Thursday, January 9, 2014

City Agencies Seek $650,000 in Grant Funding

By Christina Georgiou

Easton City Council members listen to presentations
on three grant applications totaling $650,000, that
will, if approved by the state, support various ongoing
revitalization efforts in the city.
Easton's city council backed three grant applications seeking a total of $650,000 in state funding to support various programs related to ongoing revitalization efforts at its meeting Wednesday evening.

The West Ward Neighborhood Partnership (WWNP) is seeking $50,000 from the state in support of its Elm Street program, which would go towards sidewalk and porch renovation grants for eligible homeowners in the neighborhood, along with the addition of more street trees and support for new signs for commercial endeavors in the district.

"We want to continue the funding even though it's less than previous amounts because we want to continue our programs," WWNP Director Esther Guzman told city council members.

Mayor Sal Panto said he very much supports the work the WWNP does and lamented that more state funding to support isn't available.

"We used to get $250,000," he said. "The state continues to balance its budget on the back of the local programs."

The Elm Street program, intended to support revitalization in older residential neighborhoods, was initiated by local state Representative Robert Freeman (D-136), Panto noted.

"Even at $50,000, we're going to take these baby steps," Panto said. "It's making a difference."

The Easton Redevelopment Authority (ERA) will seek a $300,000 Keystone Development Grant through the state's Department of Community and Economic Development to rehab four blighted properties--two in the city's South Side neighborhood, and two in the West Ward.

"Without these funds, these properties will just sit as they are and continue to deteriorate," said ERA community development specialist Michael Brett.

Panto said that in addition to eliminating the hazards blighted properties pose, rehabbing as many dilapidated properties as possible in the city is ultimately a strategy for keeping taxes lower.

"I also believe the more population we have as we grow out of the Urban Renewal era...will help us to control costs," he said, adding that he wants to ultimately see the city population top 30,000. "Sustainability comes in a lot of flavors, and rehabilitation of old homes is a part of that."

Another $300,000 in grant funding is being sought by the Greater Easton Development Partnership to support the Easton Farmers' Market's Public Market, to be housed in the former Weller Center at 325 Northampton St.

The money will be used for a revolving loan program that will support capital purchases of vendors' start up costs at the market, and matching fund requirements for the grant have already been satisfied by the city's grant of $1 million to parent organization Greater Easton Development Partnership (GEDP) last year to purchase the building, project manager Jared Mast told city council members.

"As these vendors repay the loans, the funds would be put in a revolving loan account...that would be available to new or existing businesses in Easton," Mast said.

He added that the advantage to both Public Market and other business owners in the city is that interest rates would be substantially less than bank rates for the loans.

ERA and GEDP Director Gretchen Longenbach said that the ERA "doesn't intend to recover any money" for the first two grant applications, the $300,000 for the Public Market loans, if approved by the state, would serve the city's business community well in the long run.

"We hope to help multiple businesses and entrepreneurs," she said.

She added that it was initially hoped the city might be eligible for even more funding than is being applied for in all three projects, but was advised by the state to "streamline and prioritize" when it came to the Keystone Grant applications.

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