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Indiana County proposes community development block grant projects

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 12:12 p.m.

Indiana County's commissioners have prioritized local projects proposed for a share of this year's state block grant funding. At the same time, they are eyeing three sites where temporary tax breaks could help fuel economic development.

At their Sept. 11 meeting, the commissioners agreed to apply for the county's 2013 Community Development Block Grant through the state Department of Community and Economic Development. The filing presents a list of prioritized projects for Indiana County, proposed for funding through block grant enthements for the county and for Indiana Borough and Burrell and Center townships.

A total of $583,524 is being sought and would be used toward infrastructure projects, including proposed waterline extensions in West Wheatfield and Brush Valley townships and Marion Center, according to Byron Stauffer, executive director of the county planning office.

Stauffer also briefed the commissioners on plans for several proposed Keystone Opportunities Expansion Zones. The KOEZ is a state program that targets parcels of land within communities that are being underused or that are vacant, marking them for redevelopment. The program provides 10-year real estate and business tax abatements as an incentive to draw businesses to the KOEZ parcels.

Indiana County has been approved to apply for nearly 50 acres of potential KOEZ parcels, and Stauffer said three specific properties are being targeted — the former Gorell plant in White Township, the former PolyVision plant in Green Township, now referred to as the Dixonville Commons, and the former Bi-Lo supermarket building in Blairsville.

Stauffer noted that the three properties would make up about 40 of the nearly 50 acres alloted to the county.

“These are properties that meet the criteria,” Stauffer said. “Both the Bi-Lo building and the Gorell facility are becoming eyesores in the community. They're vacant, they're under-utilized.”

“If we can use this tool to incentivize job creation and capital investment, the short-term investment provided by the taxing bodies will pay the dividends in the long run,” he said.

After a moment of silence in remembrance of those who served and who were lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the commissioners launched into a celebration of sorts of the county's agricultural community.

Twin brothers Justin and Jonathan Coleman, 11, were present to receive the commissioners' accolades for their participation in the recent Indiana County Fair, at which they won several 4-H and FFA ribbons for their dairy cattle. They are the sons of John and Terri Coleman of Saltsburg and attend the Apollo-Ridge School District.

Commissioners Chairman Rodney Ruddock pointed to photos taken of the brothers at the fair, saying they represent “something that we have on a routine basis talked about — the importance of the agricultural community in Indiana County and the fact that you've got to start young to make it work.” 

The boys were given enlarged copies of the photos. The boys presented a flower arrangement adorned with keychains and bracelets to the commissioners in thanks.

“Agriculture presents itself as an important part of Indiana County, and we want to promote the education of those, particularly the young kids, to understand that we appreciate what they do and how they're moving along,” Ruddock said. “I think it gives them some hope that they can stay in Indiana County, particularly in the dairy industry. The dairy industry in Indiana County, I think, represents a strong percentage of the dairy industry in Pennsylvania. And we can't afford to give up any more of those farms, so we'll do everything we can to promote them.”

The commissioners declared Sept. 8-14 Suicide Prevention Week in the county and talked about the success of the 5K Walk for a Wonderful Life held recently at the J.S. Mack Community Center. “This is something that is close to us all and that we need to bring attention to,” said Commissioner Patricia Evanko.

The proclamation points out that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death between the ages of 15-24.It states that suicide prevention should be made a priority for the county, by promoting awareness of suicide as a preventable public health problem and implementing strategies that would reduce the stigma associated with being treated at a mental health facility.

Dr. Ralph May and Bonni Dunlap, co-chairs of the Indiana County Suicide Task Force, which was reorganized this past February, said the 5K event raised over $10,000, with over 500 people attending and over 400 participating in the walk.

May cited The Open Door's 24-hour crisis line as one of many support systems in place in the county for those who need help.

“We have the resources, we're putting them in the right place, but ultimately the most important thing is for people to utilize them. So education can never stop,” May said.

The commissioners approved a contract between the county and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Corporation for the 2013-14 Unified Planning Work Program. The $14,425 contract is for the administration and support of transportation planning in Indiana County.

According to Stauffer, 20 percent — or $3,606 — of equivalent staff time has to be provided as a match to the contract, which runs through June 30, 2014.

In other business, the commissioners: 

• Approved Workforce Investment Board reappointments for: Jack Nelson III, business representative; Jerry Richardson, economic development representative; Carol Fry, education representative; Margaret Desiderio, Department of Public Welfare representative; Linda Schell, Bureau of Workforce Development Program representative; and Dana Henry, other representative;

• Gave approval to Rosebud Mining Co. to perform pre- and post-mine surveys on two properties it proposes to mine under — a portion of the Hoodlebug Trail and a housing facility in Graceton.

The next regular meeting of the Indiana County Commissioners is planned for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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