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Community Development brings benefits to Jeannette

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Margie Stanislaw | The Jeannette Spirit
Diana Reitz is community development director in the City of Jeannette.

The Jeannette Community Development Department provides much-needed service and benefits to the city.

Residents can view some of the most recent projects Community Development has been involved with just by taking a stroll down Clay Avenue — local businesses Vivid Photography and Bella Mimi's have taken took advantage of money available through the department to improve the facade of their buildings.

The facade program provides business owners with a low-cost option to improve and update the outside of their business to be more attractive and appealing.

Although many people might think that Community Development is strictly bricks, mortar and asphalt, it is actually much more than that.

Diana Reitz, the coordinator of the department, is able to apply for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) due to the fact that Jeannette is one of the cities in Westmoreland County that is empowered under Act 179. Since 1999, because of this entitlement, Jeannette has received $5 million dollars in CDBG funds.

Projects completed to date from those funds include: A housing rehabilitation program, which has assisted about 500 homeowners over 15 years with rehab projects.

Nearly 125 families and individuals have taken advantage of Jeannette's first-time homebuyer program, which offers help with closing costs. More than 50 businesses have participated in the facade improvement plan.

The CDBG funds have also paid for emergency radios for the police and fire departments, a job skills loan program and assisted in funding a code enforcement officer for the city, along with numerous road, sidewalk and revitalization projects.

Also employed in the office is Jeannette resident Annie Beckner, who is the secretary. She and Reitz both work closely with city council, the Jeannette Redevelopment Authority, the Westmoreland County Community Development Council and Westmoreland County Industrial Development.

Jeannette has chosen to be a city empowered by Act 179, which guarantees cities at least $300,000 per year in funds for community development. Boroughs that are empowered by Act 179 receive about $50,000 per year.

Small cities involved in Act 179 receive 24 percent of the CDBG dollars, whereas counties, which are much larger, receive just 38 percent of CDBG dollars.

Should Jeannette at any point decide not to be part of the Act 179 entitlements, all redevelopment tasks would be revert back to Westmoreland County. Since the county would be required to spread the entitlement funds across 1,000 square miles, the result would be a much lower dollar amount being given to the city annually for such projects.

Reitz continually stresses the wonderful working relationship Jeannette has with Westmoreland County and how Act 179 has made it possible for them to work together on many large-scale projects in the city including the South Sixth Street project.

Because so many projects are joint ventures between the city and the county, and also because the grant money is both state and federal, “We have accountability in this office,” said Reitz. “Not only here (with the city) but with the state and federal offices. For money awarded, there are guidelines and mandates. If we get money, we can't just flip it to another project.”

“Whether I am here or not is not what matters,” said Reitz. “What matters is that we have a program for business and homeowners. It's not about the person behind the desk, it is about the City of Jeannette.”

Terri Yurcisin, who works in the Planning Department of the Westmoreland County Development Council, reiterated Reitz's statement about accountability.

“It is a very big job and can be very cumbersome. There is so much work that is done behind the scenes,” said Yurcisin.

In regard to Jeannette being part of the Act 179 entitlements, Yurcisin said, “We support that because it is still money coming into the county. The four cities that opt out of the county get more than we could give them if they opted in.”

Yurcisin has worked extensively with Reitz on the South Sixth Street revitalization where city, county, state, and federal dollars were used.

“We work well together,” said Yurcisin.

Westmoreland Community Action was also a big partner in that project.

The City of Jeannette Community Development Department is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Current or perspective business and homeowners are encouraged to call and find out what programs the city has to offer.

Reitz can be reach at 724-527-4000.

Margie Stanislaw is a contributing writer.