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SICOG works with city and county governments to improve communities

People don’t know what Southern Iowa Council of Governments (SICOG) because people aren’t the organizations clients, said Executive Director Timothy Ostroski. The 65 cities and eight county boards of supervisors the organization serves are its clients.

However, through the work of SICOG, the people within those communities reap the benefits through funding for projects such as the expansion of Gibson Memorial Library and the McKinley Park Aquatic Center.

The organization assists Decatur, Ringgold, Taylor, Clarke, Union, Adams, Madison and Adair and the cities within those counties by providing planning, technical assistance and grantsmanship.

SICOG was founded in 1973 in response to the availability of additional federal money for community improvement.

“They basically said, ‘Well, there’s more money coming in.’ At that time it was through HUD, through several programs that they had” said Ostroski. “That was the emphasis behind the city wanting people to be able to handle the activities that we handle. It was a need. The cities couldn’t afford, each one of them, to hire people to do it, so they got together as a council, or association of governments, and said ‘Hey! Here’s an idea. Let’s share an office. Lets contribute, and let’s have these people that we’ll be able to call and they can assist us.’”

About 70 percent of SICOG’s funding comes from contracts with the city and county governments the organization serves, while the other 30 percent comes from federal contracts, the Iowa Department of Transportation and dues paid by SICOG member cities and counties.

During the 2018 calendar year, SICOG has applied for $10.2 million dollars in grants. $3.7 million were approved for funding, $4.3 million are still pending and only $2.1 million in grants has been denied.

“That is 36 percent success rate, and there’s 42 percent still pending,” said Ostroski.

Ostroski added that over the life of the organization, SICOG has assisted with $162.4 million in funds coming into the region.

SICOG is what people call the organization, but there are actually three corporations, Southern Iowa Council of Governments, Southern Iowa Development Group, Inc. and Southern Iowa COG Housing Trust Fund, under one roof.

“It gets too hard to throw out all three names at once, so everybody just calls us SICOG,” said Ostroski.

The Southern Iowa Council of Governments is the most well known of the three organizations. SICOG helps organizations get the funds they need to start or complete projects, that is only part of what Ostroski calls a three-legged stool.

“(The stool) doesn’t stand up unless we’re doing planning, which includes comprehensive plans, urban renewal plans - just an array of different planning activities,” said Ostroski. “The second one is technical assistance, that’s the other leg. The city will call us and they will say, ‘Do you know of anything available to help us, say, fix our library or fix our swimming pool or fix our sewer plant?’ The third leg is grantsmanship. Those are the three legs of our stool, kind of the platform of our organization.”

The Southern Iowa Development Group, Inc. deals with providing funds to businesses to help create or retain jobs. Since it’s beginning, Southern Iowan Development Group, Inc., has been able to help businesses with more than $6 million in loans to help create 2,600 jobs in the eight counties. Southern Iowa Development Group, Inc. also operates a first time homebuyers program that helps people get money for a down payment for their first homes.

“Since we’ve had that program, we’ve provided funds to over 700 people to purchase a house. If we hadn’t been involved, the banks wouldn’t have been involved. If the banks hadn’t been involved, we wouldn’t have seen more than $32 million in investment in the region in housing.”

The third corporation within SICOG, the Southern Iowa COG Housing Trust Fund, provides money through loans and grants to various agencies or organizations to help improve the availability of affordable housing.

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