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City Beat: Council eyes revisions to brownfields program

Revolving loan for environmental cleanup due for updates to its terms

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Proposed changes to the city’s Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund policies would make zero-interest loans available for up to 10 years.

This and other proposed amendments were introduced to Springfield City Council at its meeting Oct. 18. The council measure, which will be voted on Nov. 1, would replace the current interest rate schedule for the loan program with language to allow the city’s Brownfields Committee to negotiate loan terms based on credit worthiness and allow zero-interest loans for up to 10 years.

Amendments would also recognize growing labor costs and historically low interest rates for conventional financing, as well as incentivize adaptive reuse of brownfields sites.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant program funds the assessment and cleanup of brownfields – those properties where environmental hazards may exist.

Olivia Hough, senior city planner, said the city has been working in brownfields reduction since it first received an EPA grant in 1999 to clean up Jordan Creek. A $1 million revolving loan fund for brownfields reduction was established in 2008.

Notable brownfields projects include Sky Eleven, History Museum on the Square and The Fairbanks community center.

Hough said additional grant funding is anticipated by the EPA, including through the infrastructure bill currently being debated in Congress.

“By making these loans, we will position ourselves well to apply for new funding,” she said.

Hough said the city has completed over 300 environmental assessments through the brownfields program in the past two decades.

“We’ve received more than $8 million in direct EPA grants,” she said. “For every dollar spent, we estimate more than $20 in leveraging. We’ve leveraged a bit over $400 million on brownfields sites.”

Workforce development grant
Council unanimously approved an application for a grant of up to $17.5 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Sally Payne, the city’s director of workforce development, said the grant will provide job training in health care, transportation logistics and child care, and the latter category includes an entrepreneurial component to encourage providers to start their own facilities. 

It’s not a done deal; the Department of Workforce Development can apply for up to $25 million, but has opted to try for $17.5 million, or about $3.5 million per year. The grant does not require a match.

The city has several advantages with its application, according to Payne. One is dozens of partnerships that are already forged following a recent successful application for a $3 million Labor Department workforce reentry grant.

Another advantage of the city’s Department of Workforce Development is that it is prepared to use the funds immediately if the grant is awarded.

Council expenditures questioned
A fractious exchange occurred in a discussion of Councilperson Richard Ollis’ planned trip Nov. 15-19 to Austin, Texas, for a mobility study tour with LaneShift LLC. The trip had originally been scheduled for New York City in March 2020.

Councilperson Craig Hosmer raised a question about the cost to the taxpayer for the trip, and he cited municipal code Section 2-62, which limits spending to $2,400 per council member per year.

“That’s one of my concerns,” Hosmer said. “I think we’re potentially at least violating the city ordinance if we vote to expend more than $2,400.”

He said he had previously asked city staff for annual expenditures and was renewing his request.

But City Administrator Jason Gage said he had provided council with a record of members’ expenditures previously.

Ollis pointed out the trip had been approved previously, and he noted that throughout his entire time on council, he had turned in only two expenses totaling about $20.

“Why don’t we just make this real easy. I just won’t go,” Ollis said.

“Apparently, this is a point of controversy here, and I frankly don’t want to be in the crossfires of controversy.”

Hosmer responded by again renewing his request for information on council expenditures and reimbursements.

“I know that that issue somehow has developed to be controversial, but I’m not against this trip,” he said. “I think it’s good to send members of council to get information from other jurisdictions.”

Other action items

  • The Springfield-Greene County Health Department received $331,225 from the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services for its ongoing COVID-19 response.

The vote to accept the funds was not unanimous; Councilperson Angela Romine voted against it without explanation.

Director Katie Towns said the funds would be used to support a new vaccination site in the old Toys “R” Us/Gordmans building at the corner of Battlefield Road and Fremont Avenue. Funds would also be used for equitable distribution of vaccinations, efforts toward increased vaccine confidence and strategies for increasing overall vaccination.

  • Gage reported the Springfield Police Department has two new graduates of its lateral training program, which transitions officers from other agencies into the SPD. The officers come from Anchorage, Alaska, and New York City.

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