Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 01/06/2010 09:18:13 PM PST

ONTARIO – In a move that could benefit the city financially, the council has agreed to designate Ontario as a recovery zone.

The City Council action on Tuesday night allows the issuance of up to $17 million in private and public bonds from President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill.

Cities with significant poverty, unemployment or a high rate of home foreclosures can be characterized as a recovery zone and are allocated an amount of bonds from the government to help stimulate the economy.

Ontario qualified because 11.3percent of its population was living below the poverty line last year and the unemployment rate in the city was 11percent.

The city also experienced a steep increase in foreclosures – 1,406 in the first six months of 2009.

“By identifying the city as a zone, we would be able to take advantage of these types of borrowing rates,” said Grant Yee, city administrative services/finance director.

The agreement by the council means the city would agree to partake in the program, which makes $7.1million available for the city in economic development bonds and $10.7 million in private facility bonds, Yee said.

“The government isn’t giving us money. This is just a program if you want to borrow money,” Yee said. “The city and developers have to pay back the government.”

The city and future private developers will be able to borrow bonds at a lower cost, he said.

“It’s a little cheaper but it’s not free,” Yee said.

At this point, the city does not have any specific projects for either of the bonds, Yee said.

In the near future, the city might encounter a private developer that could take advantage of the lower-cost bonds, he said.

The city has until the end of this year to complete the issuing of the bonds.

Also on Tuesday, the council agreed to apply for $8 million of grants to a state fund to develop two parks.

The grants are through the Statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Act of 2008, which helps cities and counties finance the development of parks and recreation areas.

Cities throughout the state are vying for $368 million, said Mark Chase, city community and public services director.

The city will ask for $5 million for the Ontario Downtown Plaza and $3 million for the Civic Center Conservation Garden, he said.

“It’s now wait and see,” Chase said. “It’s a very competitive grant process and other cities and agencies are applying, but we took a look at the criteria and we felt these two projects fell within that.”

The state program leans more toward projects in under-served neighborhoods, and the plaza park as well as garden meet those requirements, Chase said.

The city has until the end of March to file the application.

Chase said he doesn’t expect to hear a decision from the state until the fall.

The Ontario Downtown Plaza is part of the city’s effort to revitalize the civic center area. It would include an amphitheater, arbor structures, a children’s interactive outdoor area, a plaza and outdoor space for a farmers market just south of City Hall, Chase said.

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