Sullivan County Democrat
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By Jeanne Sager
SWAN LAKE — June 8, 2007 — Golden feathers are no match for government’s red tape.
Last summer, Nancy Levine was on cloud nine when her group’s Sullivan Renaissance project won the “big” award at the annual ceremony in August.
Levine clambered onto the stage at Bethel Woods to accept a large cardboard check from Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther representing a $50,000 “Golden Feather” grant for a job well done.
Almost a year later, Levine was a little confused.
It’s time to get cracking on the Swan Lake project, and volunteers have to go knocking on doors for some donations again.
“Here we are trying to raise money, and everyone thinks we have $50,000,” she complained.
The truth?
“Winning the $50,000 does not mean you’re getting the money in any short amount of time,” she said.
Gunther said it comes down to a method of “checks and balances.”
“This is taxpayer money,” she said. “The State of New York isn’t going to issue a check until they get receipts and know where the money is going.
“When it comes to money – taxpayer money – there needs to be speedbumps.”
With Levine’s concerns in mind, Gunther’s Legislative Aide, Steve Wilkinson, gave a presentation on the process just last week to representatives of the eligible Renaissance projects.
“It is a grant process,” he said. “It’s not a check that’s just handed to people.”
The state needs to ensure the monies will be spent on a capital project (qualifying ventures include land purchases, installation of fountains or statues, erecting buildings, capital improvements and the like) on land that’s not privately owned.
In Swan Lake, the process got held up additional time because volunteers have been working on donated land that had not yet officially been turned over to the Town of Liberty.
At the Albany level, the grants are subject to a three-way review, Wilkinson said.
The Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee has a say. The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York has a say.
And both the assemblymen and senators of the state have a say.
An extra layer added to the process this year requires the proposal be posted on the Web for 30 days allowing the public to make comments.
That was done to increase the perception of transparency in the state’s granting processes, Wilkinson explained.
Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo said Albany is slow – that’s just a fact of state funding.
“We experienced the same thing when [Liberty’s Sullivan Renaissance group] ALIVE won the first Golden Feather,” he said. “The perception is – you get handed a check for $50,000 and BOOM!
“I don’t want to say anything bad about this program because you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” he continued. “But the $50,000 is a grant. There is a process.
“It’s a testimony in patience, but then again, it’s free,” he said.
DeMayo said he might have a better understanding of the process because of his day job – as a supervisor, he’s dealing with state and federal grant processes on a regular basis.
“My dad always said, ‘Patience is a virtue.’” he said with a laugh. “Well, any government official has to be the most virtuous guy out there!”
But Levine said most winners aren’t government officials.
Neither is the average citizen who heard Swan Lake’s Renaissance group won $50,000 last year.
“When you hand people a $50,000 check, you have the perception you’re going to be able to collect,” she said. “It’s deceptive.”
Gunther bristled at the implication.
“These [grants] do phenomenal things for a community,” she said. “It’s taxpayer money that’s not going to New York City or Long Island; it’s coming back to Sullivan County.
“But there has to be a process in place for everything.”
Wilkinson said Swan Lake will get its money – just last week the grant application got out of its three-way review.
He expects there will be a state contract in Levine’s hand sometime in the next month.
The project itself may have to wait longer, he admitted.
“In Livingston Manor, we wanted the sidewalks the year we wanted them, but we had to put them off a whole ’nother year,” he recalled.
Levine said she now understands the process – she just hopes her community does.

'Golden Feather' Grant Going to Swan Lake
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