Better Places Program - Feb 14, 2024

Richard Amore (Planning & Outreach Manager, Department of Housing & Community Development) presented a slide deck to the House Commerce Committee on Wednesday morning.

He shared that Better Places program projects need to be connected with or accessible by residents near Designated Downtowns, Village Centers, etc. Over 38 projects in 13 different counties have been completed so far. The program offers matching grants up to $40k, to create inclusive and vibrant public spaces. They focus on crowdfunded projects from community members.

Representative Sammis was concerned about the funding being “privatized” or losing control and also that these projects “legitimize the long-term retrenchment and permanent shifting of responsibilities for our localities to provide basic public amenities, such as utilities or welfare programs that government entities are better suited to provide.”

NOTE: Sammis’ may be referring to larger infrastructure projects. Most of the projects under this program are small public art displays or renovations of historic buildings and structures.

He also asked whether they see only smaller and more affluent communities taking advantage of this model of funding.

Amore agreed this should not become a method for replacing these municipal responsibilities. He suggested that these spaces and projects are often delayed or denied by municipalities because they are seen as a “luxury” for limited municipal funding streams. He mentioned several communities that are not wealthy like Coventry, Vershire, or Roxbury as examples. However, he also had Stowe in his list.

Representative Graning wondered about post-construction upkeep and maintenance and whose responsibility that was. Municipalities don’t want to create a drain on local taxes for these projects so it is part of the conversations they have with the folks, so they anticipate these issues before commencement. 

Chairman Marcotte asked what happens if the program does not receive more funding. Amore indicated that as of June 30, 2024, the projects in the pipeline would be discontinued; also the funds already in the system will likely be committed before the sunset.

Caitlin Corkins (Tax Credit and Grants Coordinator, Department of Housing and Community Development) was up next to describe how the state designation and downtown tax credit programs work.

Building code credits are by far the most popular as businesses are required to install very expensive fire suppression systems and elevators to comply with public buildings requirements (both State and Federal). Flood mitigation credits are also a new popular assistance option.

The Governor’s FY2025 budget has a $2M increase for their funding this year. Also, legislative changes include increasing the cap for code credits to $100K and extend eligibility for flood mitigation credits.

Read more.

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