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Jon Swegarden, Published June 01 2013

Letter: Use city’s incentives properly

I read Erik Burgess’ article (Forum, May 16) regarding the sparring between the city of Fargo and Fort Noks Bar of Gold owner Rick Engen over his bar’s patio expansion. A statement by Engen caused me to pause.

The article states that Engen told the liquor board he has applied for a community development block grant to help pay for the project. The city caps those grants at $15,000. Engen stated, “I believe we will get approved for that (grant) to support lighting, railing and any ornamental work.” Really?

I can’t imagine this was the intention of a Community Development Block Grant. The city of Fargo’s own website, which then carries you to HUD.gov, states, “The Community Development Block Grant program provides annual grants on a formula basis to entitled cities, urban counties and states to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.” So how does lighting, railing and ornamental work fit with this objective?

As Fargo struggles with the imbalance in the student population of the Fargo School District, where is the consideration for attracting and retaining families with children in these select neighborhoods to offset this imbalance? Shouldn’t this be an area where CDBG could be of benefit for the community, schools, families, businesses and neighborhoods?

A second listing on the city of Fargo website is the HOME Investment Partnerships Program. “HOME provides formula grants to states and localities that communities use – often in partnership with local nonprofit groups – to fund a wide range of activities that build, buy, and/or rehabilitate affordable housing for rent or homeownership or provide direct rental assistance to low-income people. HOME’s flexibility empowers people and communities to design and implement strategies tailored to their own needs and priorities. The program’s flexibility allows states and local governments to use HOME funds for grants, direct loans, loan guarantees or other forms of credit enhancement, or rental assistance or security deposits.”

Can we not come together and design programs that, in the end, will be a benefit for all? Programs that will encourage growth in and around the schools where attendance has declined?

How about ending the two-year tax exemption for newly constructed single- family, duplex, townhome or condominium properties of $150,000, or at least provide the same exemption to anyone with children who purchases a property in these designated neighborhoods where the schools can accommodate more children? Let’s encourage growth and retention where we need it through creativity with CDBG, HOME and other programs. Consider an incentive for homeowners and/or Realtors who sell homes to families with children in these neighborhoods. Consider interest buydowns, specific grants or attractive loan programs to encourage current families with children to stay in these neighborhoods.

I believe if our respective leaders will listen with open minds and consider some creative thinking, along with their own, we can solve this dilemma. Lighting, railing and ornamental work just won’t do it.

Swegarden lives in Fargo.