WILLCOX — What would you do with $500,000?
The Willcox City Council is expecting to receive $531,608 in federal grant monies and plans to use it to rehab a portion of Scott Street. The money is part of the federal Community Development Block Grant funds and is intended to benefit low income people and areas.
The plans cannot move forward, however, until there’s a hearing and the citizens of Willcox have an opportunity to voice their opinions on the matter. That hearing is set to take place at the council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21.
According to City Manager Caleb Blaschke, the funds will not cover what it would cost to rehab the entire street, so just a portion, the area around the Willcox Senior Apartments, will be rehabbed. The work that needs to be completed is extensive. The housing development, which is old, is built below grade on a flood plain. The developer built up the homes and built down the roads and did not include storm drains.
“Without storm drains the roads filled up with water and when roads fill up with water they find cracks and then they form potholes,” Blaschke said. The plan is to repair intersections with concrete; chip seal the streets; add sidewalks, gutters and curbs; and in some spots, replace the foundation. This type of project is exactly what the CDBG monies is intended for.
“If you think about new areas in cities, where a developer comes in, the developer pays for sidewalks. He pays for streets and puts in a curb and gutter. The homes are ADA compliant,” Blaschke said. “In these low-income, older areas, businesses and developers were never held to that standard, and so lots of times the infrastructure is dilapidated. It’s falling apart. There’s no drainage. There’s no sidewalk, no curb and gutter. It’s a different quality. CDBG funds were meant to even the playing field and help those people in the low-income areas experience the same quality of life as those people in the newer developments.”
Should the use of the money be approved and all the extensive federal requirements met, Blaschke hopes the work to begin in the spring of next year.
This isn’t the first stab at getting this money the city has gone through. There have been three hearings where no one from the public appeared They were completed a couple of days after the grant deadline, according to Blaschke, so the hearing has to be repeated.
Also, part of getting the money is proving to the federal government Willcox falls below the low-income level. Blaschke said according to the census, this portion of the city does not fall into those guidelines, although he disagrees. To make the case for the money, he did his own community survey and sent staff door to door to about a hundred homes to ask each household how many people live there and what the income is. In the end it was low enough to get the funding.
Finding monies in the city budget and deciding where to spend it is not unlike working a home budget and is easily as complicated. For example, the Willcox pool this year suffered a heater fire and the suction on the filter stopped working. Where to find the money to replace this 50-year-old item?
“Through city council resolution, 1% of our sales tax we devote to roads,” Blaschke said. “What we did was we said, ‘Let’s use the CBDG money for the road in this area because it needs to be redone anyway, and the money we’re saving from our road, let’s use on our city pool.’ ” That became the plan because in order to use CBDG money on the pool the city would first have to do an income survey to prove the majority of pool users are low income, and that is also a complicated process.
“We would have to basically hope that people with low incomes show up on that specific day (that we’re doing the survey), and we don’t have a crazy thing where a bunch of people with lots of money show up to the pool all of a sudden on that day,” Blaschke said. “It’s a lot more work than hitting up those hundred homes off of Scott Street.”
Blaschke said, in reality, five Cochise County cities are allocated only a little more than $100,000 yearly, but he said that amount hardly makes a dent in the needs of the community. Therefore, some time ago the mayors of Huachuca City, Bisbee, Douglas, Benson and Willcox agreed to pool the money, and now each community gets half a million more or less every five years.
Even so, it won’t go too far, Blaschke said.
“Believe it or not, that half a million would be eaten up really quickly with sidewalk and curbs,” Blaschke said. “We’re trying to fix things the correct way. Where things have had band-aids in the past, we’re trying to make them last the next 20 or 30 years.”
The grant is part of the federal Community Development Block Grant, and is administered through the Arizona Department of Housing Regional Account.