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Funding continues to be an issue for relocation construction projects
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The Weiser Brothers' crew was hard at work on the Gays Mills Mercantile Center. Despite some funding problems, work seems to moving ahead on all of the buildings.

The Village of Gays Mills continues to struggle with funding issues involving the construction of several buildings at the relocation site on Highway 131 on the northern edge of the village. However, those involved with the project believe the situation should soon be resolved.

The major concern is the lack of funding to date from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. The EDA has previously approved approximately $4 million in grants for construction of the Gays Mills Mercantile Center and the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center. Both buildings are currently under construction.

The original plan was to approve pay requests from contractors for work done on the buildings and draw money from the EDA grants to pay for it. To date, the EDA has not made any of the funds available to the village, despite approving the plans, bids and start of construction.

One project under construction is the Gays Mills Mercantile Center that would house businesses relocating from the floodplain, as well as new businesses looking for space. The entire project is funded by EDA. Weiser Brothers Construction is the general contractor.

Weiser Brothers is able to continue work on the project in large part because of a cash flow loan from a local bank.

While EDA funds are not yet in hand, the village was able to draw on Wisconsin Department of Administration Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to cover the contractor pay requests for Weiser Brothers, as well as Olympic Builders for work on the Community Commerce Center and Neisen and Son Landscaping for infrastructure work on the roadway.

Checks to contractors were written last week and mailed this week, when the CDBG check for $783,000 arrived on Monday. Using the CDBG funds to pay for EDA costs was an arrangement worked out by Wisconsin Department of Administration employee Karyn Stone, who has been involved with the local recovery effort from its inception.

In addition to covering contractor pay requests, $270,000 of the CDBG funds was used to reimburse the village for money it has “fronted” to pay project costs supposedly funded by grants. When the EDA funds arrive, the CDBG funds will be repaid so they can be used for their original purpose in the redevelopment effort, according to the most recent plan for the project.

When will EDA release the funds?

Kurt Muchow, a planner for Vierbicher and Associates who oversees the project for the village, is optimistic that the money will show up soon.

“We believe everything they (EDA) need has been submitted,” Muchow said. “It’s in their internal process now to approve the grant agreement amendment.”

Muchow said the  EDA regional office in Chicago had assured  them that the agency had made Gays Mills their “priority.”

Village President Craig Anderson said the EDA hasn’t released funds due to some unexpected red tape.

“We’re continuing to work with the EDA to overcome their bureaucratic steps we have to go through, some of which we did not anticipate, in fact had been told we didn’t have to do,” Anderson said.

Originally, the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center was anticipated to be a larger project, but the village reduced its scope to limit costs to the village and taxpayers. This move lowered the village’s local match of funds needed to secure EDA funds. However, officials in the Chicago regional office assured the village at the time, that there were still enough funds being used to represent the local match needed. At that time, EDA officials also assured the village there would be no need to amend the grant agreement.

With a change of personnel in the EDA office, that assurance changed and new officials in the Chicago regional office insisted a grant agreement amendment was necessary.

“We’re hopeful they have everything they need,” Vierbicher’s Muchow said of EDA requests for information to include in the grant agreement amendment.

Aside from funding concerns, Muchow said that construction at the site was “moving along nicely.”

“Things come up on anything as large and complex as this project, but all things considered it’s gong really smoothly,” Muchow said.

(Wisconsin Public Radio’s Steve Roisum contributed to this story.)