The façade program was originally presented to the board by town economic development specialist Gretchen Havreluk two weeks ago, but was put on hold until concerns with the status of rental properties and their inclusion in the program were ironed out. The amount that a property owner can apply for was also changed from the original amount of $1,000 to the lower cost of $500. Havreluck said this is because sometimes a project only costs $500, but that is an amount some property owners just can’t spare. “I feel the goal is to just make the town look nicer,” said Havreluk.
The program will allow owners of commercial properties within view of public streets to be awarded up to a 75% reimbursement or direct payment to a vendor, of a total project cost between $500 and $5,000. This includes rental properties with more than one unit, and will require a 25% cash match from the applicant. Final approval of applications will be given by the selectboard, and will be subject to a scoring system. Costs the program covers will include design expenses, labor costs, and materials. A façade design rendering grant of up to $1,000 will also be available for those hiring a design consultant for a new façade.
Havreluk said that the facade program, like others funded annually by the 1% option tax fund, will be on a first come, first served basis until its funding runs out. She also believes that the funds will be used quickly as many buildings in town stand to benefit from the program.
Once an applicant is approved for the program, they will enter into an agreement with the town stating that work on their respective project will begin within 180 days and will be completed within one year of on-site work commencement. Another part of the agreement states that plans agreed upon by the town and the property owner may not be altered, removed or modified for a period of five years from the date the grant is distributed.
Havreluk also explained that the program will put a cap on the amount of money a property owner may use. If an individual wants to borrow individual amounts for multiple buildings, they will be allowed up to $7,500 within a year. Havreluk said the purpose of this was to make sure that every eligible property owner has a fair chance at using the fund.
The program was intended to be funded at $75,000, but that number may decrease. When creating the 1% option tax fund, the board put a stipulation on expenditures of more than $50,000, which required a special Town Meeting vote for approval. While this is considered a grant program, former selectboard chair Tom Consolino pointed out that the allotment of $75,000 for the program may constitute a vote from the town, because without a vote, the town could “ in theory, set the amount at $400,000 if you wanted to.” Town manager Scott Murphy agreed with Consolino and recommended the board give the program the OK, but without setting a funding limit just yet. Murphy said he would rather investigate Consolino’s concern before setting the expenditure. If need be, the board said it would consider dropping the funding amount to $50,000.