So far this Christmas, the town of Payson had found mostly lumps of coal under its budget tree — what with layoffs, four-day schedules and payroll freezes.
But the council now has at least one small, brightly wrapped present — about $280,000 in federal community development money over the next two years that seems likely to pass unscathed through the hands of cash-strapped state and federal officials.
Now all the Payson Town Council has to do is decide how to spend the annually renewed windfall.
Community Development Block Grant planner Cindy Schofield recently reported that her agency had winnowed the town’s previous application and narrowed down the allowable uses of the money intended to benefit low-income citizens and blighted neighborhoods. She works for the Central Arizona Association of Governments, charged with handing out the federal money.
Most of the programs involve improvements to low-income housing for which residents can apply through the town. Previously, the town had allocated a lot of the money from the block grants for emergency repairs of houses — as in a flood or forest fire. But this year, the town wants to broaden the grant categories, because the lack of disasters has made it hard to spend the money in the past.
Officials expressed relief that the block grant funds made it through the process this year, despite the escalating problems at the state and national level.
The council hopes to use the money to cushion housing problems for residents in a down market. An estimated 3 percent of Payson homes for sale are in foreclosure, far less than in the Valley — but still the first time there have been enough foreclosures in the Payson market to bother measuring. Still, the average Payson home remains much more expensive than the average Payson worker can afford.
The council in January can then actually allocate the money among any of the following programs:
• Housing Rehabilitation: A combination of grants and low-cost loans to help low-income homeowners bring their homes up to building code requirements.
• Senior Center Upgrades: Money to make improvements at the Payson Senior Center, including upgrading the air conditioning, heating and kitchen facilities.
• Foreclosure Education: Information and credit counseling for people facing possible loss of their homes through foreclosure.
• Emergency Rehabilitation: Money to repair homes damaged by disasters, including fires and floods.