‘Free’ grant money isn’t really free

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, January 6, 2016

For many people, Natchez Alderman Dan Dillard comes off as a bit of a broken record, for good reason.

Dillard can wear a person out with questions and repeating the same point over and over again.

But we appreciate Dillard’s willingness to stick on a topic until he understands it or until it makes more sense.

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For years, Dillard has griped about the City of Natchez’s seemingly nonsensical approach to budgeting and finances. Dillard has complained that no one — including the aldermen who approve it and the city clerk’s office that creates it — has fully understood the city’s financial situation.

On Monday, Dillard hit the nail on the head again during a discussion of the Natchez Board of Aldermen.

The subject was the sudden realization that the city owes approximately $1.4 million in matching funds for various grants the city has obtained.

It’s become clear to aldermen that what is often considered “free” money, that is, money that comes through grant sources, isn’t really free. The “matches” for these grants really do cost the city, whether the match is provided in actual cash or through in-kind services.

“The issue is, again, in the process,” Dillard said Monday “It’s not in the budget, the matching funds are not identified. That’s how you get to the end of the year, and you can’t pay your payroll.”

Dillard is correct that the problem is the city’s collective leadership seems to be so enamored by grants that they overlook the fact that most grants require a match and that such matches need to be factored into the city’s budget.

Maybe eventually the broken record will garner enough attention to do some good long term.