MORTON — The village's business façade grant program has undergone a makeover.

It's now called the business improvement program and it can be used for more than just exterior building and signage upgrades at commercial properties within Morton's business district, where the vast majority of the village's business are located.

Village Board trustees this month approved several changes to the program that were recommended by the business district commission.

The program was launched in 2012, two years after the establishment of the business district. Revenue generated by an 0.25 percent business district sales tax provides the $50,000 annual funding for the program.

"We can only provide grants for so many awnings," said Trustee Sam Heer. "The changes to the program are great for downtown development and provide protections for the village and taxpayers."

Mayor Jeff Kaufman said the changes make the program more business friendly.

In a report to the board, Village Administrator Julie Smick said the business district commission had become concerned about a preponderance of grant requests for maintenance and upkeep projects like roof repairs, painting and fixture replacement instead of improvements.

"The commission recommends that a grant pay for these items only if they're part of a larger project," Smick said.

Interior, code-related improvements needed by the owner of a new business or relocated business are now eligible for a grant.

Another big change to the program is allowing grant requests to be made anytime, instead of only in January and June, making the grants available on a first-come, first-served basis during the village's May 1 through April 30 fiscal year.

There no longer is a requirement that a project begin within 90 days of grant approval, but a project still must be completed within a year.

New construction can now be part of a grant request if it's part of a project that includes improvements of existing facilities.

As for protections for the village, there now is a grant repayment schedule if a property is sold within four years of receiving a grant.

Repayment is 80 percent within one year of a grant receipt, 60 percent within two years, 40 percent within three years and 20 percent within four years. After five years, there is no repayment.

To add some teeth to the repayment requirement, the Village Board agreed with Village Attorney Pat McGrath's recommendation to put a lien on a property for the grant amount until the fifth year.

The lien must be cleared before a sale of the property can take place.

A grant can now be used for permanent landscaping -- not something that can be removed if a business is sold -- and the time limit between approved grants for a property has been increased from two to five years.

The maximum grant amount remains $10,000.

Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.

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