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City to focus on sidewalks and streetlights

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WENATCHEE — A federally-funded neighborhood improvement program will expand from south Wenatchee to two other low-income areas of the city this year.

But a costly home renovation program will not be back.

Until this year, the only area of the city where the Community Development Block Grant money could be spent was in south Wenatchee.

The federal program requires the money be spent in urban areas where at least 51 percent of the residents are low or moderate income, meaning they earn less than 80 percent of the median income for the whole city.

Updated U.S. Census figures will now allow the city to spend the money is two additional areas, one just west of the Chelan County Courthouse and the other between Maple and McKittrick streets in north Wenatchee.

Much of the city improvement work will involve adding sidewalks and street lighting and doing enforcement to make sure residents are complying with city codes for properly maintaining their properties.

The idea is to prevent urban blight, said Steve King, the city’s director of community and economic development. The enforcement has so far centered around the removal of junk and overgrown vegetation in yards.

We’re trying to keep neighborhoods looking good,” he added.

The city has also used the money to make improvements to some 44 deteriorating homes. But new grant requirements that lead-based paint be removed from the homes first left little money to do anything else to upgrade the buildings, King said. So the program was put on hold and eventually cancelled last year.

The city must now add some other program to replace it or risk a reprimand from Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that oversees the grant program, King said.

Representatives from HUD met with city officials this week to review how the grant money — which has ranged from $200,000 to $385,000 a year for the last nine years — has been spent.

After touring areas of the city and going through the city’s paperwork, the agency issued a “caution,” which is not as harsh as an audit finding, to replace the defunct housing program, King said.

He said the city could add a home painting program, for example.

City Councilwoman Karen Rutherford said Thursday at a council meeting that new sidewalks and better lighting were a top priority of people who attended a series of neighborhood meetings over the last month.

I think it adds a lot to the community to have those improvements,” Mayor Frank Kuntz said.

Michelle McNiel: 664-7152

Reach Michelle McNiel at 509-664-7152 or . Follow her on Twitter at @MichelMcNielWW.