STAPLES-For the fifth-consecutive year, city and county entities within Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties-Region Five-have the opportunity to partner with National Joint Powers Alliance and make special projects and initiatives come to life.

The application process for NJPA's 2018 City & County Innovation Funding program is open now through May 9.

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"We can't wait to see the creative and collaborative ideas that come forth this year," said Anna Gruber, NJPA manager of city and county solutions, in a news release. "Each year it seems like our pool of applications is bigger and better with several innovative proposed projects to strengthen our communities."

NJPA created Innovation Funding to help cities and counties in Region Five fund initiatives aimed at creating collaboration and improving the region. The program promotes outside-the-box teamwork on projects that might otherwise not get off the ground.

Since 2014, Region Five cities and counties have used over $1.6 million in Innovation Funding to positively impact central Minnesota with 21 projects.

Some of the most recognizable past recipients of Innovation Funding include Eagle Bend's Hilltop Regional Kitchen, the hiring of a Drug Task Force Agent for Wadena County, Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness campaign coordinated through Crow Wing County and facilitated by the Mississippi Headwaters Board, Sprout Growers & Makers Marketplace in Little Falls coordinated through Morrison County and Community Development, and Portable Speed Awareness Signage initiated by the city of Pierz.

Following the May 9 deadline, NJPA staff and the City, County, and Other Government Association Advisory Committee will conduct an initial review of applications. After that, those applicants who meet the requirements will be invited share their project proposals at Innovation Funding Review Day June 13.

Individuals who attend the review day as a representative of a member city, county, or other government association within Region Five rank the projects. The top-ranked projects will receive full or partial funding, depending on the amounts requested. NJPA anticipates it will award $500,000 worth of projects; the amount is pending budget approval by the organization's board of directors.

NJPA was created in 1978 as one of Minnesota's nine service cooperatives, NJPA offers a variety of cooperative programs and services for members on a local, regional, statewide, and national scale, including Canada.