embree was the author of the earlier, successful grant application.

She, along with many West Branch citizens, was disappointed and confused when the city declined the money.

When informed of the denial of this year’s request, Embree said she was sad for the schoolchildren of West Branch, but not surprised by the outcome. She had predicted that declining the earlier funding would make it difficult for the city to be considered again.

“It’s their own damn fault,” she said. “And you can print that.”

The three sidewalk projects included in the West Branch application were Maple Street from Orange Street to the middle school, the completion of sidewalks along Oliphant Street and a stretch of Fourth Street.

Muckler said that the West Branch City Council approved $47,611 in the budget year that begins July 1 for use as a contingency to supplement the SRTS funding. With the failure to obtain the grant, the funds can be used for the Maple Street sidewalks.

This represents the highest priority project in earlier discussions between the city and the West Branch Community School District, according to Muckler. He added that he contacted School Superintendent Kevin Hatfield about the application decision.

It would be the city’s goal to complete the Maple Street improvements prior to the start of the school year in the fall, he said.

O’Neil submitted the sidewalk grant application in March, but has since resigned from the council since he moved out of the city.

Ridnour invited West Branch to apply again next year. However, she told Muckler the process is changing. Future applications will be made through the state’s various Council of Government entities. For West Branch, transportation issues, including sidewalks, are covered by the East Central Iowa Council of Governments based in Cedar Rapids.

— Gregory R. Norfleet contributed to this report

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