The City of Platte City started looking at its revitalization matching grant program last month, and the pilot started in 2015-16 might have limited time left.
The board of aldermen’s economic development subcommittee wants staff to start looking at ways to scale back the program, potentially looking at a way to phase it out. City officials have been happy with the results of providing funding to help citizens and business owners complete projects to update older buildings but worry about the funding source.
So far, the money has been slated to come out of the general reserve fund. However, excess revenue and conservative budgeting allowed the city to pay out the nearly $200,000 in the first year without dipping into the reserve fund.
In addition, many of the downtown owners interested in using the grant money for commercial projects have already done so, meaning full continuation might not be necessary. The board also suggested that looking at using a similar program in future years should be a possibility.
“One of the nice things as we slowly ramp it down, it will perhaps be the first government program in the history of the world that was started and then ended,” Platte City city administrator DJ Gehrt joked during last month’s economic development subcommittee meeting.
Fiscal Year 2016-17 marks the second year for the matching grant program, meant to improve the overall appearance of the community with the object of gradually improving overall property values.
The current year budget appropriates $100,000 for residential matching grants and $100,000 for downtown district matching grants. C-1 commercial properties, which encompasses businesses on Main Street and one block north and south, remains the only area approved for the business grants.
The current year’s program has allocated $99,838 of the $100,000 budget to 16 residential projects. Seven projects have been completed and have received matching grants totaling $40,869.
The bulk of the completed projects have been roof/shingle replacement, concrete driveway installation or replacement or exterior siding/windows. There is one application that has been submitted and meets program criteria but has not been approved due to lack of available funding.
In 2015-16, the first year of the project, the residential matching grant program resulted in 16 completed revitalization projects.
The current year’s program has allocated $71,328 to six projects. None of the projects have been completed but several are in progress, according to Gehrt.
The downtown program has a remaining available balance of $28,672 for 2016-17 with no currently pending applications. The board’s subcommittee recommended not expending those funds for the residential application nor moving the balance into potential use for future years.
“That’d be changing the rules in the middle of the game,” alderman and committee member Lee Stubbs said.
The board could also expand the commercial program to all other businesses. That would likely require enacting limitations based on age of buildings, similar to those in place for the residential program, which makes that option a little more complicated.
In FY 2015-16, the first year of the project, the downtown matching grant program resulted in six completed projects.
In all, the grant program has resulted in repairs or upgrades to 29 Platte City properties since it started in November 2015. An additional 13 properties, including six in the downtown district are in progress and are planned for completion by November 2017.
About $220,000 in public funds helped generate slightly more than $300,000 in private investment.
According to Gehrt, physical property improvements are visible downtown and in the city’s older residential neighborhoods, but it remains too early to determine if the program has had a positive impact on property value. City staff plans to monitor annual property tax valuation and report any changes to the board as part of annual budget development.
The board discussed continuing the program but reducing the annual commitment or possibly use an alternating schedule where business grants would be offered one year and residential the next. Either of these options could also offer the board a chance to discontinue the program with advanced notice to property owners interested in utilizing the funds.
“I would not want to see us stop it all together (in 2017-18) because a sudden stop is unfair also,” Gehrt said.
Moving the program to the structural budget would require reducing other programs by an equal amount — another difficult proposition. While there’s optimism that the program can be funded regardless of the direction the board chooses, city staff fears making too big of a commitment to general funds moving forward.
Vickie Atkins, alderman and subcommittee member, believes cutting back and phasing out the program potentially allows the city to achieve its intended goal while also showing strong stewardship of taxpayer funds with decisions on replacing and/or renovating existing facilities coming in the near future.
“It was something we wanted to do,” Gehrt said. “We’ve never actually had to use fund balances. We’ve always had enough in revenues.
“Our budget has been getting tighter. Hope is not a good strategy when it comes to budgeting.”