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Ford City wrestles with $600K question

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

A veritable who's who of Ford City turned out on Tuesday to suggest solutions to Ford City's $600,000 question. But there are no answers yet.

The borough has until Aug. 31 to propose repayment options for a $581,000 federal grant default.

Councilwoman Vickie Schaub has reached out to the federal Economic Development Agency, which is calling for the grant's repayment in some form. She said she has spoken with its director, Willie Taylor, to get an idea of what the borough can do.

“He mentioned property, buildings,” she said. “He kept stressing, ‘be creative.' ”

Schaub said she reached out to Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, and Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, and Bob Casey, D-Scranton.

The borough violated the terms of a 2000 grant for development of a First Avenue industrial site, according to the EDA.

The agreement called for the borough to own the property until 2017.

Farmers & Merchants Bank of Kittanning foreclosed on it in 2008 after Ford City's community development corporation, which managed the grant, went bankrupt.

After foreclosure, F&M bought the eight-acre property, home to OEM Shades and Belleflex Technologies.

That turn of events, according to the EDA, was a violation that left Ford City on the hook for the full amount of the grant.

Without a solution accepted by the EDA, officials said, Ford City will be ineligible for federal grants.

About a dozen community members showed up for Tuesday's meeting.

They shared ideas with the three council members present, as well as a small group formed to help with the issue.

In addition to Schaub, Mayor Marc Mantini, council President Kathy Bartuccio, Councilman Gene Banks and interim borough Manager Eden Ratliff attended.

Among suggestions was a face-to-face meeting with EDA officials. A number of residents and borough officials said that may be a good move.

“You'd be surprised, face-to-face, what can happen,” said Homer Pendleton, a former councilman and member of the former CDC.

Lou Vergari, who once served as council president agreed.

“I think we should go down there and make the effort,” said. He also said they could present the EDA with possible properties.

Residents expressed concerns over losing valuable real estate, particularly land along the Allegheny River.

“You don't want to give up our riverfront property,” said Rachel Dinus, a Ford City resident and member of Ford City Legacy, Inc.

She echoed the sentiments of several at the meeting regarding the 50 acres of borough land once owned by PPG.

“I think if you lose the 50 acres, you kill the town,” said Ryan Bloser, a resident and businessman. “You guys fought long and hard for it.”

Others suggested looking to the past for answers.

The meeting, officials said, was the last that would be open to the public. About an hour in, Tuesday's meeting was closed to the public and media.

Closed-door meetings would be held moving forward so sensitive information about matters like real estate or legal issues would not be disclosed, according to officials.

Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, x 1315 or jmartin@tribweb.com.

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