Council narrowly approves Main Street grant

A Main Street Huntington grant to help pay for an awning on a downtown Huntington building won approval from the Huntington Common Council on Tuesday, June 25, but not without the usual dissent from one council member.

The grant proposal was, as similar proposals have been in the past, opposed by Councilman Greg Davis, who was reminded by Mayor Brooks Fetters that the council has the power to modify the grant program.

The Main Street Huntington grant program is operated through a partnership of the city, Huntington County Economic Development and a volunteer organization that coordinates the grant process. The city allocates CEDIT money to fund the grants, and owners of downtown buildings can apply for grants to fund half the cost of roof repairs or facade improvements to those buildings.

The grant approved on June 25 will provide $1,216.27 to pay half the cost of installing an awning at TrophyCenter Plus, 445 N. Jefferson St., Huntington. The building is owned by Rex Frederick.

Davis said he was opposed to "taking taxpayer dollars away from other members of the community and giving them to a select few." He added that downtown business owners already receive benefits from the city in that they don't have to provide their own parking areas or snow removal.

Davis also argued that if the grants are awarded, Huntington County companies should be hired to do the work. The awning at Frederick's building will be installed by a Fort Wayne company.

When Main Street Huntington was established by council five years ago, Fetters said, "the city and city council had the opportunity to focus on specific areas."

The program was targeted to the downtown area, Fetters said, because deterioration in that area was judged to be detrimental to the city as a whole.

"We had a desperate need downtown," said Rose Wall, spokesman for the volunteer Main Street Huntington coordinating group.

This is the third year the grants have been awarded, she said, and change is evident in the downtown area.
"I think there has been a lot of progress made," Fetters said.

The community does receive a benefit from the work accomplished with the help of the grants, Wall added, citing a downtown business building owner who replaced a facade and roof with the help of grants, then renovated a second floor apartment with her own money, and now pays more in taxes because of the building's increased value. That, in turn, helps keep taxes stable for other city taxpayers, Wall said.

The grant was approved on a 4-3 vote, with council members Wayne Powell and Jim Long joining Davis in voting no. Yes votes were cast by Jack Slusser, Joe Blomeke, Paul Pike and Charles Chapman.

In other business:

• Council approved on first reading an ordinance allowing city officials to stop notifying property owners of nuisance violations, such as tall grass, by certified mail. State law currently requires that notification be given by both certified mail and first class mail, but the state legislature decided this session to drop the certified mail requirement.

Certified mail costs $4.81 per letter, Clerk-Treasurer Christi Scher told council, and Scher's office sends out 10 to 15 letters a day - racking up $1,000 in postage every two weeks.

If the ordinance is approved on second reading by the council, the city will stop sending certified letters and use only first-class mail to notify property owners of nuisance violations.

• Council suspended the rules and passed on both first and second readings an ordinance designed to make it easier for the city to receive reimbursement for the costs of cleaning up the aftermath of a building fire or explosion. This ordinance was also prompted by a change in state law.

Under the new law, the city can request that insurance companies notify the city of a settlement in cases involving fires and explosions so that the city can file a claim to recover the costs of cleaning up the aftermath.