Downpours, elections molded county in 2013
By Brigid Beatty
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Below are the most memorable moments that helped shape Armstrong County news in 2013 as chosen by the Leader Times editorial staff.
They were chosen based on the effect the issues had on the county during the past 12 months.
Some of these stories will continue to hold significance for county residents in this upcoming year and beyond:
Heavy downpours flooded roads and homes in late August, stranding some residents in their homes and causing property damage in many communities.
The Aug. 28 rainstorm swept through the county from the northwest. Among the communities hardest hit were areas around Cadogan, Ford City, Worthington and West Franklin.
Two weeks later, Armstrong County Public Safety Director Randy Brozenick and officials from the state Emergency Management Agency and the federal Small Business Administration inspected the county's flood-damaged areas.
A disaster declaration was issued before the end of September, allowing residents and businesses to apply for low-interest federal loans to help cover costs until insurance money arrived.
Two Rural Valley men were voted into key county positions during the November election and will be sworn into office on Monday.
Voters from both leading parties showed overwhelming support for the two candidates by electing Democrat Bill Rupert as Armstrong County sheriff and Republican Brian K. Myers as coroner.
Rupert replaces Larry Crawford, who served the county as sheriff for the past 20 years. Myers replaces Bob Bower as county coroner. Bower, who served as the Armstrong County Coroner since 1986, continues to serve as a county commissioner alongside Commissioners Rich Fink and Dave Battaglia.
The Armstrong School District began construction in the spring on the district's new Armstrong Junior-Senior High School off Buffington Drive in Manor Township for students from the Kittanning and Ford City areas.
In September the school board adopted the blue, white and orange Armstrong River Hawks logo after working with several graphic companies, art teachers and community members.
Ford City Junior-Senior High Principal Michael Cominos said in September that district officials spent several months soliciting ideas for the logo.
“We wanted a fierce looking animal — something that would be appropriate for Armstrong,” Cominos said.
The new school is expected to be completed in June 2015 at a cost of $55 million. It will house about 1,775 students in grades seven through 12.
Ford City Festival
News of a September vote by the Heritage Days Inc. Committee to disband and discontinue the town's annual Ford City Area Heritage Days festival dismayed many area residents.
But out of the Heritage Days ashes, a new grass-roots organization emerged with plans to keep a town festival going.
A new festival called “Ford City Summer Fest,” with the subhead “Keeping our traditions alive,” has been formed.
A news release, which was issued from the organizers last week, announced that the Ford City Summer Fest 2014 has been planned for July 3 through July 6 and will include a parade, fireworks, a 5K Run, craft booths and family activities.
Summer Fest Chairman Ben Dinus said: “When we read Heritage Days was disbanding, many of us who grew up with the festival or had our children grow up enjoying it, joined together both to continue a Ford City tradition and to create a new one.
“If the community wants to continue its July 4th weekend festival, we hope they will support fundraising for the new event and (will) volunteer for one of the committees,” Dinus said.
He noted that the July 4 weekend celebration has been a strong economic engine for the county.
The committee plans to sell sponsorships for fireworks. For more information, call 724-548-4442.
A Summer Fest meeting will be held at the Ford City Library at 6 p.m. Jan. 7.
About $1.5 million of revenue garnered from 2012 Marcellus shale gas drilling impact fees flowed into the county during the summer, helping cover municipal and county government expenses.
The funds were distributed through the state's Public Utility Commission, which collects impact fees from drillers in the Marcellus shale industry statewide.
Properties for sale
Four parcels of county-owned property, totaling 46 acres, were graded into flat pads at Northpointe business park in the Slate Lick area of North Buffalo Township in July.
According to Armstrong County Commissioner Rich Fink, the work was done in an effort to establish pad-ready sites to attract more businesses to the area.
County officials also hoped to attract developers to the county by approving five pieces of Armstrong School District-owned properties into tax-free Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zones.
Those properties included the Ford City High School, Kittanning Township Elementary School, Kittanning Middle School and Kittanning High School.
East Franklin's West Hills Industrial Park campus was also designated as a KOEZ.
The partial government shutdown in the fall resulted in the temporary closure of Crooked Creek Park. The 2,664-acre park is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers and spans portions of Bethel, Burrell and Manor townships.
Carol Davis, a public affairs specialist with the Corps' Pittsburgh office said in October: “Although we were planning for it, (the government) shutdown caught everybody a little off guard.”
The 46-year-old Belmont Complex in East Franklin completed its third phase of renovations in November and celebrated a grand reopening ceremony in late December.
The $2 million renovation began in April and included the construction of a new entrance, foyer, ticket booth, skate shop, concession stand, handicapped-accessible ramp and updated locker rooms and conference rooms.
Kittanning Borough Council gave the green light in August for improvements to begin for a section of Market Street.
Yet progress has slowed due to a gap in funding for the $2 million project.
In September, the Armstrong County Community Foundation and the county's Industrial Development Council announced the beginning of a fundraising campaign for the first phase of the Downtown Kittanning Impact project.
Although most of the total cost (around $2 million) has been covered, there was still a sum of $371,989 remaining.
Walter Smail, IDC project manager, said Phase 1 will focus on the section of Market Street between the intersections of North and South Grant and North and South McKean streets.
Improvements will include curb extensions with green space for safer pedestrian crossing, the relocation of overhead utilities, sidewalk and handicap ramp replacements, decorative historic-style street lights and mast arm traffic signals, newly planted trees, implementation of a two-way traffic pattern on McKean Street (now one-way), curbside parking and street resurfacing.
Clean and Green
Armstrong County property owners enrolled in the state's Clean and Green program raised concerns over county officials' initial decision in June to adjust assessment rates from 1997 to current rates set by the state.
That meant almost tripling taxes for some property owners.
But in October, the county commissioners voted to base the Clean and Green Program tax on 2007 assessment rates instead of the forecasted 2014 rates.
The 2007 assessment rates are lower than what is expected for 2014, said Jeanne Englert, director of the county's Tax Claim Bureau.
Englert said county officials plan to use the 2007 assessment rates through 2015 and revaluate the program the following year when the state Department of Agriculture plans to change the program.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or email@example.com.
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