Federal low-income funds earmarked for economic projects

Carson City plans to spend most of its $536,000 in federal assistance money meant for low-income residents to pay for a wish list of economic development projects, including improving a tourist attraction.

At the same time, the city turned away a request by its health department for funds to expand the community health clinic that serves a large Hispanic and low-income population.

Part of the problem the city had in its first year receiving the funds was that many proposals by groups to help low-income residents were still in the planning stages. The groups couldn't spend the money by June 30, 2005, as required.

"We picked projects that met the national criteria and were ready to go," City Manager Linda Ritter said. "Economic development is one of the things we could do. Another thing is, they're ready to go."

After paying itself $107,600 to administer the grant, the city proposes to spend 20 percent of the money - or $109,000 - to fix the Blue Line Trail, a series of sidewalks skirting historic district homes used to promote tourism. Improvements are needed to make it accessible for disabled patrons, officials said.

Also on the list is an experimental project that proposes to help lower-income residents in the downtown area surf the Internet by installing a broadband network at a cost of $55,000. Part of the plan might be to buy laptops to help them do it, said grant administrator Joe McCarthy, the city's economic development and redevelopment manager.

Another project would retrofit a small neighborhood of low-income housing at a cost of $10,000. The project, intended to help residents ward off rising energy costs, will also help an economic development project by creating the city's first experimental customers of renewable energy.

The city also earmarked $50,000 to allow entrepreneurs and start-up businesses to borrow money from a revolving loan fund.

The remainder of the money would be spent on a new $45,000 playground for Fritsch Elementary, a $35,000 program to hire a new lawyer to provide legal services for seniors, a $35,000 program for after-school busing and $10,000 for homeless services.

McCarthy headed the city's work group that decided who to fund this year. Carson City received the allocation after reaching the federal requirement of more than 50,000 residents, and can now expect annual payments.

McCarthy said he was able to list the Blue Line Trail project because it needs to meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards.

"In areas along the Blue Line Trail, a significant portion of that community meets the standard for low- to moderate-income," McCarthy said. "In this case, we're serving a general population. The Blue Line Trail is specifically heavily used by residents and visitors during times when we have events. That infrastructure has been in deterioration for quite a while."

McCarthy said he invited public participation on the funding decisions and a number of non-profit groups attended community meetings. A committee was assembled, comprising city department directors, who "had a clear way of looking at projects that were do-able and also had economic development and community development functions."

A number of proposals were considered, but many didn't qualify, he said. Carson's Environmental Health Director Daren Winkelman told supervisors last week he asked about funding an expansion of the community health clinic once the city takes over management but was told there wasn't enough money this year.

Housing and Urban Development grant funding, called a Community Development Block Grant, is used by cities such Las Vegas and Henderson to pay for senior and child-care facilities, senior computer labs, emergency assistance for low-income residents, health and drug education, expanding the supply of affordable housing and support services.

"The money goes to local governments to let local authorities decide what are the best programs to support low- to moderate-income people," said HUD spokesman Larry Bush in San Francisco. "Secondly, it can be used for a variety of purposes, including economic development, home ownership, affordable housing and programs that serve that (low- or moderate-income) community."

A family of four making $48,000 or less a year is considered moderate or low income.

The city's application needs final approval by supervisors before it is submitted to the federal housing department.

Contact Jill Lufrano at jlufrano@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.


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