Belmont wants to use part of mill space for welfare office but will need federal OK

BELMONT — Town officials are considering relocating the General Assistance Office to the space on the second floor of the Belmont Mill that was vacated last winter when the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program was forced to relocate.

The college used the space on the second floor for offices and a classroom.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told selectmen earlier this week that she is checking with the Community Development Finance Authority to see if relocating the welfare office is an acceptable use of the space that was renovated using a $1 million USDA Community Development Block Grant.

Beaudin explained that because the Belmont Mill was restored with a federal grant there are accepted uses for the space in the building and according to the terms of the grant received by Belmont, at least 51 percent of the total renovated space must serve low-to-moderate income people.

"We're not supposed to use the space for town facilities," she said, saying the selectmen are hoping the estimated $200,000 needed from the town to fix the structural deficiencies in the mill would be an acceptable token of good will for a change of use, in the eyes of the federal grant administrator.

Initially, officials thought they would be able to relocate the Department of Parks and Recreation to the second floor space but said it would be difficult to quantify how many people who participate in town-sponsored recreation program were low-income. Beaudin believes the general assistance program meets the criteria of the grant.

If the CDFA gives it seal of approval, it is likely the Recreation Department would use the bottom floor of the Corner Meeting House and the former Winnisquam Fire Station could be vacated.

Should the CDFA not agree to the program shift, the other alternative is to reimburse the federal government in the amount of $21,600, which is calculated by dividing the total grant of $1 million by 20, or the years in the payback period. That leaves $50,000 annually that must be paid back over the next six years because the grant is 14-years old. Seven percent of $50,000 represents the amount of total space that would be used by a non-qualifying agency or $3,600 which is multiplied by the six years remaining in the payback period, or $21,600.
Beaudin said she expects an answer regarding the change of use from the CDFA before the next selectman's meeting. She said she is also meeting with the directors of General Assistance and the Parks and Recreation Department to see if the proposed new spaces are a good fit for their clientele.