Ocoee residents seeking to make certain improvements to their neighborhood will be able to get a little help from the city starting in January.
The City Commission appropriated a total of $12,000 into the budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20 for the Neighborhood Matching Grants Program before voting unanimously to implement the program during the Oct. 15 commission meeting.
The grant is intended to assist Ocoee neighborhoods seeking to make improvements related to entry beautification and identification, open space and common area enhancements, as well as security and safety improvements. The program is set to commence in January as city staff is currently developing an application and additional parameters for it.
Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen has been spearheading the implementation of the Neighborhood Matching Grants Program and has brought up the topic during City Commission meetings throughout the year. With funding set aside for the program, Wilsen can say that her mission to get it going has been accomplished.
“I’m excited,” Wilsen said. “I think it’s a win-win for our neighborhoods. … I’m looking forward to it because I think there’s a lot of streets that have some common areas that could use it.”
A former city grant program called Most Valuable Partnership Awards has been revamped to become Ocoee’s Neighborhood Matching Grants Program. That former program had a similar intent as the new program in terms of providing financial assistance to neighborhoods looking to make improvements, but there were some issues that arose. One of which was that some neighborhoods were repeat recipients of the award, and it was a little more difficult for a neighborhood without a homeowners association to organize and apply for the award compared to a neighborhood with an HOA in place.
“It started with the Most Valuable Partnership, which neighborhoods could apply (for),” Wilsen said. “There was a cap of about $2,000 (for the award). We’ve always had about $12,000 in the budget for that (program). And from one time or another, it kind of drifted — not to my liking — but it got put to the back burner, should we say. I’m so pleased it is now in the forefront.
To address the problems, the Neighborhood Matching Grants Program will include a few other updates from the former Most Valuable Partnerships Awards program. The grant program and application will be updated to address HOA neighborhoods and neighborhoods without an HOA. Additionally, if a neighborhood seeks to submit a grant, city staff from the Development Services or Support Services departments may assist said neighborhood upon request in preparing the grant. Furthermore, neighborhoods without an HOA can get assistance from city staff, upon request, for organizational support. And finally, regardless of whether or not a neighborhood has an HOA, neighborhoods can only apply for the grant every other year.
Another one of the key aspects of the new grant program is that the application process will be simpler than the former Most Valuable Partnership Awards. The application for that program was about 12 pages, which might have been a deterrent for neighborhoods to apply for it, Wilsen said.
“It was a little more cumbersome,” Wilsen said. “Once you got the hang of it, you could handle it, but we (needed) to simplify it. I think it allows more folks (to apply) because if you see a 12-page application, you may say, ‘I’m done, no thank you.’ But when it’s simplified and you make it a little more … resident-friendly, you may get (more applicants). When the application is more than you want to tackle, you’re not going to tackle the project, so we needed to make the project and the application go hand-in-hand so you will apply and you will have the project done.”