Tarentum thrilled to have $650,000 in federal cash for 'wish list'
If Tarentum officials aren't out buying lottery tickets, maybe they should be.
After all, when your community is offered $500,000 in federal grant money out of the blue, it's definitely a sign. A sign that good fortune isn't just smiling upon you, it's slapping you on the back.
That's what happened when Lance Chimka, manager of business development for Allegheny County's department of economic development, recently called Borough Manager Bill Rossey.
“This is probably the stuff borough managers dream of, right?” Chimka said. “He probably had to pinch himself to see if it was real.”
“I guess it was CDBG (federal Community Development Block Grant) money the county had sitting around,” Rossey said. “They called and asked if we could use it.”
Chimka didn't have to ask twice. Tarentum will infuse the money into a number of projects it had brewing as part of its ongoing renovation plan.
As Rossey explained, the additional $500,000 comes with $150,000 in federal money that had been allocated to the borough in the Streetscape program.
Overall, the $650,000 will cover:
• Improvements done on Corbet Street, which incurred an extra $30,000 in costs.
• 2,000 feet of new commercial-grade fencing along the embankment at Riverview Memorial Park.
• New lighting, new picnic tables and benches for the park.
• Landscaping for the traffic barriers on Route 366 (Bull Creek Road) between Route 28 and the traffic light at East 10th Avenue;
• An archway over East Sixth Avenue right off the bridge to welcome visitors.
• Pavilion to house a restored 1945 steam train engine the borough has been offered, at no cost, as a tourist attraction.
“That is one of the reasons why we got offered this money,” Rossey said. “... The county knew we had several phases of this plan, and they knew that we could spend it by next year.”
“We were looking at places where they had projects ready and just waiting for the funding, and Tarentum fit the bill for that,” Chimka said. “The other thing was how well projects were managed in the past. And again, Tarentum fit the bill.”
He said that's a tribute to Rossey as well as Tom Benecki, executive director of the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments, which is a conduit for federal funds flowing to local communities, for how they manage projects.
Locomotive needs a home
“There is an antique steam engine sitting in McKees Rocks that we are trying to get up here and put it on display,” Rossey said. “I think it's a 1945 Baldwin. It's been restored, and we want to keep it nice.
“It's privately owned and the guys who own it approached me,” said Rossey, who said the prospective donors wish to remain anonymous. “In talking to them, it sounds to me like they have about $1 million in this engine. They don't have any other place to put it.”
He said the pavilion would be along Fifth Avenue, below the tracks so that people on the bridge can see it.
Rossey said there are no firm figures for the archway and train pavilion, but he estimates the archway will cost about $50,000 and the pavilion about $250,000.
Rossey is aware that people will question spending that money on such projects when the borough has plenty of other needs.
But he said the designated use for these funds is limited.
“Unfortunately, that money is earmarked for certain projects and things that you have to spend it on,” Rossey said. “I wish they would give me money to tear down some condemned houses, or maybe fix some additional roads. But this money is earmarked.”
Chimka confirmed that. But he said the earmarking, which is aimed at economic development, can have a wider impact by attracting visitors and business to the borough.
“I think when you look at the net benefit for all users, you actually get a pretty good return on your investment across the community rather than just say, a sewer project that serves a dozen households,” he said. “Especially when you look at Tarentum, which has such a high volume of traffic on the bridge. It is great advertisement for their community.”
Chimka said Tarentum's good fortune is due to a change in how the federal government wanted to manage a loan fund for commercial or business use.
“There was a change in the way HUD wanted to see our loan portfolio managed,” he said. “So rather than managing demand over a long term, they wanted it done on a short-term basis, and they wanted it done yesterday.
He said the loan fund balance has peaked over the past two years because of a decrease in demand, at least in part, because of other governmental or nonprofit loan programs that offer a similar product. So the federal government wanted federal dollars that were sitting unused in the loan fund to be put to use.
“That is essentially a one-time thing where we had some additional capital to put toward some projects,” Chimka said.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.