Unknown to most parish residents, the St. Charles Parish Government has silently wielded a secret weapon in recent years in its efforts to bring more public works projects to the parish. Behind the doors of St. Charles Parish’s government offices lies its small Grants Office department that – with the help of just five employees – brings in tens of millions of dollars in outside funds to the parish each year.
After St. Charles Parish recently revealed its upcoming 2024 operating budget, parish officials disclosed around 22 percent of its sizeable 2024 Special Revenue Funds will come from federal and state grant funding, accounting for over $23 million in grant funding alone next year, all secured with the help of the Grants Office.
“Since 2020, the parish’s Grants Office has overseen around $96 million in federal and state grant funding for St. Charles Parish projects,” Carla Chiasson, St. Charles Parish Grants Director, recently commented.
The parish’s Grants Office has quietly been stacking its grants pipeline, with many more grant-funded projects yet to come. For a parish of just 52,000 people, St. Charles Parish currently has a whopping $129 million in funding in its grant pipeline for various capital projects across the parish in various stages of application, awaiting approval for projects like drainage, road, residential elevations and water infrastructure improvements.
One of the more common arrangements among parish governments is to have grants officers scattered throughout various departments, oftentimes giving one employee multiple responsibilities including grant writing to help attract grant money for individual divisions.
St. Charles Parish has taken an opposite approach and has largely centralized its grants office in recent years, taking over much of the parish’s grant projects within one department. This has allowed full-time grants officers to specialize in certain types of grant applications and projects, streamlining processes and helping its department take advantage of additional special purposes funding released by the federal government following several natural disasters and storms in recent years.
“We saw the value of grant funding and we know that the opportunity is there, so what we did – working with our Grants Director Carla Chiasson – we actually grew our Grants department,” Parish President Matthew Jewell said. “The Grants Department started with just two people – I think we’re up to five now.”
When federal and state grant programs require local governments to comply with certain stipulations to keep its grant funding, the St. Charles Parish Grants Office assists with that as well, making sure parish departments receiving grant funds remain in compliance to keep the money flowing in.
The parish’s return on investment for the spend on its Grants Office has been tremendous, enough to make super investors like Warren Buffet jealous.
“When you compare the Grants Office’s operating budget from 2020 to 2023 to the funding awarded, the office has secured $50 in funding for every dollar spent on the Grants Office,” Chiasson said.
Jewell acknowledged there are several expensive public works projects, such the parish’s drainage master plan project carrying a hefty $500 million price tag, that the parish could not begin to tackle without the use of federal grants.
‘St. Charles Parish can’t fund [large $500 million projects] itself – no parish can,” Jewell said. “We really have to rely on grant funding to help us stretch our taxpayer dollars, which we have been doing. And I think St. Charles Parish – not just with my administration but with previous administrations – has found a lot of success in that.”