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DECATUR - The city has unveiled the first draft of its "Five-Year Plan," a comprehensive list of specific objectives for using federal funds to tackle problems such as homelessness, neighborhood rejuvenation and housing assistance.

City staff were on hand at the Thursday night meeting in the city council chambers to invite discussion and take questions from a gathering of the many agencies and local groups that ultimately will participate in the plan once it is approved.

Richelle Irons, the city's assistant director of economic and urban development, said the plan for allocating millions in federal grant money will be managed closely, but as always, it won't be enough to plug every hole in the wall or help every homeless person in Decatur stay off the street.

"There's never going to be enough money," Irons said. "They're always going to be folks who have needs, and we're trying to get the best bang for our buck."

Consultant Terry Cunningham, who helped draft the plan, said the document will serve as a guide over the next five years as the city and human services agencies address the city's needs.

"It's a strategy to be followed in carrying out our programs, and it's a management tool for assessing our performance," Cunningham said.

Irons said the needs have shifted away from property owners and more toward renters and homeowners.

"I think people really, with this plan, want basic assistance with simple, direct benefit," Irons said. "Seniors that are on a fixed income who still want to stay in their homes, homeowners who want to keep hold of their houses but can't afford when the roof is damaged."

Another difference when compared with the 2005 plan is a larger emphasis on providing assistance with job training, Irons said.

Some of the top priorities on the long list of objectives are providing housing counseling to low-income renters and homeowners, providing financial assistance to first-time home buyers, increasing code enforcement on abandoned properties, increasing the number of beds in homeless shelters, provide job training to low income residents and support the efforts of the Coalition of Neighborhood Organizations.

Dan O'Loughlin, owner of D&O Contractors, which frequently works on contracts purchased with grant money, identified handicapped accessibility projects and home energy efficiency projects as some of the most important.

"I like what I've seen and how it's put together," O'Loughlin said. "It's unfortunate that the city can't get as much money as it needs."

Irons said the plan will go to the city council at the March 1 meeting and must be submitted to federal agencies by March 15. Residents can view the plan at www.decaturil.gov under the "Public Information" tab and can send their comments to fiveyearplan@decaturil.gov.

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