Lincoln County pursues Small Cities housing grants

IVANHOE — The Lincoln County Board gave the green light for an application to the Small Cities housing rehabilitation program at Tuesday’s meeting.

Lincoln County Housing and Redevelopment Executive Director Vince Robinson updated the board on the process of applying for Lincoln County’s next Small Cities grant. It could follow in the footsteps of other successful grant-funded housing improvements. Examples include the Tyler Twin Homes, Westview Apartments in Hendricks and repairs to residential homes.

Under Small Cities grants, residential property owners who have a low enough income to qualify can decide on the most needed home upgrades with the input of professional home inspections. Approval for the program is contingent upon a loan to value analysis, which demonstrates that a home or residential building is in good enough condition to gain at least a minimum amount of increased value. This justifies the expense required to make repairs.

Robinson said proposals for the latest round of grants, awarded through state housing officials, are due next week. Lincoln County’s proposal will be given one of three classifications. It will be rated as competitive, marginally competitive or not competitive.

“I’d recommend going ahead with few if any changes it comes back with a competitive rating,” Robinson said. “If it’s marginally competitive, it means we have more work to do in order to have the best possible chance for approval.”

He added that the HRA cannot take steps toward a proposed Small Cities grant without approval of either Lincoln County or an incorporated city, one that has a city council and jurisdictions for streets, utilities, parks and other services within city limits. For unincorporated towns, which include Verdi and Wilno in Lincoln County, responsibility for providing those services through tax revenue or another funding source falls to the local township.

Robinson said Small Cities grants provide opportunities for low to moderate income households as well as multi-family residential housing facilities to get funding for needed improvements. This results in being able to keep the local housing stock in well-maintained condition to the benefit of both the city and county tax base and to local neighborhoods.

Commissioners unanimously approved Robinson’s request for approval to apply for the grant. If funding is awarded, another request will be made by the HRA for acceptance of grant funds and authorization for the HRA to handle grant revenue as a fiscal agent.

“It’s a good opportunity to preserve the value of residential property,” Robinson said. “We’ve had good luck with it in the past. This proposal would allow us to invest in housing in a way that helps both communities and property owners.”

The board also voiced support for a proposal from Lincoln County Environmental Officer Robert Olsen to purchase a ditch camera system at an estimated cost of between $12,000 and $13,000.

The cost includes cameras along with a cable system that stretches as needed to allow close-up views of breaks in an underground tile line. It reduces the time needed to find the exact pipe locations prior to excavating.

 “I’ve never hit a utility line yet, but there are times when locating ditch lines slows down the project,” Olsen said. “Sometimes I can find it on the first try and other times it takes over an hour.”

He added that there’s potential for accidental damage to tile systems while probing from above ground. Damage would then have to be fixed in the ditch repair process. With video equipment, improvements in drainage can be made with less chance of adding to project costs.

The $12,000 to $13,000 expense from the general fund will be repaid to the county as ditch systems agree to use the equipment for repair projects.

“It wouldn’t be fair to divide the cost equally among the ditch systems,” Olson said. “We’re likely to never need it on some ditches, and for other ditches we’d use them often. It’s also a resource that environmental departments and the highway department can use when needed. It could be loaned out to cities when needed.”

As an example Olsen pointed to drainage issues in a residential area of Tyler west of the Kronborg Inn supper club on the south side of U.S. Highway 14. It’s likely that tree root encroachments are causing damage in at least several places.

“The area was draining properly in the past, but now it’s not,” he said. “My best guess is that it’s tree roots. If we can find out what it is and where it is in less time, that will be beneficial.”

The costs are likely to come in lower than the estimate. That would enable the creation of a parts inventory so that county employees would not have to travel as often to get parts.

Commissioners authorized Olsen to proceed with collecting information about exact costs. A decision about whether or not to  proceed with the purchase and gradual repayment will be made at a later date.

“We’ll talk about it,” said board chairman Mic VanDeVere. “I support the idea as long as the ditch systems eventually pay for it.”

Commissioner Corey Sik said the concept has potential to reduce operating expenses pointed out by Olsen, such as downtime for locating tile lines and travel for parts. “It’s important to be able to find the line location without delays,” Sik said. “This could save time without more risk of tile breaks. If a break happens, it’s more expensive in the end.”

Additionally commissioners finalized the hiring of a new county veterans service officer. The board approved the hiring of John Hovland of Lake Benton without discussion.

Hovland is scheduled to begin his work today. Training will be provided by the state Veterans Services office for a time period expected to total several months. The training process will be carried out at no cost to county taxpayers.