Worth saving

Published 10:25 pm Friday, September 12, 2008

By Staff
One way or another, Washington officials must find a way to restore funding to the city’s program to improve facades of downtown properties.
While they are doing that, they should also at least consider expanding the program to other areas of the city. That suggestion, made by Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, is an excellent one and deserving of the City Council’s attention.
Bobby Roberson, the city’s director of planning and development, considers the program one of the most effective programs ever offered by the city.
The popular program will come to an end unless a new source of money to keep it going is identified and used.
The program, administered by the city for 16 years, provided half the cost of an approved project, up to $2,000. However, properties located on corners or bearing front and rear facades used to receive up to $4,000 — or $2,000 for each facade.
The city used the grant program to encourage businesses and property owners to improve their buildings’ appearances. The program is responsible for many of the downtown facade improvements during that period, according to Roberson.
What’s happened to the pool of money used to provide the grants?
The city’s contribution to the program came from an annual principal-and-interest payment — about $22,000 — on the Urban Development Action Grant loan used to finance construction of the former Bonny Products building at the Beaufort County Industrial Park. The payments come to the city, which was required to use the funds for economic development. Monies not used in one year were carried over to the next.
The loan has been paid off, leaving about $1,600 in the pool. By adding some money not used by property owners who were selected to receive grants last year to that $1,600, the city has about $4,800 to be divided among this year’s applicants for grants, Roberson said.
That $4,800 won’t go very far. Roberson knows that, and so does Tomasulo, who received one of the grants in recent years.
There’s no question the program should be revived, Roberson said. Tomasulo said the program should be expanded to cover other areas in the city.
The secret to reviving the program is finding the funding to do so. Perhaps there are programs at the state and federal levels that provide money for just such a program. Roberson believes those programs exist. It’s a good bet he will know if they do exist by the time the City Council begins working on the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget next spring.
Tomasulo has a suggestions for providing funds for the program. Tomasulo said that as a property owner he’s willing to help provide that funding.
That’s an admirable way to look at funding the program, but other city taxpayers may not have the same view on the matter.
This is a program worth saving.
Roberson believes, and we share his belief, that an oversight by city officials during this year’s budget-making process resulted in no funding being allocated so the program could continue.
The City Council can, and must, rectify that oversight.