Sixteen of the 19 applications for urban-renewal "small-project" grants were approved at last Thursday's Urban Renewal Agency Board meeting - but at half of the amount sought by applicants. Three projects were deemed to not meet the criteria set forth in the grant guidelines.

Prior to the awarding of the grants, there was discussion by the board (composed of the city council) regarding the $1.25-million loan the City of Sisters secured from Bank of the Cascades to fund the urban renewal projects. The proposed loan repayment amounts and schedule were discussed, particularly exploring if the loan can be paid off by the expiration date of the Urban Renewal Agency.

Due to concerns of the URA board members regarding paying off the loan balance on time, it was decided that the remaining 16 grant applicants would receive 50 percent of the maximum allowed. The maximum allowed is half of the lowest of three bids received to do the work. In other words, the latest recipients will receive grants equal to 25 percent of the lowest bid.

The total money awarded amounted to approximately $45,000 rather than the original $100,925 submitted by City staff for approval.

During the visitor communication period of the regular City Council meeting, Jennifer McCrystal, owner of Jen's Garden (soon to be The Cottonwood Café) addressed the Council regarding her concerns and frustration around the most recent urban renewal grant process.

She recounted her excitement at the possibility of being able to improve the appearance of her building, provide space for community events, and provide jobs to help stimulate the local economy. She said she was going to be able to proceed with some long-term plans for which she had lacked adequate capital.

McCrystal did her homework before applying for a renewal grant. She reviewed all of the previous grants awarded for façade improvements and found two very similar to what she planned; Bronco Billy's new paver patio for $10,000 and the landscaping, pergola, and fire pit at Hop N Bean for $10,000 closely resembled her request. With the decision made by the Urban Renewal Agency board last week, she will receive $5,000 instead of $10,000, leaving her to pay an additional $5,000 not anticipated in her original planning.

Despite assurances to the contrary by the City, board delays in making the funding decisions caused frustration for McCrystal and her contractors who were deterred from working. The new restaurant was originally scheduled to open in mid-April.

"This third round of grants should not have been offered and applications should not have been sought if you were not absolutely certain you wanted to and had the means to proceed," McCrystal told the Council.

The day after the grant awarding, The Nugget received the following information compiled by the City finance officer, regarding the loan amortization and prepayment schedule for the Bank of the Cascades loan to the City:

The projected reserve balance assumes tax revenue of $130,000 growing by three percent each fiscal year beginning FY 2016/17. Prepayments will be made at the beginning of the fiscal years 2015-2017 when reserves are available to maximize interest savings. The balance to be paid February 25, 2022 would be $252,427.29 with a reserve balance of $51,310.