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Board weighs options on what to spend grant money on

Published February 07. 2012 05:02PM

An administrator and a consultant for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program informed the West Penn Township board of supervisors at Monday evening's meeting in the municipal building what it can do with the $100,000 grant the township is receiving.

The CDBG administrator and grant writer, Gary R. Bender, said, "Commissioners like to do water projects, storm water projects, sewer projects, something that's for the health and safety of the citizens of Schuylkill County." The grant comes through the state from the federal government and is intended mainly for low to moderate income project. An 18 percent allowance for administration is built in, which are fees that pay for the public notices, advertisements, consultation and Bender's salary for writing the grant.

The township is theoretically eligible for this type of grant each year now, but the Mullin & Lonergan consultant for housing and community development, Karen Parish said, "It depends on what the feds allocate to the program."

If the federal government eliminates the CDBG program, Bender added, "We all get zero."

Parish said projects have to be completed in three years. Engineer Ronald B. Madison, PE asked if the township can utilize multiple years for the same project, and Parish said, "That would be doable as long as it's in that three-year window."

One option the board is considering to use the money for is to fund the Act 537 project, which has been going on since 2003. As a part of the Clean Streams Law created to regulate sewage and other pollutants that go into the waters of Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is mandating West Penn and Walker townships update their 537 plans to address the previously estimated several hundred failing waste systems in their areas.

At last Thursday's Walker Township board of supervisors meeting and at yesterday's meeting, Madison presented an updated assessment of the Act 537 plan and outlined missteps in the project.

The project has circled back to the point where the needs assessment, the door-to-door survey to determine the extent of the sewage problems, has to be redone, Madison said, "to see if in fact the original needs, which are now considered outdated by DEP, from 2003 were overstated." For this part of the project to be reconducted, according to Madison, it will cost another $79,200.

If the CDBG grant is not used for the cost it will take for the needs assessment, taxpayers will be responsible for it. And although they pay for the planning of the project, property owners who have the waste systems installed pay for the implementation it, a $104-a-month sewage bill until the $11.5 million is paid off.

Walker supervisors continuously reject the plan, as it currently stands, because of its high cost to the townships and residents. West Penn supervisors do not reject the plan, but do object to the cost of implementing it, Madison deeming it the most "cost-effective" way right now to fix the sewage issues, but not necessarily "affordable" for the residents picking up the tab.

"Since this needs assessment, the primary goal of redoing it, is to try to determine if something other than the full public solution could be implemented," Madison said, "perhaps individual home solutions, a cluster of home solutions, but something other than the $11.5 million public option."

Next board of supervisors meeting is on Monday, Mar. 5 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building.

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