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Façade grant requests outpace funding

Posted: December 10, 2010 3:58 p.m.
Updated: December 13, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Camden City Council will take up two façade grant requests Tuesday night, but will the city be able to pay for them?

Months ago, Councilman Pat Partin, who was absent from a work session Thursday, called on Camden business owners and commercial property owners to take advantage of the city façade grant program. The program allows merchants to be reimbursed for half the cost of front or rear façade improvements up to $2,500.

City Manager Kevin Bronson told council Thursday that 17 application requests had been made in the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, including $6,263 worth that have been completed. Another $20,941 worth of requests are still pending.

Council only budgeted $15,000 for façade grants.

“I believe this has been good,” said Bronson. “Not only are they fixing up their businesses but they’re using local contractors and materials. Up to this point, however, we’ve robbing from the council chamber improvement fund. I would suggest that you leave the remainder in place.”

Bronson said council could pull the necessary money from the city’s capital contingency fund, but did not come out and suggest it do so.

“Where do we want to pay for the remainder and future requests?” asked Bronson, even offering the possibility of suspending the façade grant program.

Mayor Jeffrey Graham said if the program were to continue, it might be necessary to cut funding for something else.

“To say we’re not going to continue could cause a problem, but if we don’t have the money … maybe we should allow the requests to keep coming in but say we don’t have any money for them,” he suggested.

Newly installed Councilman Willard Polk agreed.

“You can’t keep going to a well that’s going to go dry,” Polk said. “I say we accept them, but put off funding them until we get the money.”

Bronson said there may be some projects on the unfinished list that could drop off after a six-month limit on completing projects council put in place earlier this year. The one exception would be a full $2,500 grant to the Little Theater, which was requested prior to the limit’s enactment.

“I’m glad we have this problem,” said Councilman Walter Long.

Graham expressed some hope that preservation grants might help shore up the façade grant fund.

In the meantime, council will still consider two grants -- one to improvement the front façade; the other, the rear -- at 1001 Market St., which houses Substation II. The two grants would total $2,290 in matching funds from the city.

“They are making these requests in light of the changes to the Town Green,” said Bronson.

One request council will not be taking up was submitted by the current owners of 1001 Broad St., which was last used as a Maxway department store building before closing about eight years ago. It was purchased in January by Forthright Properties LLC.

Bronson considered the request unusual in that it is the first for a vacant building. He also said the building is full of mold.

“So why would we give a façade grant for a building in that condition?” asked Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford.

When Polk asked what Forthright planned to do with the building, Bronson called them “property flippers” who were likely holding on to the building until the economy picked up.

“They want to put lipstick on that pig,” retorted Polk. “There’s no question it’s an eyesore … but we don’t need to put taxpayer dollars into it to help them flip it.”

At Graham’s suggestion, the application was removed from the agenda; a letter will be sent to Forthright explaining why.

“We look forward to their investment in the building and then they come back to us to apply for a grant,” he said.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:

• Second reading of an ordinance granting Fairfield Electric Cooperative a limited, non-exclusive consent and franchise to own and operate electric utility facilities in the city limits with a 5 percent fee.

• First reading of an ordinance that would amend the city’s bed and breakfast (B&B) requirements, increasing the number of allowed rooms per B&B from three to five. Council did discuss briefly the possibility of sending the ordinance back to the Camden Planning Commission (CPC), but ultimately decided it was council’s job to deal with the CPC’s recommendations itself.

• Consideration of bids in connection with the Village Renaissance Community Development Block Grant project for sewer line rehabilitation and electric underground work.

• Consideration of a bid awards for window replacement and attic insulation installation, lighting replacement and HVAC replacement in conjunction with an energy efficiency grant. Bid tabulations for the lighting component were not expected until today.

Council will also consider appointing NBSC’s Karen Eckford to the CPC to fill the unexpired term of Julie McIntyre who resigned Nov. 30. Polk said his only concern was that Eckford was the only candidate.

“I would prefer to have more choices before considering,” said Polk.

Long pointed out that Eckford currently serves on the Kershaw County Planning Commission; Bronson said she would have to resign that position in order to serve on the CPC.

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