Economic Development and Forest lndustry Coordinator Ross Wagner talked about the benefits of the Small Cities Development Program during the regular Aitkin County Board of Commissioners meeting on Oct. 24.

A while back, Economic Development and Forest lndustry Coordinator Ross Wagner was prompted by Commissioner Anne Marcotte to check into the Small Cities Development Program (SCDP) to see if it would be applicable to the county. Wagner returned to the Oct. 24 Aitkin County Board of Commissioners meeting with an update.

Although the program would not apply to the entire county, it could be used for targeted areas within the county to have an impact on specific neighborhoods of need.

The SCDP is generally used for housing rehabilitation loans and grants for low to moderate income households. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development ( MN DEED) administers the SCDP, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  

The Economic Development Committee recommended the county apply for funds for three townships of highest need, located along Hwy. 18 corridor in the southern end of the county.

Lakes and Pines of Mora is in the process of assessing Idun, Williams, Wagner, Lakeside, Seavey, Pliny and Millward townships to determine which would provide the best chance of the county submitting a successful application.

The board passed a resolution to submit a preliminary application, which is due Nov. 9. If accepted, a full application is due Feb. 22, 2018. The cost of each application is $750 to the county, but could potentially bring in $600,000 worth of home improvements upon the tax base. Application fees will be funded by the tourism funds. Lakes and Pines have agreed to administer the program if the applications reach approval.

“It’s a great program,” Wagner said.

If approved, the SCDP funds would be granted to the county, which in turn, lend funds for the purpose of rehabilitating local housing stock. The project would make code compliance or energy efficient related repairs, and provide funds for roof, window, septic and things of that nature, Wagner explained.

Loans may be used for owner-occupied, rental, single-family or multiple-family housing rehabilitation. Loan agreements may allow for eight-year deferred payments with the homeowner coming up with 10 percent down, or immediate monthly payments. “If the homeowner cannot come up with that amount, they can get a three percent loan from MN DEED,” Wagner added. Interest rates may vary, and loan repayments are retained by grantees for the purpose of making additional rehabilitation loans.

In all cases, housing funds must benefit low and moderate income persons. Last June, Mille Lacs County was awarded $401,850. The funds were to be used for owner-occupied housing rehabilitation and commercial building rehabilitation in the city of lsle and owner-occupied housing rehabilitation in the city of Wahkon.

Briefly

• The McGregor Area Lions Club made a $2,000 donation to the county STS Program.

• A full-time office support specialist was approved, which will replace the previously budgeted public health nurse position. Also approved was the restructure of the sheriff’s office to provide a full-time jail program coordinator, utilizing existing staff.

• County employees who are veterans are invited to the Nov. 14 board meeting for coffee and cake.

• The terms for an individual to repurchase a tax forfeited parcel from the county through payment plan was discussed. A list of pros and cons was laid out for the commissioners by Land Asset Manager Cathy Buhlmann. The board requested the opinion of Land Commissioner Mark Jacobs, who advised it may be beneficial for the county to do so. Commissioner Mark Wedel felt agreeing to enter into a repurchase plan with payments would set precedent to future cases since this type of agreement is a first for the county. Commissioners Bill Pratt and Anne Marcotte disagreed. Being the agreement would be within statue, and it would cost the county $40 a year to insure the property while the individual resides there while making payments, the board approved. Wedel requested to review the issue in six months to see how repayment is going.  

• With the first two years of the five-year Capital Road Improvement Plan underway, the program was extended through 2022 to allow for timely grant writing, development, design and permitting. Engineer John Welle gave a brief overview to the board on methodology used to select road projects in the county.

“The way we choose which segments we do is based on the prioritization worksheet developed in 2005,” Welle explained. Traffic count, residence density, safety deficiency, and part of a larger route, public and private land ownership are all factors taken into account. Any remaining funds are then used for gravel road improvement.

• Assessor Mike Dangers said the county has 8,718 tax exempt parcels, (or 600,000 acres), valued at $819,867,200. This is more than many other counties in the state due to Aitkin County’s large amount of public land. Non-profit organizations that are often called public charities own 35 parcels of exempt property in Aitkin County with a total valuation of $22,600,000. If these properties were taxable at a commercial classification, they would pay roughly $660,000 per year in property taxes.

Commissioner Anne Marcotte mentioned the county could request contribution in the form of donations, and noted the city of St. Paul took a similar approach to which some charities were receptive. 

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