Cullman County Economic Development’s Bradley Williams and Matt Kinsland on how they and their team secure grants for Cullman County

Left to right: Project Coordinator Lisa Merritt, Director Bradley Williams, Project Coordinator Tiffany Green-Oldacre, and Project Coordinator Matt Kinsland (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – When Cullman County Commission Chairman Jeff “Clem” Clemons took office almost one year ago, his main area of focus was Cullman County Economic Development. Bradley Williams was named Director of the CCED and he assembled his team and got to work. Almost one year later, they have secured over $1.6 million in state and federal grants for Cullman County and an additional $144,000 for municipalities within Cullman County.  

Williams and Project Coordinator Matt Kinsland sat down with the Tribune to talk about the important work they do and to explain how grants work. Cullman County is unique in having its own economic development office. Williams said, “We use a consultant that helps us, and you can go through NARCOG and they can do grants for you and they did for Stony Lonesome. The COG’s will do grants for counties that don’t have their own.”  

Having a team to focus on available grant monies for specific projects helps the county by not always relying on the county’s general fund to make improvements or fund projects and assures available money doesn’t fall through the cracks.  

One recent example of the importance of grants is Stony Lonesome OHV Park and damage to the trail bridges after recent flooding. Williams explained the $524,937 the county received for the Recreational Trails Program, “That is a grant for bridges, trails and those types of things. One of the bridges is gone and one is left because of the flooding. If we hadn’t applied for this, general fund money would have to come in to do that.”  

Management of grants can take years once it is awarded. “We have shown you what we have applied for this year, but that isn’t the whole picture. Most of the grants, like FEMA grants for storm shelters, all have a 2–5-year management period. We are still managing storm shelters from 2016.”  

There are a few common misconceptions about the use of grant money. Often when a grant is secured for improvements or repaving for a specific road, people will ask why their road wasn’t made a priority or why the money isn’t being diverted there instead. Williams gave the example of Rebuild Alabama funds for County Roads 4 and 6 in Bremen.  

“We got $250,000 for County Roads 4 and 6 and that was because a lot of their specifications are economic development and how does it specifically rate. Is there any kind of economic development down there? There are two businesses on that road. The racetrack (ECM Speedway) brings in thousands of people into Cullman County and there is a logging company on that same road,” Williams said. 

Another grant that has been applied for and the county expects to receive soon is a Community Development Block Grant for $400,000 to resurface County Road 18. Williams said, “We got together with the county engineer, the commissioners and the chairman and said, ‘What roads would fit the criteria of that grant?’ Those have to be 80% low to moderate income.”  

Kinsland added, “It has to have 100 or more houses on the road. It has to be a highly populated road with the majority low to moderate income. We (CCED and Community Consultants) actually go out and conduct a community meeting. We went door-to-door and did surveys to request the needed information.”  

“The community members really helped out on County Road 18 and they did it themselves,” Williams said. “Even though there is a road that is a farm road that is a bad road, they don’t meet the criteria that has been set to help a low to moderate income area with so many houses.”  

Another question that people will often ask is, “Can’t you try to apply for my road? It meets almost all of the criteria.”  

Kinsland explained why they can’t do that. “If you submit it and it meets everything but one criteria, it automatically gets rejected. Then you’ve wasted your time for one year. They open once a year so you have to wait an entire year before you can try again.”  

Williams added, “I’m not going to waste everybody’s time and the citizens, who you might give false hope, rather than putting in on the one that we know fits all the criteria. That way the county can use the general fund on the other road or seek other grant money. We’ve been here less than a year and have already selected the three roads.” The money to resurface County Roads 4, 6 and 18 is separate from money the commission has budgeted for roads.  

Grant money has assisted in the creation of Cullman County’s extensive park system. Strict criteria have been set for these grants just as they have for roads and other projects. Over the years, some citizens have wondered why certain features aren’t added to a park or worried about popular features being closed or removed from a park.  

Smith Lake Pool is an example, as Williams explained, “If you closed that pool, any grant money associated with that pool would have to be paid back. Number one, it will not close. ADECA has already said you can’t close it.” Kinsland added, “You can request waivers to change the purpose of it but those are very difficult to come by. They have to go through the U.S. Department of Interior and it’s just not worth it.”  

There was interest by past administrations to build a hotel at Smith Lake or a library at Sportsman Lake Park but Kinsland said, “All of that stuff is prohibited. It has to be outdoor activities.” Indoor buildings are prohibited at these parks by restrictions listed in grants used to create them.  

Why is seeking grant money for Cullman County Parks important? “This is saving taxpayer money. This is road money we are getting. The parks bring thousands of people and visitors to Cullman County and that’s more tax revenue that goes back to roads and brings great things to Cullman County,” Williams explained.  

Why not apply for more grants for roads? Kinsland said, “You think ‘infrastructure, there should be a lot of grants out there for roads and stuff.’ Well, that’s one of the smallest pots of money for grants.” There is some good news for fire departments as FEMA is expected to offer a second round of grants this year after being a year behind and now being caught up.  

CCED seeks grant money from Federal and State as well as from foundation grants from private or charitable entities. Williams is proud of the work his team has done in their first year together at the CCED. He said, “If we can find a grant, that is money that doesn’t come out of the county’s general fund and that benefits every citizen in Cullman County—that’s our goal.” 

Grants awarded  

  • CDBG-CV $803,861 (Pandemic Response Center- old rescue squad building) 
  • Rebuild Alabama $250,000 (County Road 4 & 6) 
  • RC&D $12,435 (Sportsman Lake Park- Playground) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Sportsman Lake Park- Playground)  
  • Recreational Trails Program $524,937 (Stony Lonesome OHV- 2 bridges)  
  • Assistants to Firefighter Grant- $120,000 to West Point (SCBA equipment) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Historic Joppa school roof) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Colony gymnasium roof)  

Total : $1,747,233 

Grants Applied For 

  • FEMA Mitigation Grant $170,166 (Flooding on multiple county roads)  
  • CDBG $400,000 (Resurface County Road 18) 
  • RC&D Education and Physical Fitness Grant $15,000 (Sportsman Lake Park playground equipment)  
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Smith Lake Park basketball court) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Beat 8 Voting Precinct’s building upgrades)  
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Joppa VFD’s P25 compliant radios) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Bethsadia VFD’s automated chest compression device) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Battleground VFD’s helipad) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (Jones Chapel VFD’s electric extrication tools) 
  • CCCDC $12,000 (West Point VFD’s 5 sets of turnout gear)  

Total: $669,166