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By M.E. Jones

Correspondent

HARVARD — The Montachusett Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) has offered to help Harvard and other towns if they join a regional consortium of applicants vying for Community Development Funds (CDF), or block grants.

The Fitchburg-based state agency assists in the application process, starting with strategic planning.

The program has a few added nuances this year, said MRPC representative Shelly Hatch. She presented details and to-do lists at the Nov. 6 Board of Selectmen meeting.

After hearing Hatch’s presentation and discussing options, the selectmen agreed to move on the application. It must be submitted to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) by Feb. 15, 2008.

Harvard will be one of four area communities — joining Lancaster, Shirley and Westminster — applying together for the grant, said Hatch, which will be split equally if it’s awarded.

“It’s a very competitive process,” she said, and bonus points are critical.

Applications are given priority points based on a specific check list. They may earn up to 15 “bonus” points if they meet three key criteria. Five points each are awarded for:

* Having a target area, which is a neighborhood or census-defined location mapped out for improvement.

* Having integrated projects.

* Showing proof of complimentary, town-sponsored projects within the target area.

There’s some leeway on the last item, said Hatch. Such projects may be currently underway, completed in the last year or have a start date scheduled no more than one year in the future.

Stressing the importance of bonus points, she said if the application scores an 80, and all 15 bonus points are added, it’s in good shape, but those without any bonus points most likely won’t make the cut. She said every application that received funding from the CDF “pot” last time around came in with bonus points.

Basic facts and figures must also be compiled and sent with the application. This check list includes the amount of local taxation, permit fees and other income; the level of volunteer assistance, fund-raising activities, and local, state and federal aid; and how much technical assistance or grant money a town receives from sources such as state, local or regional organizations.

Projects eligible for CDF money include safety or sanitary improvements such as septic-system repairs or replacements, or energy-saving or safety-related structural work on public buildings or private homes. Other grant-funded options include infrastructure or building upgrades to meet codes or provide a community benefit recognized by CDF guidelines.

The grants are also subject to low-income limits. For example, for a family of four who wants work done on its house, the maximum income is $57,000.

In addition to planning, public participation is part of the application process this year.

A public forum has been tentatively set for Monday, Dec. 10. It will be an evening meeting, with exact time and place to be arranged.