Jenkins: Council shows interest in energy, environment projects/grants

The Region Five program is fairly new. Only a small number of cities have used the program in the past, including Aitkin and Hackensack, where projects included switching streetlights to LED and improving waste management. Bjelland said they are working on a second round of city grants and have nine cities on board to apply. They are looking for one more.

Participating cities would be qualified to receive $10,000 in funds to improve the city’s environment or efficiency. The program uses USDA grant money, combined with Sourcewell grant money (to pay for what would normally be the city’s share of the 1:1 grant), to complete these projects.

Mayor Jon Lubke asked what types of things the money cannot be used for. Bjelland said it couldn’t be used to buy fire department equipment or similar expenses not related to the environment or efficiency. She confirmed that it could potentially be used for adding solar LED lights to the city sign. The only cost of the project for the city, ultimately, is any wages spent on city employees, if they provided work on the project.

Council member Charles Hoffman requested that the city take time to consider the program before agreeing to participate. Bjelland said the city does not need to know what it would want to spend the funds on ahead of application; however, Hoffman said given the one year time limit on using the grant funds, he would feel better if the city had some ideas before applying so the council and staff wouldn’t have to rush later.

Clerk Krista Okerman pointed out one drawback for participating. Because Sourcewell would provide $5,000 toward the fund, the city could not apply for that Sourcewell grant (which here serves to pay for the city’s matching contribution) for a year. The city had previously discussed applying for the Sourcewell grant to provide Americans with Disabilities Act compliant equipment at the park.

The council did not commit to the project, but did agree to discuss it ahead of its second February meeting, at which time it will either approve participation or not. Applications are due in March, so a decision must be reached soon.

Small Cities Program

The council held a public hearing on the Small Cities Development Program. The council has been discussing the program for several months and has stayed in the running for the program despite other cities being eliminated. The program provides funding to commercial retail and residential properties for rehabilitation of buildings.

Funding is provided as a “loan” that is forgiven if the property owner does not sell over the course of 10 years. A portion of the loan is forgiven every year, 10% at a time, over the course of that 10 years until it is completely forgiven. An owner who sells before the end of the loan term must pay back the remaining balance.

Residential properties that participate in the program do not need to provide matching funds, but commercial properties must provide 20% of the cost of the project while the loan pays for the remaining 80%.

If the city is awarded the funds, all residences within the city qualify for the rehab loans and can use them for necessary improvements to homes, including new windows, roofing and repairs that improve the safety of the home. Commercial properties would qualify for similar projects; however, only commercial properties within a declared “slum and blight” district would qualify.

Several council members were hesitant to declare a slum and blight district within the city; however, it was discovered that:

  • Record of the declaration only exists in the SCDP application and in the city’s records pertaining to the application for the program. The declaration is not noted on any property records, and where these declarations have been made in the past there has not been any known effect on property values or taxes.
  • The declaration is largely symbolic and is just a legal definition of the area which needs improvement strictly for the application to the program.
  • It is not permanent. The declaration can be undone after the program has been completed.

Residents attending the public meeting seemed to be satisfied with answers they received, and one resident thanked the council for seeking funding that the city residents could use to improve their homes and businesses.

The slum and blight district was ultimately identified as a section along Highway 371. John Schommer, who was presenting on the program on behalf of the Brainerd Housing and Redevelopment Authority, said that was the chosen district because businesses from that area showed the most interest, and other businesses from that area were identified as possibly benefitting the most from the program.

For example, while those businesses may benefit from having an older, more rustic appearance (some of them sell antiques and used items) they could likely still benefit from roof repairs and perhaps more energy efficient windows.

The council agreed to declare the slum and blight district. It also approved application to the program, reviewed a conflict of interest disclosure form and determined that there are currently no known conflicts of interest among board members (such as a board member who knowingly would benefit from approval of the program by planning to participate in it).

The council agreed it would continue to hold public hearings as required for participation in the program.

Council members acknowledged they could benefit from more residents and businesses submitting documents showing their approval or interest in the program, as such documents increase their chances at being approved for the program.

In other business Monday, the council:

  • Directed the personnel committee to review a cleaning team contract and submit recommendations to the council. The contract could possibly be canceled.
  • Agreed to continue holding the first meeting of the month at 6 p.m. on the second Monday and the second meeting of the month at 4:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday.
  • Agreed to create a city policy pertaining to rules of meeting procedures and decorum for future operations. The hope is to make meetings faster and more effective.
  • Once again delayed approval of a city budget until such a time that the city can settle on a format for presenting the budget at regular and annual meetings. Hoffman would like to see that format used to review the city’s budget at the end of 2018 as well as at the current time so that the council is more familiar with operating expenses not just now, but over the course of a year.

Hoffman and Lubke both expressed concerns that the annual audit isn’t necessarily a comprehensive and accurate representation of the city’s funds and ability to operate financially over the next six months (as the council understands them). Presenting the budget in a better format may help the council to plan more effectively for the future. Lubke submitted a document with recommendations for consideration from a training session he recently attended.

  • Approved a contract with the Pequot Lakes Police Department. The contract has not changed over the past year.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at