By CARL E. FEATHER - firstname.lastname@example.org
About the only time a board of commissioners agenda meeting draws a crowd is when money is up for grabs.
Such was the case Tuesday afternoon as the county held its first public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant and Community Housing Improvement Program for 2013. At least a dozen hopefuls — mostly city and village administrators and managers — came out to learn about the various categories of grants and changes to a program that has helped fund everything from streetscapes to playgrounds in Ashtabula County.
Janice Switzer, program director for the county’s department of planning and community services, said ambiguity still surrounds this year’s program, particularly the amount of money that will be available for Ashtabula County. One thing is almost certain: There will be less money to go around because it is very likely Conneaut will have to share in the funds that the county and Geneva receive. Conneaut’s population has fallen below the mark that qualified it to apply for its own CDBG allocation.
Switzer said the county received about $285,000 in “formula grants” for the current fiscal year and estimates that $300,000 will be available for next year’s projects. Typically, commissioners recommend four projects plus the local match for the Ashtabula County Transportation System (ACTS).
One of the changes to the program this year is that the “formula grants” have been re-named community development allocations. Regardless of the name, they are still aimed at cities, villages, townships and nonprofits. Among the requirements is that the project be in a community where more than 51 percent of the population falls in the low- to medium-income category.
The grants are competitive and take into account the amount of money being leveraged and the degree of economic distress in the project area.
A new category of grants provides for critical infrastructure projects. As with the community development allocations, the program has a maximum of $300,000. The money can be used for infrastructure, such as water, sewer or road projects, but the work must benefit residential users, Switzer said.
Other programs discussed at the hearing included downtown revitalization, economic development loan and public infrastructure grants, and the New Horizons Fair Housing grant. Also, a new discretionary grant program can be used for “very special” economic development projects. These programs must fill a gap and meet a national objective.
Switzer also reviewed the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) regulations for 2013. The maximum allocation of $400,000 is 20 percent less than last year’s. The competitive grant money is used to help private owners with rehabilitation projects and home repairs. The county’s most recent grant provided $120,000 for repairs to 18 homes and assisted five buyers with the purchase of a house.
A second public hearing on the grants will be held to discuss specific projects with the applicants. The due date for having community development allocation applications to the board is April 5.