The Mabel City Council had two visitors to its meeting on March 14. Michelle Vrieze from CEDA (Community and Economic Development Associates) was present to explain the small cities grant application that Mabel is submitting with Lanesboro for housing rehabilitation. Laurie Schmitt from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) was also present to discuss funding for the upcoming water and sewer improvement projects that will be taking place in Mabel over the next year.

First, Vrieze presented her information regarding the small cities grant during a public hearing and explained that before submitting an application, comments needed to be heard from anyone with questions and concerns. Considering no one attended the hearing, Vrieze simply told the council what would be involved in the grant, should the city get one.

Mabel had received a small cities grant in 1994 and several homes were fixed up during that grant period as well as a couple of local businesses. However, because not all of the funds were used for the business rehab during the last grant cycle, Vrieze noted that the city would not be asking for any funding for that purpose on this grant application.

The grant application is being submitted with Lanesboro and totals $449,000. That includes funds for 15 housing rehabs with 10 of those being located in Mabel. Lanesboro will receive funds to rehab five homes and five businesses.

Vrieze explained to the council that when she was preparing the application, she did a survey of homes in Mabel and found 38 percent of them to be substandard, with one home needing to be condemned. She also counted 22 vacant homes.

The funds for home improvement projects will be made available to low to moderate-income families who own the home in which they live. She noted that the city will not need to advertise the availability of these funds as a waiting list already exists with 23 home owners interested in the rehab money.

The grant application will be submitted in April and the city should be notified in July if they were approved. The city would then have two years to spend the money, which Vrieze did not think would be a problem.

The council approved the cooperative agreement with Lanesboro and the grant application.

Following Vrieze's presentation, Laurie Schmitt from the USDA went through a Letter of Conditions the city needed to approve before accepting funds for the loan that will pay for the water and sewer improvements. The letter explained the scope of the work to be done, the city's responsibilities, the duties of the engineers and the funding guidelines.

Schmitt explained that the USDA will provide a loan for $3,071,000 and a grant of $709,000. The loan will be repaid over 40 years at a 2.25 percent interest rate. This rate is deemed a "poverty rate" based on the median income of the residents. Annual repayment of the loan would be $119,000, which would be paid through user fees.

"We recommend that the city reviews its utility rates each year to make sure the fees cover the costs of operation," Schmitt added.

The council approved the needed forms and provided the information Schmitt needed to continue on with the funding process for the project.

Before she left, Schmitt also noted that the USDA offers residential loan and grant options through Rural Development, including a low-interest loan (1 percent) over 20 years for property improvements as well as a grant program for seniors who need to make improvements to their home, including accessibility upgrades. She told the council that she would send information about both of these programs for the city staff to share with interested individuals.

In another matter, the council discussed the upcoming open house at the community center (held on Sunday, March 24) and noted that furniture would be arriving in the next few weeks for the city offices and that the chairs would be delivered in time for the open house. The EDA (Economic Development Authority) has picked out dinnerware, glasses and silverware to be used during the special events.

A pay request for the community center was approved pending legal opinion from the city attorney. It was noted that a lien had been filed on the community center, but that the city attorney did not feel it would "stick" as the city has made all required payments and has documentation to that fact. This was done in an attempt from one of the sub-contractors to get paid from the company that hired it to fulfill the work on the project. Clerk Jim Narum said that the attorney wants to make sure that the city retains enough money to cover the lien amount in case the general contracting firm does not make sure the sub-contractors are paid.

In small items, the council took care of the following items.

• TIF District Number One was decertified. Narum explained that the district had expired and the dollars remaining in the fund ($45,750.58) would be returned to the county for disbursement to the city, county and school district.

• The council approved the Ambulance Subsidy Contract with the county in return for $4,500 in funding to help maintain the ambulance service in the Mabel area.

• The council reviewed an offer to purchase the current city hall for $10,000 but rejected the offer. "It's worth that much for us to keep it," said Narum. The city, however, remains open to further offers.

• The council voted to offer the Shade Tree Program once again this spring. If residents are interested in purchasing trees for their property the city will pay half the cost. The trees need to be planted in April or May. A list of available trees will be sent out with the April utility bills.

• The city voted to once again offer a clean up day, but the date is yet to be determined.

• The city approved a change in polling places from the EMS building to the new community center.

• A purchase of two vacuum cleaners was approved for the new community center. The vacuums will be purchased from Nathan Manning, who is an authorized Kirby dealer.