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City closing in on facade grant program in Rock Falls

Initial $20,000 budgeted to get program started

ROCK FALLS – Facade improvement programs are usually associated with Main Street organizations. The city of Rock Falls doesn’t want the fact it doesn’t have a local Main Street group to stop it from offering help in refurbishing the exteriors of local businesses.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Building Code Committee reviewed a facade improvement program application packet the city would use and other program details. It will likely come before the City Council for approval at its June 17 meeting.

The city is working closely with the Rock Falls Community Development Corp. to get the program up and running. The RFCDC will administer the program, but the city will fund it. The first round of funding has already been included in the fiscal year 2014-15 budget.

Mayor Bill Wescott said $20,000 will be allocated to get the program started. The grants are 50/50 matches with the business owners, and the maximum award per grant is $5,000.

Interest among business owners has been building, particularly in the downtown, the mayor said.

“We have talked to quite a few people who are waiting for this program, so it appears that the line is quite long already,” Wescott said.

The applications are considered by a facade committee. Work approved for grant funding must be inspected at the time of completion before the city’s 50 percent is reimbursed to the business owner.

“We don’t want a check disbursed until a business is open,” City Administrator Robbin Blackert said. She said the design guidelines in the packet were done specifically for the RB&W district, and would have to be changed to reflect a downtown emphasis before the council meeting.

The city plans to take a closer look at how the program could be funded in the future.

“We will look at other funding sources beyond its first year,” Wescott said. “I think we can generate some money for this from building permits.”

The committee also received an update on the rental inspections program and reviewed an inspection report sheet that is under consideration. One sheet would be used for each room, and the emphasis would be on life safety issues.

“We want to get in the houses, but not necessarily slam them with the code book,” committee member Jim Schuneman said.

Blackert said she was going back and forth on the the financial aspect of the program, which would be done in concert with Sterling.

“At this point, it’s a crapshoot on how many of these we’ll do, and what the costs will be,” Blackert said. “This is something we should probably take to the Finance Committee.”

Sterling has five inspectors, but Rock Falls only has one full-time inspector, city building inspector Mark Searing said. In its early cost projections for the program, Rock Falls planned to hire one part-time inspector, while Sterling would not have to add staff.

The ordinance must be passed by both councils, possibly at a joint meeting.

“A joint meeting makes sense, because if it doesn’t go on both sides, it’s not going to fly,” Wescott said.

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