Where should community development funding go?

Friday, January 25, 2019
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Eagles Manor resident Donald Rindal sits in the facility’s living room Friday afternoon. Rindal, who grew up in Roy and had a 28-year career delivering fuel around Central Montana, said he mostly enjoys living at the Eagles Manor but wishes they would bring back dancing. Members of the Eagles Manor board addressed the Lewistown City Commission Tuesday, requesting CDBG funding to update the facility.

Photo by Deb Hill

City Commissioners want to know how to best utilize a potential Montana Community Development Block Grant. 

On Tuesday, they opened up the floor, asking the community for answers.

The CDBG program – operated through the Montana Department of Commerce –  provides annual grants for specific community development needs.

“These grants help empower local governments and communities to build capacity, resiliency and resources to develop strong, vibrant communities,” City Manager Holly Phelps said. “CDBG grants can be used to develop or preserve affordable housing, provide services, create jobs, help develop plans for projects and address community needs.”

Snowy Mountain Development Corp. Executive Director Kathie Bailey said these needs include housing, economic development, neighborhood revitalization, community facilities and planning activities.

This hearing focused on housing, as Eagles Manor Board Chair Dick Brown and fellow Eagles Manor trustees came to talk about how they could benefit from a grant.

“The Eagles Manor is a structure that I think is very important to Lewistown,” Brown said. “Over the years we try to do upkeep, and right now we have some major upkeep that needs to be done. I visited with Kathie recently to see if there were grants available to help us to do some of these things. We could use it, because, if we fund them ourselves, we have to raise the rent so high that people can’t afford to live here.”

Brown said Eagles Manor – a retirement home for seniors and the disabled – is looking into a planning grant, which Bailey said typically is around $25,000. This wouldn’t cover all the costs, as Brown and the Eagles Manor board are looking at putting in a second elevator, new windows and other improvements to the nearly 50-year-old building.

“The building only has one elevator, and, if that elevator goes down, our residents are in trouble,” Brown said. “They aren’t going to go from the fifth floor to the first floor.”

Bailey said she understands the Eagles Manor board’s interest in improvements, as she’s spent time researching opportunities in and around Lewistown for housing rehabilitation. Recently, she pulled together members of the Port Authority, the Human Resources Development Council, the Recharge Our Community housing/advisory committee, realtors and others to discuss needs and opportunities. After much discussion, Bailey said it was evident housing is one of the largest issues the community faces.

Phelps agrees with Bailey’s assessment and said she wants to see these conversations continue. 

“Workforce housing is really key and primary, and will take a lot more creative thinking in this community,” Phelps said. 

There is no easy fix for the issue, either, Bailey said, as only one CDBG planning grant can be submitted per year and there are many places it could be used. However, people are working together and trying to find additional opportunities for funding.

“Originally we were looking into a new housing project, but, right now, there isn’t a huge need,” Bailey said. “We have housing facilities in town, and there is still availability for low-income residents, which includes senior citizens and the disabled.”

The Eagles Manor has 58 rooms and is currently 72 percent occupied.

This was the first of two public hearings on CDBG funding. The next public hearing will take place at the Monday, Feb. 4 commission meeting at 7 p.m. at the Community Center (307 W. Watson Street).


In Other Business

• Commissioners unanimously approved City Planner Cathy Barta’s request to apply for a Certified Local Government Grant application for the Montana State Historic Preservation Office. Grant money awarded will go toward researching the historic contribution of the Metis to the Lewistown area and identifying potential sites to nominate to the National Register of Historic Places.  

• Commissioners unanimously approved a $135,000 grant to fund training for Central Feed Grilling Company employees. The total amount awarded will not exceed $135,000.

• Commissioners unanimously approved a  $50,860 grant application to the Montana Department of Commerce for the Creekside Marketplace and Pavilion restrooms and the authorization to enter into a grant agreement once the grant is approved.

“The purpose of this grant is to promote tourism,” Phelps said. “I’m pretty optimistic this will be an eligible funding source for this project and should be approved,” Phelps said.

• The Creekside Marketplace and Pavilion committee received a $40,000 grant from the Coal Board in December of 2018. Around this time, the committee was notified they did not receive funding through the Tourism grant program. 

• Commissioners unanimously approved awarding Birdwell Builders the $405,504 contract to construct the Creekside restroom building. The original amount for the bid was $459,621 but a cost-saving alternative bid was created and accepted.



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