Wendell grant program attracts attention

jwhitfield@newsobserver.comJuly 25, 2013 

— A relatively new program in the town of Wendell has seen a sudden increase in interest among property owners and town leaders hope changes they made to the program last week will make it even more enticing.

The town’s Facade Grant Program began in 2012 and commissioners included $1,000 in this year’s budget to fund the program.

Already, though, five applicants have lined up for a piece of that pie and they are asking for a total of $6,000 in grants.

Those grants would spur $10,500 in new investment in the properties, most of which are downtown.

Planning Director Zunilda Rodriguez walked commissioners through a litany of changes in the program Monday night. Among those changes is a requirement that town staff work with grant applicants to ensure that the grant applications are completed correctly before they are considered by the town’s Appearance Commission.

For instance, one of the grant applications requests $1,000 for a project that costs a total of $1,400. Under the rules of the program, applicants must spend at least as much as they ask the town for. Maximum grants are for $1,000, which could render another application void. That application seeks $2,000 for a project estimated to cost just $1,500.

Commissioners spent most of their deliberations at Monday night’s meeting discussing the approval process and how to handle future requests once the budgeted funds are gone.

Under the current policy, the grants are reviewed by the appearance commission and favorable recommendations are forwarded to town commissioners for final approval. Keeping that process in place was among the options considered by commissioners Monday night. Board members also considered cutting themselves out of that process and leaving the final decision to members of the appearance commission. Commissioner James Parham said he thought the town board should retain the ultimate responsibility for approving grants.

“We are the elected body and I think that responsibility should remain with us,” Parham said.

His views ran counter to commissioner Ginna Gray, who said that by giving the appearance commission the authority to award the grants, the process could be sped up and people could know more quickly if their project was approved.

“That’s always my thing. I want to see us streamline this process. We need to let these people know something,” Gray said. And, she pointed out, giving the appearance commission that responsibility didn’t necessarily mean losing control of a lot of money. “We’re only talking about $1,000 here,” Gray said.

Board members also discussed how to deal with applicants who apply once the original budget is depleted. Commissioner Sam Laughery said he would like to see grant applications regardless of what the budget looks like.

“If we have a good project, I would like to think we could find the money to support it,” Laughery said.

Commissioners agreed to review all applications once the get the approval of the appearance commission.

Whitfield: 919-829-4823

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