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City seeks community input for grant funding priorities

POSTED May 21, 2010 10:10 p.m.

The City of Turlock receives millions of dollars each year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but in order to be eligible for funding the city must complete a Consolidated Plan explaining how it will use the money.

That Consolidated Plan is only valid for five years and, since the city wrote its last plan in 2005, it’s time for Turlock to reexamine the community’s economic, housing, and community development needs — and Turlock wants community input.

In the past, HUD money has gone to such projects as the 400 B St. Homeless Shelter, the Turlock Downtown Business Incubator, and even funded half of the new water feature due to open at Columbia Park.

“You can see how important this plan is,” said Darrell Stamps, managing partner with Fresno-based planning company The Ramsay Group, who is drafting Turlock’s Consolidated Plan. “You can touch and feel some of the assets.”

Having a well-written Consolidated Plan in the last go-round set the city up to receive federal stimulus funds distributed by HUD. Because of the priorities identified in that plan, stimulus money was able to assist downtown Turlock businesses, provide energy efficiency upgrades for senior citizens, low-income and disabled Turlockers, and train unemployed, under-skilled Turlockers to return to work for the new Peninsula Plastics recycling plant.

“When you have the strategy in place you don’t have to take the time to go back and amend the plan,” said Turlock Housing Services Program Manager Maryn Pitt.

But drafting the right plan takes work, according to Stamps. He’s been meeting with city department heads, local health, social and homeless service groups, and planning agencies.

Stamps has also been meeting with citizen groups, ranging from neighborhood associations to community businesses, churches and average citizens. He said that, in HUD’s eyes, citizen participation is crucial to drafting a comprehensive Consolidated Plan.

Stamps will be conducting focus groups and one-on-one discussions with citizens as part of drafting the plan, but an online initiative for response also plays into the effort. In addition to e-mail groups and a possible Facebook page, an online Community Needs Survey will play a large part in drafting priorities for Turlock’s HUD funding.

The survey will allow Turlockers to rank the things they see as most important — ranging from senior housing to parking spaces and parks — and will factor heavily into the final document.

In efforts to reach those without Internet access, 20,000 Turlockers will receive the survey in this month’s utility bill. The survey will also be available at City Hall, and will be passed out by local nonprofits in their work with the poor.

“The reality is you probably won’t get every low to moderate income person in the community to participate, but we’re going to give it the old college try,” Stamps said.

The data collected through the survey and community meetings is especially important, Stamps said, because it will guide Turlock’s spending for the next half-decade. Turlock will revise its spending plan annually, but those Consolidated Plan priorities will remain intact.

“Whatever we decide on now, in five years we’re going to see happen,” Stamps said.

The City of Turlock faces a tight timeline to draft the Consolidated Plan, with a final draft due by June 20. The document will be presented to the Turlock City Council on June 22, and submitted to HUD on June 23.

If Turlock does not file their Consolidated Plan with HUD by June 30, Turlock may be ineligible to receive HUD funding this year.

“It is what it is and our work is to ensure Turlock continues to receive funds,” Stamps said. “… This is not easy for any of us.”

The survey is available online at http://turlock.ca.us/

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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