North Huntingdon Township rec center fails to win support

| Thursday, July 21, 2011

Despite viewing a proposed recreation center as a community asset, North Huntingdon commissioners overwhelmingly oppose backing a municipal bond to help fund its construction.

None of the township board members expressed support on Wednesday night for an estimated $16 million to $18 million bond that would be necessary to build a rec center for the Norwin community.

Last month, representatives from the Norwin Area Community Center Commission asked elected officials in North Huntingdon, Irwin and North Irwin to indicate whether they'd participate in a bond issue.

Although township commissioners didn't formally vote last night, their comments left little doubt that North Huntingdon is unlikely to support a bond. Commissioners intend to vote on the issue at their Aug. 17 public meeting.

Several commissioners said they were concerned about the financial obligation that would fall upon the township if a rec center failed or North Huntingdon were the only sponsor of a bond.

Commissioner Tony Martino, one of the board's appointees to the commission, said he likes the potential project, but he's been adamant that it shouldn't lead to a tax increase.

"I'm still that way," he said. "I'm against that."

Another commission member, Commissioner Brian West, called it a "wonderful project," but suggested a private entity should consider pursuing it.

"I do not want to back that with any taxpayer dollars," he said.

Commissioner Rich Gray said he hasn't heard from any residents who want to commit tax dollars to the project.

The board briefly discussed whether the matter could be the subject of a referendum, but Solicitor Bruce Dice said it's unlikely unless it's specifically authorized by a statute.

Roy Lenhardt, the commission's interim coordinator, told the commissioners last month that the "project is a dead duck in the water" if North Huntingdon chooses not to back a bond.

A resident who serves on the commission, John Bales, declined to comment on the commissioners' discussion, saying he didn't want to speak for the panel.

Also last night, the board deadlocked 3-3 on a vote to accept $5,000 from the Westmoreland County District Attorney's Office to help pay for a new police K-9 officer.

The topic has been divisive, as some commissioners feel the county's donation and a $5,500 anonymous donation won't be enough to cover all of the costs associated with the dog.

Gray, Lee Moffatt and Zach Haigis voted against the donation, while Martino, West and Dave Herold voted for it. Commissioner Don Austin was absent.

However, the board unanimously agreed to award three contracts worth $338,950 for improvements to the Town House to comply with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

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