Elkader Council approves Sweet Corn Days permits, tables housing rehab project

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

The April 26 Elkader City Council meeting saw a decision that was a mere formality and another that came as a surprise. 

 

The first dealt with Sweet Corn Days, as the Council swiftly approved a series of special permits for the event, which is scheduled for July 24 and 25. The permits include no parking signage for the parade, street closures for activities, traffic control for Shed Your Threads and approval to launch fireworks within the city limits. 

 

The approval came without discussion, and Mayor Josh Pope said of the decision, “I am glad to see the special events permit for Sweet Corns Days approved by the council. It is an important community event and I think most folks are ready for this type of event again. There are still health/safety precautions to follow, but when we take those into consideration, we should be able to have a safe, healthy, fun weekend.”

 

The other decision dealt with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds that are used to rehabilitate homes, and was unanimously tabled until next year at the earliest. This was a surprise to Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert, as the council had discussed the matter for several meetings leading up to the vote, and there seemed to be an understanding that it was placed back on the agenda for approval. 

 

At issue was the $3,000 cost for having Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission (UERPC) write the grant, something Cowsert noted is rather commonplace when it comes to applying for programs funded through the CDBG because of how technical the process is and UERPC has experience with the application. Having UERPC write it would increase the odds of the grant being awarded. 

 

Nathan Thompson, a representative from UERPC, explained the cost also includes meeting with the applicant city, marketing the program to potential homeowners, making sure applicants are income qualified and ensuring their project fits within the program parameters. 

 

This cost was not unknown, as this is not the first time the city has taken part in the program, having done so in 2013-2014, when seven homes were rehabbed—improvements residents might not have otherwise been able to afford. 

 

Additionally, the program adds value to the city by helping homeowners stay in their homes, and it maintains housing stock for future residents. 

 

Those who qualify for the program would receive $24,999 in assistance for either energy efficient or exterior improvements to their homes. This includes things like additional insulation, replacement of HWH and furnace, energy-efficient doors and windows, exterior doors and windows, siding and roofing. 

 

In fact, according to Cowsert and Thompson, this time it would’ve been even cheaper for the city since the city is only responsible for the $3,000, unlike in previous years when the city also had to provide a certain amount of funding per house. The grant also covers administrative fees and lead abatement, beyond the rehab. 

 

“All expenses are paid for by the grant, including the full $24,999 per home,” Thompson said. 

 

The project is also aimed at those in lower income brackets—residents who otherwise would not be able to perform vital rehab on their homes, maintaining its viability. In this case, low-income is defined as anyone making 80 percent or less than the area median income (county-wide average income) for their household size. In Clayton County, any one-person household making less than $40,250 would qualify. 

 

During the meeting, council member Tony Hauber stated, “I can’t imagine not being able to spend that in this town,” referring to the available rehab funds. 

 

But Council member Daryl Koehn immediately targeted the cost of writing the grant. “We don’t have the money,” he said, citing the bridge project’s “mushrooming out of control” cost as a reason.

 

One solution to cover the cost, which was not budgeted, came from Hauber, who suggested using what’s known as “LOST funds,” which is basically a local option sales tax.  

 

“The sales has a sales tax. Local governments are allowed to ‘piggy back’ on that and charge an additional 1 percent sales tax,” Cowsert explained in a separate interview. 

 

However, Koehn adamantly stated, “We don’t have the money. We need to tighten our belts. I’m just concerned about spending $3,000 and we don’t know if we’re going to get any return on it.” 

 

Koehn continued to reference the bridge project as a cause for financial concern, while Hauber noted the lack of similarities between the projects and the fact that the CDBG money was not adding to the overall bridge project total. 

 

Council member Bob Hendrickson added, “It’s good to be on the agenda to talk about, but my gut is telling me right now, because of the unknowns of the bridge project and stuff, and kind of looking big picture at our overall budget as a city, I’d like to have more of a cushion in there somehow. I think it’d be a good idea to hold off.” 

 

During the vote, all five members voted to table the rehab project, mostly due to the $3,000, but according to Cowsert, there was money in the “LOST funds” to cover it. 

 

“While this was not budgeted because I received the request after our budget time, we had about $20,000 that was un-allocated, so there was room if they wanted to participate in this program,” she said. 

 

For now, the issue remains tabled until next year and residents are encouraged to seek out other programs for housing rehab projects.

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