WEST ORANGE, NJ — On Feb. 13, it was announced that Essex County will administer a $414,000 grant to West Orange as part of the Community Development Block Grant program; this is the largest award to any individual municipality in Essex County.
According to the county, approximately $5.5 million will be distributed to 12 county municipalities and 33 nonprofit organizations through the CDBG and Emergency Solutions Grant programs — an increase of approximately $400,000 from last year. These programs are funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered by the Essex County Division of Housing and Community Development.
Of the $414,000 awarded to Essex County, $179,000 will be used to reconstruct the Tompkins Street roadway; $186,000 will be used to reconstruct the Stockman Street roadway; and $49,000 will go to support the Bethany Center for Champions.
“On Tompkins Street and Stockman Street, each street will be reconstructed with new granite block curb, new concrete sidewalks, new concrete driveway aprons, new ADA compliant ramps at intersections, asphalt driveway repairs, pavement milling and pavement resurfacing,” West Orange municipal engineer and Public Works Director Len Lepore told the West Orange Chronicle. “New parking signs with posts and new stop signs with posts will also be installed.”
According to Lepore, a bid document for these improvements will be issued in March; the work is expected to go ahead in the spring or early summer.
“The $49,000 grant for the Bethany Center for Champions, Outreach for At Risk Youth, will enable them to sustain staffing levels that allows them to support and serve approximately 250 at-risk, neighborhood, and latchkey middle and high school youth in the urban rim district of West Orange,” Lepore said. “The staff supplements the countless hours devoted by Pastor Guyton of the Bethany Evangelical Free Church and volunteers to provide a safe after school and evening community center for youth who struggle to fit into traditional programs and who often have little supervision.”
A total of $3,158,888 was awarded to 12 municipalities and county programs in the Essex County consortium, which is the group of towns that goes through the county for CDBG funding.
“Programs supported through the CDBG and ESG programs are direct investments to provide services that enhance our quality of life and help stabilize our neighborhoods by modernizing our infrastructure and supporting programs that assist vulnerable populations,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said. “These federal grants enable us to upgrade our sidewalks and roads, enhance handicap access, address mental health needs, support food pantries and stimulate the overall development in our communities.”
Municipalities and nonprofit organizations must meet specific criteria established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to be eligible for grant funding. These funds have no impact on the county budget and cannot be used as revenue in the county’s operating budget.
“The beauty of the CDBG and ESG programs is their ability to fund a broad array of projects without affecting the budgets of the county, municipalities or organizations receiving the grants. This is a great example of a tax relief program that benefits all county citizens,” said Anibal Ramos, director of the Essex County Department of Economic Development, Training and Employment.
Lepore agreed that the CDBG program is a boon to municipalities like West Orange.
“The CDBG program enables the township to make infrastructure improvements such as those on Stockman and Tompkins streets without increasing the property tax burden for our residents,” Lepore said. “The program also allows service organizations, such as the Bethany Center for Champions, to provide and expand programs for low- and moderate-income residents that would not be able to afford them. The CDBG program is an excellent federal program that has funded several millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements in West Orange since its inception.”