by Elizabeth Crum
A federal effort to pump affordable loan money into rural communities across the nation is bringing the city of Caliente a brand new pumper truck and a rescue vehicle with a mini-pumper, and not a moment too soon.
Due to a $120,000 loan and $15,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the city's all-volunteer fire department will soon have reliable working vehicles for the 60-odd medical and fire calls they make each month.
Caliente volunteer fire chief George Rowe said the timing of the loan was welcome because the city's existing gas-powered fire truck is more than 30 years old and on its last leg.
On a recent fire call, the vehicle had mechanical difficulties and could not make it to the site.
"Had we not gotten the loan, it probably would have been another five to six years before we'd have had enough money to purchase the vehicles," said Rowe. "The large pumper truck would not have held out."
Rowe said he first got wind of the possible availability of federal funds this past July when he ran into a USDA representative who was visiting Caliente Mayor Keith Larson's office to discuss and evaluate local needs.
"The mayor was great to work with, and I just can't thank the USDA enough," said Rowe, who is also a certified EMT along with many of the 35 fire department volunteers who together protect and serve the community.
The population of Caliente, located in east Lincoln County, is around 1,250 within the city limits, but the city's fire fighters respond to calls in unincorporated areas as far as 30 miles away.
The money to purchase two used vehicles is being lent to the city at a 4.25 interest rate over a period of 12 years. Typically, such a low-interest loan with a longer term would be unavailable for the purchase of used equipment. This can be prohibitive for many rural fire and police departments that cannot afford expensive new vehicles.
"This community could not get this kind of loan in the regular marketplace," said Kelly Clark, Special Projects and Public Affairs Specialist for the USDA. "The loan amount would typically be at a higher rate, and a three to five year loan would be standard."
The program goal is to provide affordable loans for necessary equipment in struggling rural communities. One way this is done is by tying the repayment period to the estimated useful life of equipment.
Clark added that the goal of Community Facilities Program is to "help these rural communities help themselves by maintaining public safety and responsiveness, but not go broke doing it."
The program is one of many at the USDA designed to help rural communities provide affordable housing, support local business and industry, and purchase or build essential infrastructure. Grants and loans are typically approved for the purchase of equipment or vehicles related to child care centers, hospitals, medical clinics, assisted-living facilities, fire and rescue stations, police stations, community centers, public buildings and transportation.
Rural development across the nation
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week announced loans and investments in 33 states and one territory that his agency claims will create jobs and improve the quality of life in rural communities across the nation.
"The projects announced today will help strengthen facilities and amenities in rural towns and small cities," Vilsack said in a press release.
Other cities and states fared far better than Nevada.
For example, the city of Blockton, Iowa, was selected to receive a $50,000 grant that will be used to purchase a fire truck. Currently, the fire department has just one pumper truck to cover a 70 square mile area. Also in Iowa, the city of Akronwas selected to receive a $4 million direct loan that will be used to help build a 45-bed nursing home.
In Gray, Ky., KCEOC Community Action Partnership, Inc. was selected to receive a $50,000 grant to replace a roof on a child development and community center in Harland County, a persistent poverty county. The center has 88 children enrolled in its programs and community groups use the center for community, educational and recreational activities.
Great Plains Health Alliance Inc, in Phillipsburg, Kan.,was selected to receive a $3 million loan and a $2.2 million loan guarantee to purchase health records equipment and software for rural hospitals. When completed, the project will offer clinical tele-medicine services, including real-time virtual consultations, diagnostic examinations, digital diagnostic imaging, remote monitoring and other specialty services.
The $46.8 million announced this week is being funded through the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program. Funding of individual recipients is said to be contingent upon meeting the terms of the loan or grant agreement.
USDA Rural Development's Community Facilities Program is intended to finance essential community facilities for public use in rural areas.
This week's announcement is part of a series of rural infrastructure investments expected by Secretary Vilsack during the next two weeks. Vilsack said it supports the goal of the American Jobs Act as presented by President Obama to Congress on Sept. 8.
Since taking office, President Obama's Administration has set goals of modernizing rural infrastructure by providing broadband access, expanding educational opportunities for students who live in rural areas, and providing affordable health care to rural communities.