I am writing in my capacity as chairman of the Carbon County Board of Commissioners to explain the financial situation regarding the traffic light installed at routes 534 and 903 in Kidder Township.
In an article dated Feb. 19 titled "Plans nearly complete for new traffic signal," the information provided your reporter by the Kidder Township supervisors and/or its staff indicates the township is in possession of nearly $4,000 in "surplus" grant money from the project, funds, the article says, the supervisors want to keep.
I believe the entire history of this project needs to be told here and your readers can judge for themselves "why."
In 2004, prompted by concerns expressed to us by Rep. Keith McCall – who had taken an active role in the Rt. 903 Task Force that concerned itself with traffic safety issues in Penn Forest and Kidder townships - the commissioners allocated $58,500 to pay for the traffic light at 534/903. At the time, the Jim Thorpe School Board committed $18,000 towards the project because of the fact that the new school built in Kidder contributed to the traffic volume.
From the beginning, the Kidder Township Board of Supervisors insisted the township not pay anything toward the construction, taking the position that the township would be responsible for the electricity and maintenance of the light once it was installed. Fair enough!
As time passed and planning was underway, the cost of the traffic light increased substantially. Also, because it was necessary to widen the radius of Rt. 534 so that school buses would be able to turn onto Rt. 903 coming west on Rt. 534, there was a need to obtain an easement from nearby property owners. Rep. McCall secured a $20,000 grant that went to Kidder Township for this purpose.
The cost for the easement purchase eventually came in at about $8,000, meaning $12,000 was left over from the grant Rep. McCall secured for the intersection. It was understood by everyone that this balance would be used for the intersection and that Kidder would turn it over for that purpose.
When the traffic light was bid, the cost came in at $128,743. Typically, when a Community Development Block Grant program is done in a municipality, the municipality pays anything above what the county has budgeted for the project. But, since Kidder insisted it not have to pay towards the light, commissioners Getz, Nothstein and myself opted to contribute an additional $40,243 of county money to pay for the project.
The simple math for the construction costs calculates this way: Carbon County, $98,743; Jim Thorpe School District, $18,000; Rep. McCall grant leftover, $12,000; Kidder Township, $0; total, $128,743.
At this point, Carbon County has paid the entire bill for the traffic light and has been reimbursed the $18,000 from the school district. With the understanding that the leftover money from the grant Rep. McCall obtained for the easement would be used for the construction, we now find it disheartening that Kidder Township wants to keep what they refer to as "surplus" funds.
I also want to mention the commissioners, having the same concerns on Rt. 443 in Mahoning Township, used the same program and Rep. McCall's assistance to have the traffic light installed there. In all, the county paid $135,400 towards the construction and Rep. McCall secured Mahoning a $20,000 grant, so the light did not cost Mahoning anything either, except, like Kidder, it will pay future electric and maintenance costs.
In closing, I want to point out that Carbon County receives CDBG funding annually, and has always tried to be fair with each of the non-entitlement communities. Keep in mind, however, that the projects need to qualify under the low-to-moderate-income guidelines. This administration has funded projects in the following municipalities: Banks, Beaver Meadows, Bowmanstown, East Penn, East Side, Kidder, Lower Towamensing, Mahoning, Nesquehoning, Parryville, Penn Forest, Summit Hill, Weatherly and Weissport. (As entitlement communities, Franklin Township, and Jim Thorpe, Lansford, Lehighton and Palmerton boroughs receive their own CDBG allocations). As commissioners, we believe we have done the best we can do to be fair with everyone and to spend the money wisely and for very good, worthwhile projects that represent water, sewer and road improvements, traffic safety and other things like generators for shelters in times of emergencies.
And, so, having read where Kidder wants to use monies it received for the intersection project for other purposes, there's an obvious question: Is Kidder being fair?
Board of Commissioners