Florida Keys News
Saturday, November 3, 2012
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City officials mull grant writer slot
Lobbying firm and in-house staff offer some help, but more is needed

Amid recent discussions of what federal and state dollars Key West should chase in the coming legislative year, officials questioned whether they should look into hiring a grants writer to pursue additional money for various municipal projects.

An independent contractor, Sheila Griffiths, performed the work for the city from 2009 through this year. Griffiths still performs some work on a month-to-month basis, City Manager Bob Vitas said.

Commissioners said they are not certain whether Griffiths would be available for more extensive work because of her other responsibilities.

"I was flabbergasted that we don't have a full-time grants writer," said Commissioner Tony Yaniz. "How do we get grants if you are going to go after all these monies? For big federal and state grant money you need a person dedicated to that job. Somebody is being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Forego paying a salary for a full-time grants writer and you forego the opportunity to get millions of dollars."

City staff is in the early stages of formulating a plan, although Vitas says the easiest thing to do is replace the former contract writer with another, something he estimates will be done in the near future. No formal request by way of resolution has been made, at this point all research is exploratory.

Meanwhile, Vitas said, the city will still get assistance writing grant proposals through the lobbying firms that already represent its interests in Washington and Tallahassee.

"Keep in mind, that as part of our contracts for federal and state legislative services, they also provide the city with support to obtain grants and identify same," Vitas said. "The city has obtained several major grant funding earmarks through our legislative lobbying services and will continue do so in the upcoming federal and state legislative sessions in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C."

Among the projects city officials have agreed should get federal or state help are development of the Truman Waterfront and rebuilding of the Mallory Square cruise ship pier. Vitas would like to explore large grants from agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would likely require heavy work on the part of a writer.

Meanwhile, some individual city departments do have in-house grant writers, whom officials said will continue to perform their specialized work, though not on a full-time, citywide basis.

"We have two grant writing positions within the Engineering and Transportation departments," said Human Resources Administrator Stephanie Johnson. "Both people within those positions have been employed for a few years and are still currently working for us."

Vitas said he is open to either a contract or staff grant writer, and that he recognizes the importance of having one on board.

"Grant writing is kind of an art form," Vitas said. "I have written a few in my time and it takes a lot of effort to do that. While we use our lobbyists in Tallahassee and Washington to help push us in the right direction and get the foot in the door, we then have a grant writer actually prepare the grant in question."

jdesantis@keysnews.com

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