Canton weighs ideas for pandemic aid

Canton Municipal Building. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — Public housing, accessible broadband and child care center upgrades were among ideas relayed this week to town and village officials preparing to apply for pandemic assistance from the state Community Development Block Grant Program.

Prior to a joint town and village meeting Wednesday night, the Economic Development Office hosted a virtual public hearing to gauge priorities for CDBG funding specifically provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

The state Homes and Community Renewal Office anticipates using up to $60 million in CDBG CARES Act funding statewide this year for activities and projects that involve preventing the spread of COVID-19, responding to pandemic impacts or reopening businesses.

Approved uses for funding are divided into four categories; small business assistance, public facilities or infrastructure, housing improvements and public services. All other projects should be submitted under the special projects category, and may include improving air quality in public facilities, environmental improvements in housing for safe shelter, conversion of under utilized buildings for affordable housing, vaccine outreach and awareness, Wi-Fi connectivity for under served communities and support for mental health services.

The Canton Economic Development Office, like similar municipal offices across the state, can apply for funding that would be used for projects to be completed within the next year. The application round opened March 17, and remains open until Aug. 27, or until funding has been exhausted.

“The sooner we can get in on it, the better,” Economic Development Director Leigh I. Rodriguez said.

Ms. Rodriguez manages Canton’s several regular and special economic development grant opportunities, and she said a clear connection to COVID must be drawn for CDBG CARES Act applications. Each municipality may submit multiple projects across the program’s funding categories, she added.

Kathryn L. Mullaney, Canton Day Care Center treasurer, shared a list of some of the center’s needs, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning upgrades, ceiling work to fully separate spaces and a potential operating budget increase to hire more staff.

Toby E. Irven suggested aiding Canton Enriched Housing, a state residential program designed to support older adults’ preventive health care measures, including selecting and maintaining primary care, scheduling transportation to doctor appointments and assisting with medications.

The village’s Enriched Housing has been located at the Canton Public Housing Authority’s high rises on Riverside Drive, though the program is governed by its own board of directors and is funded separately by the state through United Helpers. The program supported 25 tenants at one time, down to 16 in 2019, when services were phased out.

Mr. Irven, who has served on the Canton Enriched Housing board, said “the need is great” at the Riverside complex.

“The seniors are not receiving the necessary services any longer that were provided by the Enriched Housing program,” he told town councilors and village trustees. “I think our partner United Helpers would stand ready to jump on this idea of trying to re-fund a program that was very successful for perhaps 20 years in those buildings.”

Housing, particularly for low-income families and renters, was also a concern for Patricia A. Alden, who said residents could benefit from municipal support when eviction protections for qualifying renters are lifted.

National eviction moratoriums issued by the Federal Housing Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expire June 30. The state’s moratorium expires Saturday, and lawmakers are expected to vote on an extension early next week.

High-speed internet deserts are a long-standing issue across the region, especially in the north country’s more remote communities. Several public hearing participants expressed interest in seeing elements of increased broadband access included in CDBG Cares Act applications, given the added strain limited Wi-Fi has imposed on students learning from home this year.

Village Mayor Michael E. Dalton said he was glad to gather input about community needs, even those not specific to pandemic assistance. At one point, as many as 30 participants, including about a dozen municipal officials, were signed on to the virtual public hearing.

“Just because it may not fit the bill perfectly right now, opportunities come along all the time,” he said. “If we know what’s of concern to you, we can go from there.”

Additional funding opportunities that may better suit some community ideas, including widespread broadband improvements that would likely take more than a year to complete, are on Canton’s radar, Ms. Rodriguez said.

The next step for CDBG CARES Act applications, she said, is for municipal officials to discuss what makes sense to pursue this year. A letter describing application ideas will then be sent to the Homes and Community Renewal Office, which extends invitations to municipalities to submit full applications.

More information about eligible projects is posted to the HCR website. Questions should be directed to Ms. Rodriguez at lrodriguez@cantonny.gov.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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