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City may hire planner to handle CDBG program

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The city may hire someone in the Planning Department to handle additional work now that the city is an entitlement community for the Community Development Block Grant program.

As an entitlement community, the city will automatically receive federal funding through the CDBG program, which is used mainly to help low- and moderate-income residents and eliminate blight and problem properties.

Under the change, the city will not have to compete with other municipalities for CDBG funding. This year, Watertown will receive $769,785 through the Department of Housing and Urban Development program. The funding can be used for such things as housing rehabilitation, job creation and providing job training, childcare and health services.

In previous years, the city typically received $400,000 when its CDBG application was successful, said Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator.

The city became an entitlement community after Watertown received an “urbanized area” designation from the U.S. Census Bureau, he said.

As a result, the city will now be responsible for completing more reporting, administrative and other planning duties attached to becoming an entitlement community, said Mr. Mix, who made a presentation about the change during Monday night’s Watertown City Council work session.

During Monday’s discussion, Mr. Mix said another position in his department might be needed. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs the CDBG program, would pay for the new employee’s salary.

But Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. wondered whether it would be a better idea to hire a consultant instead to handle those duties. In the past, the city has worked with Neighbors of Watertown on housing rehabilitation and creating upper-floor rental housing along Public Square.

Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso disagreed, saying that hiring a consultant might end up costing more than adding a Planning Department employee.

Council members do not need to make a decision until they start looking at the 2014-15 budget this spring, Mr. Mix said.

He also told council members that municipalities generally do not lose the entitlement community designation but funding could decrease in future years.

During the discussion, Mr. Butler mentioned how the program could eliminate a pair of longtime vacant brick structures on Waltham Street.

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