The opportunity to receive more federal funding to improve the quality of life in the unincorporated areas of Imperial County is near thanks to the support of a federal agency.
Specifics of the program were discussed at a special county Board of Supervisors meeting held Nov. 15. The featured speaker was Kim Dolbow Vann, director of California Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
She spoke regarding grant opportunities.
“One of our focuses is to help the smaller counties in California and we have been reaching out to those communities that haven’t taken advantage of our programs,” Dolbow Vann, an appointee of President Donald J. Trump, told the board.
USDA offers programs that fund housing construction, business expansion and community facilities improvements.
Explaining the impact further federal dollars could have, Dolbow Vann said the agency has over the years invested $82 million into Imperial County. That includes $48 million in single-family housing and $13 million on multi-family.
In the community facilities program, USDA has invested $1 million in water and $3.5 million for wastewater. Business investment totals $100,000.
Supervisor John Renison asked if the county could apply for business funding under its recently expanded and reorganized economic development efforts. Dolbow Vann responded by stating rural-development funding could be used for workforce development or business retention and attraction.
“You need to tell me and my team what you need,” Dolbow Vann said.
She added there might be federal funds available in the next 24 months or infrastructure such as roads, and water and sewer services. The county should prioritize its needs and plans to meet them so it can apply for funding, she stressed.
Discussing the need for more road funding, county Public Works Director John Gay said Imperial County is fifth among state counties in mileage use in but 31st in road funding.
“The gas tax funding (from state Senate Bill 1) represents a 40-percent increase in our budget and we began to roll out projects that benefit the agricultural community,” Gay said and added many unincorporated towns in the county, such as Heber, lack adequate curbs, gutters and sidewalks.
“We haven’t applied for a road project with USDA and we do have gaps in funding. That’s why our staff is seeking any funding to help us with road projects,” Gay said.
Supervisor Luis Plancarte said putting sidewalks in places such as Heber and Seeley will cost millions and with USDA the county might have a tool to address those issues.
“The projects they offer improve the quality of life of people with better sidewalks and lighting. That will increase the pride among the people living there,” Plancarte said.