Vernon hires firm to find grant money

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:14

    Consultant says he will be a tough task-master but get re$ult$, By Jennifer Knocha Vernon n The old saying goes that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. In Vernon Township, however, it’s not that easy. The council has been discussing hiring Bruno Associates, Inc. of Clifton for grant-writing services but had been unable to come to an agreement until Thursday, when representatives from the company showed up to sell their services. The township agreed to a one-year $50,000 contract with Bruno that will be paid out monthly. John Bruno, the company’s chairman, came before the board to explain what his firm can offer the township. He says that Bruno Associates, in business for over 40 years, is one of the originators of the grant-writing service. That length of experience has allowed him to develop contacts in both Trenton and Washington, D.C., that will help him find and develop opportunities for Vernon Township, Bruno said. “We say that everything is included. We’re talking about telephone, you’re talking about trips to Washington and Trenton, you’re talking about your secretary. We have everything at our fingertips and we know the grant consulting backwards.” They also claim an impressive track record, saying that 92 percent of his applications result in grants, and that on average, his clients get a return of $15 on every dollar they spend. His firm will also do all the maintenance for any grants they develop for the township, which according to Mayor Austin Carew, is an issue that has developed in the past. “Over the years, we’ve had grants. Six or seven years ago, there was a grant, a build-out analysis. Then we found out the grant wasn’t administered properly. Consequently, the state refused to reimburse the money for the grant. So this is something we were hoping to avoid with a professional company.” Getting the information There is one facet of the service that made Council-person Valerie Seufert nervous: requests for information. According to Bruno, the town would have to deliver information, mostly tax information and police statistics promptly. “If I call and say that we need the information by April 15 and I get a call on April 14 that it’s not going to be ready until a week later, you’ll probably get a letter we would want to terminate our contract,” he said. “I run a tight ship; we’re large. If we need information, we have to get it in order to get a real, good grant application, then it’s our job to lobby and follow though to make sure that Vernon gets it’s share.” With the staffing issues at the township offices, Seufert had concerns that the town wouldn’t be able to deliver. “My greatest fear is that the town won’t be able to provide information in a timely manner. Then we’ve wasted our money.” Township Manager Melinda Carlton said that the town has just hired a full-time assistant for her office, which will help spread the heavy workload of her office and allow more time to work on this type of request. Seufert repeated her concern again just before the vote, but voted in favor of hiring Bruno, unlike Councilman Richard W. Carson. “I’ve given this lots of thought,” Carson said, “but I can’t vote yes. I would like to suggest that we contact the county about sharing the services of their grant writers. It would be a more prudent avenue.” But his was the only no vote. Some members of the public weren’t thrilled with the decision to award the contract either. “I don’t believe at this point and time, hiring a grant writer is the best move for the township,” said resident Gary Martins. “We’ve got some people in house that can write grants. If we absolutely positively have to write grants, we should be using some of them instead. If we can’t do this, then we should go out to bid for grant writers.”