CAMANCHE — An approaching deadline for a Clinton County Development Association grant is pushing the city of Camanche to a decision it wasn’t quite ready to make — to commit spending tax dollars on a new community center and storage facility.

For weeks, Camanche Fire Department Chief Dave Schutte and City Administrator Tom Roth have worked to complete an application for a CCDA Fund A grant that will provide a 50 percent match on projects $150,000 or more.

The scope of the forecasted community center will easily exceed that cost requirement — Schutte’s early estimates range around $400,000 — but the question during a Tuesday Camanche City Council meeting was whether the city is willing and ready to commit to its 50 percent, approximately $200,000, of the costs.

“It’s a chicken or the egg type of situation we’re in,” Roth said. “The deadline for this application is this week, but we need to come up with a couple hundred thousand bucks to match that funding.”

A $200,000 commitment which didn’t sit well with councilman Paul Varner.

In a meeting last month, the council approved, with a 3-2 vote, to freeze wages for all non-bargaining unit employees in an attempt to save money. Varner was one of those two dissenting votes, and when the topic came up during Tuesday’s discussion, he reiterated statements made during the March 18 meeting.

“The problem I have with this is we just froze employee wages and now we’re talking about doing a $200,000 project,” Varner said. “How are we going to justify that and where’s this money going to come from?”

Roth followed up Varner’s question with a bout of optimism — one way he believes the city can develop a revenue stream to help fund the project is by selling two vacant lots that sit adjacent to City Hall.

If the city is able to market the properties efficiently, he feels it could eliminate a large portion of the $200,000. That coupled with the potential for more funding from a CCDA Fund B grant for smaller aspects of the project is a feasible option for Roth.

However, it was his viewpoint on the need of a community center, the fire department’s demand for equipment storage and what he called “an opportunity that doesn’t come along every day,” not the prospect of funding, that eventually led to unanimous support from the council.

“At some point I think the town deserves something better. With Garner Hall and this building (current City Hall), if you push them off you’re just kicking the can down the road for somebody else to deal with,” Roth said. “The city has done an awful lot in recent times and the challenges have been considerable, but the benefits will be long standing. City Hall will be in that pharmacy for another 40 years. If you build a community center, this town is not going to have to worry about infrastructure and this kind of thing for many, many years.”

Councilman Trevor Willis estimated with the proceeds from the property sales, grant funding options through the state for demolition costs of Garner Hall and the CCDA opportunities, the city would most likely be looking at an additional $46,000 to $50,000 to fund the project.

To him, that was a small sacrifice to make for the benefit and future of Camanche.

“I would say we’re looking at about $46,000,” Willis said. “If we can build a brand new community center for $46,000, I think most citizens would be OK with that.”

With Tuesday’s decision, the council gave Schutte full support to submit the CCDA application while also setting a May 18 deadline to accept sealed bids from parties interested in the two properties. If the bids come in lower than what the councilmen feel the property is worth, the bids will be denied and a new source of revenue will be needed for the project.

Until then, city officials remain optimistic that residents will enjoy a new community center in the not-so-distant future.

Clinton Herald Staff Writer Amy Kent can be contacted at amykent@clintonherald.com.

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