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Watertown looks for ways to use block grant funds

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WATERTOWN — City officials continue to plan how the city will spend $796,000 in federal funding now that the municipality has been designated as an entitlement community for the Community Development Block Grant program.

On Thursday morning, members of Advantage Watertown held a brainstorming session on the city’s strategy for spending the money.

As an entitlement community, the city will automatically receive federal funding through the CDBG program, which is used mainly to help low- and moderate-income residents and eliminate blight and problem properties.

Under the change, the city will not have to compete with other municipalities for CDBG funding. This year, it will receive $796,000, up from $769,785 that the city expected to receive through the Department of Housing and Urban Development program. The funding can be used for such things as rehabilitating housing, creating jobs and providing job training, child care and health services.

Advantage Watertown members suggested using the funding for such things as: neighborhood revitalization, sprucing up properties along Factory Street, concentrating on housing rehabilitation or expanding CitiBus operations with routes that go to retail areas on outer Arsenal Street and to a pair of new apartment complexes in the town of Watertown.

Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, told the group of business and community leaders that he has been getting input from agencies and organizations that represent targeted populations about the CDBG program.

It’s the first time the city has to go through with a lengthy process of planning its CDBG program because of the entitlement community designation, he said.

The City Council will hold a work session on the plan April 28, with the city planning to submit the plan to HUD within the next couple of months.

In previous years, the city typically received $400,000 when its CDBG application was successful, he said. The city became an entitlement community after it received an “urbanized area” designation from the U.S. Census Bureau, he said.

As a result, the city now will be responsible for more reporting, administrative and other planning duties attached to becoming an entitlement community, said Mr. Mix, who made a presentation about the change during Monday night’s City Council work session.

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