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UPDATE: Program may help Morris, Donnelly homeowners upgrade properties

Morris and Donnelly homeowners who qualify could soon have about $453,000 in grant money available to them to upgrade their homes.

The Morris City Council on Tuesday voted to support a Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority grant application through the Small Cities Development Program.

The program would provide money for qualifying homeowners to rehabilitate their property, and it also may make money available for value gap financing for potential, affordable rental construction for families.

The program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Stevens County HRA Director Jodi DeCamp said DEED's Small Cities grant process is very competitive and that applying for the funding doesn't guarantee that all or any of the money will be approved for an application.

The county HRA is expecting to learn of DEED's decisions on the program applications in March or April, DeCamp said.

The cities of Morris and Hancock used the program a few years ago for redevelopment projects. Hancock built a new wastewater treatment facility and the two cities also had homes rehabilitated through the program.

This time, the HRA's preliminary application would call for allocating the money to rehabilitate 10 owner-occupied properties in Morris and five in Donnelly in the first year the grant is available, DeCamp said.

If the funds are not used up after one year, for six months the money would be available to be spent within Morris and Donnelly. After 18 months, the funds would be available to be spent anywhere in the county.

Morris Mayor Sheldon Giese said he was pleased that the program allowed for the grants to be opened up throughout the county if the funds were not used completely in the two cities.

DeCamp said that the DEED program is designed to ensure approved funds are used to improve properties.

"They (DEED) give you money if they think you will spend it the way it's supposed to be spent," DeCamp said. "But if they give you money they want you to spend it."

The cities would not have much work to do in administering the funds, with the HRA handling most of the details, she said.

"It's not too burdensome and we (HRA) wouldn't have any problem with that," DeCamp said.

DeCamp said she was hopeful the application would be approved based on a positive reaction to a pre-application the HRA submitted to DEED, but she noted that the final number of projects and the grant's dollar amount might fluctuate by the time the grants are approved.

If approved, the City of Donnelly would have grant pre-applications available for prospective homeowners in the city's Post Office. Pre-applications and more details about qualifications that need to be met also would be available at the HRA office at (320) 208-6559.

In other county business:

•Morris may be able to get it's heaving piece of roadway on Pacific Avenue repaired using state and federal money.

The roadway between County State Aid Highway 22 and East 7th Street in Morris is slated for future repairs at an estimated cost of $1.55 million. Federal stimulus money and Minnesota State Aid Highway funds totaling about $1.52 million appears to be allocated for the project in the State Transportation Improvement Program, said City Manager Blaine Hill.

The project would entail reconstructing the half-mile roadway and resurfacing it. The road has severe heaves and city officials have said it was not properly constructed.

The city has received no indication when the project would begin but Hill said it could be undertaken in 2012.

See this Web site later this week and the Saturday print edition of the Sun Tribune for more Morris City Council news