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Bronson homes get a facelift

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Shirley Patterson-Taylor may be living on Easy Street, but that doesn't mean life is without its challenges.

Living alone at 70 and still recovering from a stroke, the Bronson native realized a couple of years ago she might need a little help from the town she knows so well.

"Bronson is my home. I grew up here, and I appreciate that, because I'm a home-girl, they spent some money on me to make my last days pleasant and peaceful."

The money, part of a town housing rehabilitation project embarked upon last year, came from a federal grant and helped renovate Patterson-Taylor's small, aging home.

Patterson-Taylor got about $38,000 worth of upgrades and renovations. Her roof was repaired and re-shingled. Her septic and drain field was overhauled. Contractors painted inside and out, updated and enlarged her bathroom, making it handicap accessible, and she even got a new air conditioning system, which she said has cut her electric bill by at least 1/3. 

"It was all done very orderly and proper," she said, again expressing gratitude and referring to the project as a "blessing."

Patterson-Taylor, though the first to receive such services to her home, was just one of nine residents town officials sought funding for in the project, which qualified for $650,000 in total. Two of the homes are slated to be completely rebuilt, and homeowners are required to live in the homes for the next five years and stay on top of their taxes.

Bronson Vice Mayor Franklin Schuler, who was mayor at the time the project started, said town officials at one point considered applying for money to build a recreation center but then decided it would be better spent on people who badly needed their homes fixed or even rebuilt.

"I feel good about it," Schuler said Monday, explaining that the recipients of the money were all in need in one way or another, either handicapped, on low, fixed incomes or both.

There were 28 applicants for the program at its start. The nine who qualified were selected based on need, ranked in three categories. They also had to undergo review by a special committee developed for the program, and some of the town council members recused themselves from voting in the final selection because of admitted conflicts stemming from relatives being in the program.

Still, Schuler said, the process was smooth. He said the biggest challenge in the project came when one of the contractors, Edwin Griffis, of Central States Contruction Inc., based in Ocala, pulled out of the three homes he had contracted to renovate because he bid them too low.

A few months ago, the contractor's wife even came to one of the council meetings to apologize for her husband, who she claims was missing and supposedly oversees.

Though the town technically wasn't out any money, because none of it was paid up front, officials had to find a new contractor for three of the homes and apply for a six-month extension to the grant's two-year construction limit.

David Fox, the town's outside grant administrator for the project, said in the 20 years he's been doing this type of work he's never had a contractor suddenly take off without notice.

Though town officials at this point are not officially pursuing Griffis legally, Fox said he's inquiring through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Business and Professional Regulations about what type of penalties might be imposed on the contractor's license.

Still, Fox said the project has gone well. "I've put a lot into this," he said, "and the town has been good to work with."

Four of the houses are expected to be completed within the next week or so, according to Fox.