Will stimulus money make it to small town Minnesota?

We’ve been asking citizens in our Public Insight Network the past few weeks about what piece of the federal stimulus they might be seeking. But imagine being a mayor in small town Minnesota trying to tap the fund.

We got a great response the other day from Toni Wilcox, mayor of Squaw Lake, Minn., (population 99 in the last Census) in north central Minnesota. Her town has needs similar to the Bigs but:

It is really hard for smaller communities to stay on top of the stimulus opportunities-grants are being posted to grants.gov daily and the turn around time for applications is really quick. We have no full time staff and our part time clerk is already putting in more hours than she should for what we pay. I’m paid $35 a month as mayor so all the hours I put in on this is strictly a labor of love.

The League of Minnesota Cities has a web site that small town leaders can use, “but they can’t give us a staff to make phone calls, fill out applications etc,” Wilcox notes.

Here’s more of Wilcox’s response. It’ll give you a great feel for the challenges many small towns face trying to find funding:

The City of Squaw Lake is seeking stimulus money-if not directly for the city, for our constituents. So far we’ve had representatives from USDA and Kootasca Action Inc. come speak to local residents (inside the city limits and the surrounding townships) about the various forms of direct grants and loans that are available for home repair and weatherization. 31 people showed up and some have completed the application process for weatherization assistance. We are currently talking to our neighboring townships about joining together to compete for a Small Cities Grant. We will have reps from Kootasca and DEED come out to make a presentation in late April or early May to get the ball rolling for the fall pre-application deadline.

I just found out today, after talking to the local workforce development person from DEED, that we could get as many as 4-5 youth summer employment positions out of the stimulus package. I was tipped off to the possibility by Youth Community Connections

This is great news as each youth could earn $3,000 over the summer. Our median annual household income is only $11, 875. I think the last time we had youth employment funding I was young enough to qualify.

We have also scraped together $4,000 to put in a revolving loan fund account to qualify for a 2:1 match from Iron Range Resources (we qualify because we are in the boundaries of ISD 318). We don’t know yet if we’ll be selected for the program, I understand it depends on how much money they get to pass through to local units of governments.
If selected we’ll have a small fund to loan to local businesses at a maximum interest rate of 3%. We are almost done with a plan for a hiking and biking trail through town to separate pedestrians from the truck traffic through town (there are no sidewalks). This has been in the works for a couple years already, just to get through the plan. There may be some opportunity for us to speed up the process of getting it constructed.

If you’re trying to track stimulus money in Minnesota or learn more about what’s available. there are a few ways. Rep. Tim Walz has a good guidebook on the stimulus money in Minnesota. There’s also a site listing all the shovel-ready projects in Minnesota (not all will get funded). The state finance and budget department also has a good site.

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