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High foreclosures, unemployment qualify county for stimulus aid

The St. Croix County Board voted last week to declare the entire county an economic recovery zone.

The action clears the way for the county, and perhaps its municipalities, to receive federal economic stimulus subsidies to help pay for building or infrastructure projects. The assistance is provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to the resolution adopted Sept. 22, general economic distress in the county impairs sound growth and the tax base and threatens the well-being of residents.

According to numbers released Sept. 23, St. Croix ranks 52nd of Wisconsin's 72 counties in unemployment. Though the county's rate dropped slightly from the previous month, it was still at 7.5 percent in August, compared to 3.8 percent a year ago.

Also, according to county administrators, the number of St. Croix County foreclosure court cases for the second quarter of 2009 was 37 percent higher than a year ago.

Those statistics and 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data that show 5.3 percent of county residents live in poverty qualify the county for the Recovery Zone designation.

St. Croix has been allocated $3.36 million in Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds, taxable bonds that provide municipalities with a federal subsidy equal to 45 percent of the interest cost for qualified projects. The interest subsidy will be a payment from the U.S. Treasury to the issuer of the bonds.

While the subsidy won't directly pay for projects, it will cut the cost of borrowing money to finance them.

The county is in the midst of 2010 budget work and may want to use part of the interest subsidy to help fund planned projects.

If the county doesn't use the assistance, cities, villages or towns may want it, but that's a debate for another day, said Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting.

Administrators from New Richmond and Hudson have indicated their interest in accessing the subsidy.