Census a sign of the millennium

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The dawn of a new millennium is scaring the wits out of some people.

But many Carson City leaders see dollar signs in the year 2000.

Probably no other community in Nevada can expect so much change with the coming census. July estimates from the state demographers office put Carson's population at 52,620. Some are murmuring the number is already over 53,000. The census' confirmation of that number will propel Carson from its place among Nevada's rural counties and help it step into the 21st century as an urban community.

When Carson officially clears the magical 50,000 population mark, it will become an entitlement community and a metropolitan planning organization. What that means for Carson City is more money is some cases, and more responsibility all the way around.

Every county in Nevada, except Washoe and Clark, is rural and Carson has always been grouped with them for many funding decisions.

One of the largest federal funding programs comes through the Department of Housing and Urban development. Carson competes with 27 other rural cities and counties for Community Development Block Grant Funding from HUD.

Becoming an entitlement community means the city will no longer be in the race for the rural pot of block grant money from the state each year, said Liz Teixeira, the city's representative to the state community development block grant committee. Like Reno, Sparks, Las Vegas and Henderson, the city will receive its money directly from HUD rather than having the money filtered through the state.

Teixeira and Community Development Director Walt Sullivan have worked with the block grant committee for years and Teixeira said Carson is more advanced than many other communities. Competing for money with them sometimes doesn't make sense, she said.

"Some of their projects are like a new sewer system," she said. "We're maybe 10 years ahead of them, and many of our projects aren't as vital to the health of a community as theirs. It's hard to go say, 'We'd like money for gas street lamps" when other cites need an entire new sewer system.

"With the entitlement, we won't be in that pot. We can administer our own money in Carson City."

Teixeira said based on preliminary estimates, Carson City is looking at receiving around $380,000 a year. Last year, Carson received around $130,000.

Money from the project can be used to promote HUD-type causes that help low- to moderate-income people through economic development, housing, small business development and infrastructure issues such as sewer and water.

Sullivan and Teixeira have plenty of ideas of what to do with the money. Create affordable housing for seniors. Update the city's housing study. Help with transportation for those in need.

More money means more responsibility, though.

"We're excited about the possibilities and opportunities, but it's another function that will require time and effort from city employees," Sullivan said. "The process will be fairly labor intensive, and the program will have to be laid out before hand. The main task we have in front of us is to provide to the public what is out there for CDBG. What programs are out there? What structure will those programs need? What programs will come from the public?"

Becoming a metropolitan planning organization will present a similar set of challenges to the city. The organization status is given to cities with a population over 50,000, and it is a designation that will affect traffic issues in the city.

The city receives much of its federal funding for transit and highways from the state with the other rural counties. While it will require extensive, long-term planning, the organization status will bring the opportunity to pour more federal dollars in Carson's roads, said Leif Anderson, program development manager for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

The city's step to metropolitan planning organization status will bring with it more federal regulation, Anderson said. The city would be required to complete a very thorough 20-year transportation plan, and every three years will have to provide an updated transportation improvement plan to the state for approval. Plans can't be of the wish list variety, the city will also have to show how the plans will be paid for. Money would be distributed by the planning organization, usually the same as the Regional Transportation Commission.

"Having the MPO status puts Carson City in a better position to acquire funding," Anderson said. "It's not guaranteed money, but the opportunity is there. There will be more stringent rules, but it increases planning. It allows the city to set its own priorities to be funded and puts the city in a position of having more control over federally funded projects in Carson City."

Carson City would move from competing with rural Nevada to competing with the state's three other MPO's-Washoe and Clark counties and Lake Tahoe, which while not over 50,000 population received the designation from Congress in 1998. Anderson said the city would be eligible for about $35,000 in planning monies, but could not guess how much federal money the city might receive. The city wouldn't see a drop in federal funding.

Jim Mallery, NDOT's state transit planning manager, said MPO status would force Carson City to compete with not only Nevada's MPO's, but every other small metropolitan area in the country.

"MPO status is not necessarily all silver lining," Mallery said. "You go from one category to another. Up until now, Carson City has been competing with some little boys. MPO's compete against each other with more federal oversight. You're leaving a rural lifestyle for a small, urban lifestyle. MPO's are a living organization. What they set up takes on a life of its own."

Mallery said the city would loose its rural transit grant of $80,000, but would probably be eligible for a $300,000 public transportation grant to help with planning and operating expenses. He said that much of what the federal government gives is contingent on matching funds from the city. Mallery pointed out that all numbers are really only guesses because funding from the federal level always varies.

"It's like a kid going to movies," Mallery said. "Mom said she'd give him $5, but then the kid only gets $3. The kid wanted to go to the movie, buy popcorn and a Coke and suddenly he has to decide what he wants.

"It's easy to get starry-eyed about money, but it's not as easy to deal with reality. The city will be eligible for a different set of funds with new rules and a lot more requirements."


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