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Community projects seek PUD backing

— Directors for the Northern Wasco County People’s Utility District work year-round toward maintaining a reliable and affordable power supply for many Wasco County residents, but once a year they get to hear about who else is working on behalf of the community — when they consider annual PUD economic development grants.

The board annually designates $25,000 in grants to spur economic development. This year, the board heard requests from five local organizations for money their supporters argue will aid in the economic development of the area. After the group presentations were made, PUD attorney Jim Foster offered his analysis on the viability of the grants, which is included at the bottom of each section. The board of directors will decide on the grants at its June meeting.

Affordable housing

Ruby Mason and Dave Peters of Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation tied their project to the need for affordable workforce housing. The issue was identified in a series of regional economic meetings last year called Stronger Economies Together.

“We need housing that’s affordable for the workforce,” Mason said.

Toward that end, Columbia Cascade sold two building lots in Hood River and used the proceeds to buy a home that they are rehabilitating in The Dalles. The initial funding for the project came from a federal grant.

“It was a bit more than we knew we were taking on when we got this little house,” Mason said.

Buyers and potential buyers of both the two Hood River lots and The Dalles house will be provided assistance in credit counseling and obtaining an affordable mortgage.

Peters noted the community benefits of home ownership, specifically neighborhood pride, stability, lower crime rates and revenue for local retailers.

“Homeowners are more involved with local boards and volunteerism,” Peters added.

The work on the home is being done by local contractors and volunteers.

Attorney Foster expressed concern that Columbia Cascade Housing was established as a 501(a)(2) organization rather than the ubiquitous 501(c)(3) organizations most charitable organizations identify with under federal code. Foster said he would need to research the code to see if the organization is eligible. The 501(a) organizations include social welfare and advocacy groups, and many others, according to Wikipedia.

Uplifting seniors

Joan Silver and Lori Fadness represented the Mid-Columbia Senior Center’s Uplifting Elevator fundraiser to install an elevator at the community center.

The organization was seeking money for engineering work needed to begin their fundraising effort.

Original plans for the building included an elevator, but it was eliminated for cost reasons. For more than 25 years, the facility has made do with only an exterior staircase. That means a wheelchair-bound person going from the main floor to the bottom floor must wheel themselves from the front entrance around the building and down a hill to the back door on blacktop shared with cars — or get back in their vehicle to drive around to the back entrance.

“It just doesn’t function,” Fadness said. “An elevator is how you adapt for seniors. It’s just standard, expected.”

The senior center is well-used for community events, and Fadness thinks an elevator would positively affect that use.

Addressing the elevator request, Foster noted that the PUD typically has not approved capital requests that pertain to anything but “bricks and mortar” construction, so would not typically approve a request for engineering or architecture services.

Maintaining an original

The Original Wasco County Courthouse was built 154 years ago to represent a county that once stretched all the way to the continental divide.

The building’s supporters had an engineer examine the building in 2011, who determined it needed some electrical work. On behalf of the courthouse organization, Rodger Nichols asked for money to complete that task.

The courthouse’s economic development draw is tourism.

Illuminating history

Jake Grossmiller and Sally Hay envision lighted murals drawing more people to help enliven the core of downtown The Dalles during the evening hours. They made a plea for funds to help light the four centerpiece murals of the downtown corridor: “10,000 Years of Trade,” “Decision at The Dalles,” “Lewis and Clark,” and “Fishing at Celilo.”

The four murals were among the first commissioned by The Dalles Mural Society and are located on separate Federal Street buildings.

“This is the prime center of the city,” Grossmiller said. “[These murals] get the most attention by people coming through.” Individual tourists and bus tours make a point of visiting the murals, he added.

The Mural Society has obtained conceptual drawings to light all 13 society murals from Hollywood Lights, a Portland firm that deals in specialty lighting for buildings, stage shows and home shows for a total cost of $104,000. As a result of the cost, the society decided to start with just the first four. Lighting will be designed to complement the colors in the murals.

Each of the murals will require a different lighting configuration based on the construction of the buildings they are attached to and other requirements. Grossmiller said the society is hopeful that the building owners will agree to foot the lighting bill which would pay for an average five hours of lighting a day, depending on the time of year.

Hay noted that another change is planned for the downtown murals. The audio boxes, which told the stories of the murals, are being eliminated because they have been subject to vandalism. Instead, the murals will soon include a reader code which cell phones can scan to bring up text about the murals that can be read.

Grossmiller also noted that the society hopes to light the “Sahaptin Medicine Man” mural at First and Union streets, which faces Interstate 84. They expect it would provide an attraction to bring people into town.

Director Clay Smith questioned why the society didn’t use a local lighting consultant, but Grossmiller and Hay noted that the Portland firm is a specialty consultant and no firms in The Dalles were able to do the design; however, installation of the lights will be done by local contractors.

Foster cautioned the PUD board to structure any possible grant approval to make sure it only pays for construction costs, not consumables like brochures, as the original grant application requested.

Growing for children

When children’s events take place at The Dalles-Wasco County Library they happen in the middle of the main room. Drawing as many as 150 people each, they are contrary to the hushed library stereotype — loud and crowded — and offer no separation from the other patrons who may be studying, doing research or just looking for a quiet place to read and relax.

Volunteers working on the Library Expansion Project hope to change that with a $1.2 million, more than 4,000-square-foot library expansion project. Corliss Marsh asked the PUD to grant money for the project to help build toward their local fundraising target of $200,000. That amount, Marsh said, will help convince larger grantors that the community supports the project and make big grants more likely.

The children’s room will be glassed in to help address the noise issue, include a family restroom, and give staff room to store more supplies. Located just off the central library counter, the area can be monitored and maintained without an increase in staffing.

Foster noted that the $10,000 request is for a fundraising campaign that may or may not be successful.

“It seems to me, if you are so inclined and felt it might qualify you could designate where the funds are to be used,” he said. “Under the grant terms they have to be used within the year, or you could get an extension.”

In other PUD news, the utility’s audit firm, Kenneth Kuhns & Associates, reported a clean audit of the 2012 books and explained some of the accounting regulatory changes.

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