By REID TUCKER
In the span of less than an hour, the DeFuniak Springs City Council got the details on a state grant project aimed at improving low-to-moderate income areas and approved a plethora of items requiring action.
The Council heard an update from a representative of Preble-Rish, Inc., one of the city’s engineering firms, regarding the Community Development Block Program (CDBP) at its July 9 meeting before swiftly dispatching its varied agenda.
Cities participating in the CDBP are eligible to receive in up to $700,000 from the state for projects improving water and sewer lines and renovating or building new sidewalks in residential areas or all of the above plus construction of new parking space for commercial properties. A separate housing grant can be used to bring individual residences up to code, to acquire vacant houses, to demolish blighted buildings or to acquire abandoned property. Finally, another separate grant for economic development is also available for the purpose of offsetting costs associated with bringing new businesses to the area.
There are only two main stipulations related to the grant. First, improvement projects must be confined to only one of the three previously mentioned categories at any one time, though economic development projects can run concurrently. Secondly, any improvement projects must benefit areas servicing low-to-moderate-income housing.
Based on prior assessments of the city’s needs, Preble-Rish has prioritized replacing asbestos concrete and wastewater rehabilitation in qualifying areas, though a citizens’ advisory council to be appointed by the Council will advise Prebel-Rish of any other potential project ideas following an upcoming public hearing.
Having heard that update, the Council unanimously approved an array of motions, from accepting bids on new equipment and services for the Public Works Department to agreeing on the lease of billboard space fronting U.S. 90 in Mossy Head.
Public Works received the go-ahead to purchase a 135-kilowatt generator capable of providing emergency power for all buildings at the department’s main yard at the cost of a $39,500, thus ensuring that all Public Works operations can remain up-and-running in the event of widespread power outage. The City Council also authorized Public Works to purchase a compact utility excavator for $43,756 and to accept cathodic protection services for the city’s natural gas system at an annual fee of $8,400. All these expenditures were covered by the department’s budget.
In other Public Works-related business, Assistant City Manager Bill Holloway sought the Council’s directions regarding the possible purchase of 3.94 acres next to one of the department’s main facilities for a proposed $150,000. The Council recommended that he return to negotiations with an offer of $40,000 for the property, located at the corner of North Park Street and Quebec Avenue.
City Manager Sara Bowers got approval for a variety of pending items, including the aforementioned billboard lease agreement with the sign’s owner, Ed Armbruster, who offered to rent space to the city at a rate of just $1 per year for a four-year term. The city will be responsible only for building and painting a sign and affixing it to the billboard, which is located at the intersection of County Highway 285 and U.S. 90.
Bowers was also given the Council’s approval to waive rental fees when other governmental entities (whether inside the county or not) wished to use city buildings. She also got approval to lease space at the Public Works Department’s main facility to the local branch of Partners in Progress. Finally, Bowers got the Council’s consent to expend $4,280 budgeted for repairs at the Municipal Airport’s terminal so as to rent two rooms’-worth of office space to one of the airport’s new helicopter service-related tenants, which also rents the so-called “paint hangar.”
The rest of the meeting went by just as quickly, with a new member being added to fill a vacancy on the Airport Advisory Committee and with the public hearing for a historic district setback variance request being set for Aug 13.