FAIRMONT - In the past 15 years, Fairmont has received millions of dollars in grants to fix up homes. The improvements have not always been visible to the casual passer-by, but they have made a significant difference in the lives of local residents.
City administrator Mike Hum-pal spoke about the Small Cities Development Program funds on Monday during a public hearing at City Hall. The hearing took place during a City Council meeting, which no one from the public attended.
"We compete for these funds with every other community in Minnesota with populations under 50,000, so it's very competitive," Humpal said.
In 2011, Fairmont was awarded $340,000, with a goal of completing projects at 15 units by Dec. 31, 2013. With a year to go, only seven projects are done.
The hold-up is due in part to Minnesota Department of Health lead licensure regulations, Humpal explained. The focus for the improvements has been the removal of lead-based paint, and just four contractors in the area are qualified by the state to do the work. Only two of the four have actually submitted bids.
Despite the slow progress, city staff are confident the projects will be done by the grant deadline.
Benefitting from the 2011 grant funds are 23 people in 16 households. (The city exceeded its goal by one unit.) All the residences are owner-occupied.
Many of the improvements are not visible from the street, but the projects do add value to and extend the life of homes, Humpal said.
Fairmont also received Small Cities grants in 1997, 2001 and 2008. Combined with the 2011 grant, the funds add up to $2.27 million and are responsible for improvements at 130 homes and apartment units.
"A lot of the recipients are Fourth Ward residents," said Councilman Andy Lucas, speaking of the neighborhoods he represents. "It's been really positive for the Fourth Ward."
In other business, the council:
o Set public hearings for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 22 to amend the City Code to allow open front porches in qualifying front and corner yards; to allow electronic messaging signs in residential districts; to rezone the property at 520 and 700 E. 12th St. from a multi-family residential district to light industrial.
o Approved a conditional use permit for Garry Oskerson at 1220 E. 10th St. for a salvage yard in a light industrial district.