Kris Warner, state director for West Virginia with the USDA Rural Development office, speaks to the Upshur County Commission Thursday.

BUCKHANNON – What can the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office do for you?

Members of the agency’s office answered that question at Thursday’s Upshur County Commission meeting.

Kris Warner, state director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the USDA offers over 49 programs, with about 50 employees and 11 offices in West Virginia.

“The USDA Rural Development mission area represents three USDA agencies – the Rural Business and Cooperative Service, the Rural Utility service and the Rural Housing Service,” Warner said. “Together, these agencies comprise the USDA Rural Development mission … which is dedicated to improving the quality of life and economies of rural America.”

The first program discussed was the Homeownership Program, which provides loans, grants and loan guarantees to help low-income families purchase or rehabilitate their homes.

“Also known as a Section 502 direct loan program, this program assists low and very low-income applicants obtain decent, safe and sanitary housing in eligible rural areas, by providing payment assistance to increase an applicant’s repayment ability.”

He said payment assistance is a type of subsidy that reduces the mortgage payment for a short time and the amount of assistance is determined by the adjusted family income. Another program related to homes is the 504 Home Repair Program.

“This provides loans to very low-income homeowners to repair, improve or modernize their homes,” Warner said. “This helps elderly, very low-income homeowners remove health and safety hazards. This program assists approved lenders in providing low- and moderate-income households the opportunity to own adequate modest, decent, safe and sanitary dwellings as a primary residence in eligible rural areas.”

Community Programs Specialist Steve Collins spoke about the various programs the USDA offers for rural communities.

“Our community program basically has two divisions,” Collins said. “We have the water and environmental program, and we also have the community facilities programs,” Collins said.

The first program mentioned was the Water and Environmental Program, which centers on water and sewage projects.

“This is a very popular program,” Collins said. “It’s basically for funding water and sewer projects in towns, cities, self-service districts, water associations, those are the types of applicants that are eligible for the program, and it basically allows a town or city or public service district or water substation the means to either upgrade or stay in service.”

Collins said the program recently assisted the Adrian PSD, to whom they provided a grant of about $1 million for a waterline extension and another project that was a $950,000 grant/loan for new water storage tanks.

The next program Collins discussed was the Community Facilities Program.

“We can basically fund just about anything that’s for public use, and is considered an essential community facility,” Collins said. “For example, courthouses – we have a lot of financing done for construction of courthouses throughout the state, fire stations, police stations, police vehicles, equipment, hospitals, those types of projects for public use – or one that’s considered an essential community facility.”

“I’ve done many projects, say for example, the purchase of police cars, fire trucks, police equipment … any kind of safety equipment that the police department needs,” Collins added. “Like I said, the bulletproof vests … those types of equipment that the police use for their jobs.”

Collins talked about the loan the City of Buckhannon received in 2013 of $765,000 for a conference and convention center and a loan of $210,000 in 2013 to the Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department for a new fire truck.

He said the Telecommunications Program is primarily administered out of the national office in Washington, but it can be found in the state of West Virginia.

Collins said the most popular of the Telecommunications Program is the broadband program.

“We also have the Community Connect broadband program that allows broadband providers to obtain grant money to provide broadband service to areas that currently do not have it,” Collins said. “That is a very popular program. Then there’s also the telecommunications program that is basically for expansion of telephone service in areas that don’t have systems that are up-to-date.”

The last initiative they discussed was the Business Financing and Energy program.

“The Business Financing and Energy Programs will tell you jobs and sustainable economies are another essential element to enable rural communities to thrive,” Warner said. “We’re working to stimulate job growth and support a healthy business environment and rural communities by providing a variety of programs and encourage both public and private investment and rural business development.

“The Business and Industry Loan Program is a guaranteed program that’s a tool to assist lenders in mitigating the risk,” he added. “We can guarantee up to 80 percent on a loan up to $5 million, 70 percent for a loan between five and $10 million and we guarantee 60 percent on a loan between 10 and $25 million.”

Warner explained every community in West Virginia, except for Charleston, would be eligible for the program.

“The Rural Business Development Grant is a competitive grant designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of smaller emerging private businesses in rural areas, which will employ 50 or fewer new employees and has less than $1 million in gross revenue,” Warner said.

He said the City of Buckhannon was a recipient of funds from this program to construct the Farmers Market area in Jawbone Park.

“We have a couple of programs that support micro-lending,” Warner said. “Through the Intermediate Relending Program, nonprofit organizations can apply for low interest rate loans that would allow the businesses to improve economic conditions and create jobs in rural communities, similarly to the Rural Micro Entrepreneur Assistance Program.”

He said businesses located in Buckhannon have benefited from Value Added Producer Grants.

“It’s a program that helps agriculture producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and marketing of new products,” Warner said. “The goals of this program are to generate new products, create expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income locally. Just across the street from here, Fish Hawk Acres has been a recipient of funds from this program.”

Rock Cave’s IGA has benefited from the USDA’s Rural Energy for America program. The Rural Energy for America Program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase or install renewable energy systems or make energy efficient improvements.

More information on these programs can be found here.

In other Upshur County Commission news:

  • The commission approved the signature of change order number 1 for the Upshur County Courthouse Dome Cleaning and Pigeon Spike Installation Project. TKS Contracting Inc. will provide the labor and equipment to patch holes, install angle trim and touch up the paint the dome for the additional amount of $11,120. Upon approval, the revised contract will be $56,120.
  • The commission approved the FY 20 Court Security Grant. Contract Agreement, Resolution, Certifications and Standard Conditions and Assurances. The grant award is the sum of $3,275 to be used for the purpose of enhancing the county’s court security.