BENNINGTON — The Select Board on Monday approved new Supplemental Incentive Programs from downtown residences and businesses, and agreed to extend the deferment period on a loan to Applegate Housing from 20 to 40 years.
Economic and Development Director Michael Harrington had presented the program at the board's second April meeting, and again at the first May meeting, hearing the board's concerns and making changes. The programs are separate from a vacant property ordinance the board is also mulling over, but the two efforts work together to achieve the same end, Harrington has said.
The three programs under the Supplemental Incentives Program umbrella are the "Matching grant/forgivable loan program," which will allow applicants to receive loans for downtown capital improvement projects. The board, at it's discretion, can then forgive the principal and interest of the loan if certain conditions are met. The second, the "Low interest business facilitation loan program," is to be used for facade improvements, lighting, ventilation, code improvements, and other capital improvements. It is remove roadblocks that are preventing the timely opening or expansion of businesses in the downtown district, according to the description approved by the board.
Board member Michael Keane made the motion to approve the programs, which was seconded by Don Campbell. That vote passed unanimously.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd explained the situation regarding the Applegate loan. "Matt Moore (developer at Housing Vermont), who is here this evening, approached the town about the situation he has found himself in," he said, "with regard to the various loans that Housing Vermont and Applegate have achieved. There are three different financing organizations, the Town of Bennington with the (Community Block Development Grant) was in with a 20-year deferral, (The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board) was in with a 30-year deferral, and (The Vermont Housing Finance Agency), which is the federal agency, was looking for a 40-year deferral period. I think Matt's goal was to get us all around the table at 30 years, and when I discussed this with the chair and the vice-chair during our agenda discussion, that's what we were looking at. After I met with Matt, (VHFA) is now insisting on 40 years. They want the loans consolidated, and they want a 40-year deferral."
"Nothing really changes for us," said Hurd, "We really don't expect to collect any money anyway, these funds tend to be rolled over as the projects move forward. Our position in the loan process doesn't change, so, from my perspective, this is not a battle to fight. I think it's one way that we can cooperate in a project that will actually benefit Applegate and the community."
"What's the benefit to the town in doing this on a continuing basis?" asked board member Jim Carroll.
"It creates housing that is affordable," Hurd responded, "that is up-to-date, that is energy efficient, and that is continuously improved."
Carroll also, admitting he has been a broken record on the topic, asked Moore to ensure that as much of the money that can, under federal guidelines, go to local contractors. Moore said that Naylor and Breen, of Brandon had been selected as the construction managers, and would be doing the subcontracting for the project. They are currently preparing to put the work that they will not be doing themselves out to bid. He said that they have been instructed to advertise locally, and will strongly consider any local contractors, so long as they have the bonding and insurance necessary to complete the tasks.
"I can't guarantee that there won't be out of state plates, there probably will be, especially on a project this size," said Moore. He did, at Carroll's request, agreed to forward the select board a list of subcontractors once that list is finalized.
"With respect to what Jim is talking about," said Harrington, "it's important to point out, and I want to make sure we're clear for the public, the moneys for this are federal funds, and those require a competitive bid process. You cannot show favoritism or bias in any way. You certainly can control where you market, and where you can be flexible. We would certainly push to have those be local contractors. But it is a competitive bid process, we have to follow federal guidelines."
The Bennington Select Board meets the second and fourth Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at Bennington Firehouse on River Road in Bennington. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.