Home » It’s been a STEAP learning curve for town selectmen

It’s been a STEAP learning curve for town selectmen

FALLS VILLAGE — A look at the agendas of the monthly meetings of the Board of Selectmen this year reveals that certain items are usually present: vacancies on town boards or commissions, reports from regional entities such as the Northwestern Connecticut Council of Governments, and updates on Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants.There have been a few changes to the terms of some of the STEAP grants. First Selectman Pat Mechare took a few minutes Monday, Nov. 28, to give a concise rundown on where the town and the state are on grants for the Falls Village Children’s Theater, D.M. Hunt Library and Falls Village Volunteer Fire Department.The building at 103 Main St., across from Town Hall, is going to be renovated and become the Falls Village Community and Cultural Center and the permanent home of the Falls Village Children’s Theater group. The group was started in 2005 when Denise Cohn asked choreographer and director Lanny Mitchell to put on a workshop on musical theater for Falls Village children. From the experience the idea of an annual town children’s theater production — with a part for every child — arose.The Falls Village Children’s Theater Company (FVCT), was formed as a nonprofit company under the umbrella of the Community Foundation of Northwest Connecticut. In 2006, the property at 103 Main, once the Emerson bookstore and originally built as a Methodist church, became available.The building required extensive renovation, and the FVCT has raised funds from a variety of sources, private and public, — including a 2008 STEAP grant of $200,000 (administered through the Department of Social Services).Recently, a bid package for renovation work was offered, and Mechare said the lowest bidder came in about $100,000 over the $118,000 that remains of the STEAP grant.Mechare said the STEAP Committee and the Children’s Theater’s own building committee have since gone back to the drawing board, looking for cost savings — mostly in materials. Mechare said everything would be up to code but that savings could be realized by using less expensive materials.The two committees also decided to break the bid package up into smaller units, by trade and by specific use. The hope is with one contract for the plumbing (for example), another for electrical work and another for some specific task within the larger framework of the renovation, costs will be further controlled.But all this took time, and Mechare had to apply for an extension of the grant, as the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline was fast approaching. That request was granted, and the deadline is now June 30, 2013.Mechare also requested an extension for a 2009 STEAP grant, also for $200,000, for the new firehouse — specifically, for the foundation.“We haven’t requested the funds yet because we need a committment from the town to finish the job” of building a new emergency services center on a site on Route 7 South.The matter was brought to voters in a referendum Aug. 23. A $2.5 million bond to build the new emergency services center was rejected by a vote of 230 to 126. The Falls Village Volunteer Fire Department is currently considering its options, but has not made any public announcement of a new plan.Which left the grant in limbo, and the deadline approaching, so Mechare asked for and received an extension to Dec. 31, 2013.The D.M. Hunt Library was the recipient of yet another $200,000 STEAP grant in 2010. Mechare said a contract for the work, which mostly involves drainage around the library’s foundation and the basement, is on track, with a contract signed and an end date of March 2013.Getting a STEAP grant doesn’t mean a check for $200,000 made out to “Town of Canaan/Falls Village” arrives in the mail. Mechare’s monthly reports to the selectmen almost always include a tale of bureaucratic woe, as different agencies administer different grants (Department of Social Services for the children’s theater, the Department of Economic and Community Development for the new firehouse). Each agency handles the accounting a little differently, but after a grant is announced, nobody simply turns the cash over to the town and says, “Go ahead, build it.”Mechare, who has become adept at navigating the bureaucracy, admits to a little frustration with an apparent lack of confidence from the state in the town’s ability to manage the grant funds.“We’re the ones who balance our budgets,” she said of Connecticut’s small towns. “The state, and for that matter the federal governments could take a look at small towns, see how we do things.”

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