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Indiana County officials eye comprehensive plan

| Thursday, June 28, 2012, 7:17 p.m.

INDIANA -- A long overdue update of Indiana County's comprehensive plan is nearing completion.

The Indiana County Planning Commission was expected yesterday to review a final draft of the plan, titled "Where We Live... A Comprehensive Plan for Indiana County, Pennsylvania," and to consider recommending official adoption of the document by the county commissioners.

"It's been years in the process of development," county commissioners Chairman Rod Ruddock said of the plan at Wednesday's regular meeting of the commissioners.

Intended as a guide for ongoing growth, conservation and preservation efforts in the county and its municipalities, the comprehensive plan will replace an outdated version originally adopted in the 1960s. Ruddock noted that the plans will never truly be finished: "It's a living document that municipalities will use to set the expectations for future planning. It's a very important part of

Indiana County."

Following release of the final draft by the planning commission, the public will have 45 days to look over the updated comprehensive plan and to submit comments to county officials.

Three public meetings to solicit input on the plan have tentatively been set for 7 p.m. according to the following schedule: July 11, at the Marion Center Community Center; July 17 at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex in Indiana; and July 26 at the Blairsville Community Center.

Ruddock indicated arrangements also would be made to accept written comments on the plan via e-mail or fax.

Hard copies of the comprehensive plan are to be provided for public review at libraries in Indiana County -- including Blairsville Public Library, the Burrell Township Library, the Homer-Center Public Library, the Indiana Free Library, the Saltsburg Free Library and Stapleton Library at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

The county commissioners are tentatively scheduled to hold an Aug. 22 public hearing on the comprehensive plan prior to considering formal adoption of the document on Sept. 12.

The county office of planning and development was charged with developing the new comprehensive plan with oversight provided by the planning commission, the county commissioners and a broad-based, 40-member steering committee.

In accordance with requirements of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, the county comprehensive plan touches on such issues as land use, housing needs, water, utilities and protection of natural and historic resources.

Among the specific development objectives the plan sets forth are: promoting economic growth; retaining youth; revitalizing downtowns; preserving neighborhood schools and farmland; and improving mobility and housing choices.

County planning officials point out that the comprehensive plan, unlike an ordinance, has no regulatory authority. But it is meant to "identify strategies for maintaining and enhancing our unique sense of place and our quality of life by establishing policies and land use guidelines to help local governments ensure the orderly development of land, encouraging development that balances growth with Indiana County's rural character...."

At their Wednesday meeting, the county commissioners approved a change order related to construction of the new, extended runway at the Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport.

The change order provides an additional $1,109,333.18 to contractor Aarcon Enterprises for completion of a parallel taxiway to serve the new runway.

Ron Anderson, chairman of the county airport authority, explained the contractor will extend the airport's original runway in order to create the taxiway. He said a base has been laid down for the taxiway and additional layers of paving material should be applied beginning in the next few weeks. "It's moving right along," he said of the project.

Half of the additional cost is being drawn from $1.5 million in state funding that has been offered for the runway project, to be leveraged with local matching funds. The authority will cover the match of $554,666.59 for the taxiway with a loan authorized last month by the county commissioners.

The county is looking to cover part of that loan with about $400,000 it expects to have left over from a $1.6 million grant for airport business park improvements. The commissioners are hoping restored federal funds for airport improvements will pay for the remaining local cost.

A change order also was approved for improvements on Indiana's Philadelphia Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, which are part of the Downtown Indiana Revitalization Project. Dave Morrow of the county planning office explained contractor M and B Services will be paid an additional $9,479.43 due to higher costs involved in milling and paving the street during nighttime hours. Morrow said PennDOT required the nighttime work when issuing a highway occupancy permit for the project.

The extra cost will be covered by Indiana Borough's project contingency funds.

The commissioners appointed the Indiana County Community Action Program to continue as the lead agency operating a state food purchase program on behalf of the county in 2012-13.

ICCAP Director Michelle Faught explained her agency uses the county's annual allocation from the state Department of Agriculture to purchase food for its central food bank. That food is then distributed monthly to families in need through 19 pantries ICCAP operates across the county with the assistance of local volunteers.

Faught said the state program provided $98,853 last year that helped ICCAP distribute food to 3,600 individuals each month. Through a separate supplemental commodity program, she added, ICCAP supplies 441 boxes of food to eligible recipients who are age 60 or older.

Commissioner Dave Frick expressed concern that so many local citizens may have come to rely on the free food distribution, but he added that he's glad the county has the means to provide the service.

"There are people here in Indiana County who need those services more than most people know," Commissioner Patricia Evanko noted.

Ruddock said sustaining programs such as the food pantries gets "tougher every day" as the county finds itself subject to ever-tightening funding limitations. But, he expressed thanks for local organizations that have pitched in to help -- like the annual drive spearheaded by Indiana University of Pennsylvania's culinary department. This year the drive generated $3,600 plus donations of food for the ICCAP program.

Faught said ICCAP also has developed a working relationship with area grocers, who freeze perishable food just before it is set to expire and then provide if for use by the food bank. She said ICCAP also works with area farmers to obtain fresh produce to ensure food recipients have healthy meal choices.

"Dollars are getting more scarce," she said. So, "We're trying to stretch the limited resources."

She noted the food ICCAP provides likewise helps recipients who are on fixed incomes stretch their limited budgets.

The commissioners approved contracts with private providers of various services to the county's Children and Youth Services Department. The services -- including placement programs for juveniles, counseling, evaluations and provision of court testimony -- are used by the department on an as-needed basis.

CYS official Tina Semon noted that rates charged for most of the services have remained unchanged from previous years.

Neuropsychiatric Associates Inc. of Indiana increased it rates for counseling and court appearances by 3 percent while Great Expectations Day Care of Blairsville dropped its child care and preschool rates slightly.

Indiana native Rachel Zilinskas, who is competing in swimming events this week at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., was recognized by the commissioners for her achievements in the sport.

Though she now resides near Philadelphia, accompanied by her mother, Ruddock noted Zilinskas is "still a member of the Indiana community as far as I'm concerned."

The swimmer got a big hometown sendoff for her trip to the trials, when supporters signed a large card last week at the county courthouse to convey wishes for her success. The effort was organized by Ruddock and Indiana Area High School student Haley Stapleton.

At the commissioners' meeting, Anthony Frazier, a member of the county's information management team, screened a related video he produced, titled "Rachel Zilinskas Living The Dream." It can be viewed on the county website at

The courthouse will be closed Wednesday in observance of the Independence Day holiday.

The commissioners next will meet at 10:30 a.m. July 11.

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