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In Latrobe, opinions differ on use for economic development grant

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Latrobe officials Monday expressed differing opinions on how the city should spend a $1 million economic development grant the state awarded the city to help pay for the $3 million in renovations to its downtown parking garage.

Mayor Barbara Griffin said after the city council meeting Monday that she has not had sufficient time to decide how the $1 million grant from the state's Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program should be spent.

Gov. Tom Corbett's office announced Monday that Latrobe would receive the grant, but city officials said the state has not indicated when it would release the money. The city already has paid most of the costs associated with the renovation of the parking garage between Spring and Weldon streets, with the proceeds from a $3.8 million bond issue authorized in January 2012.

City officials will have to discuss the best way to spend the grant, which requires a matching amount of money by the city, Councilwoman Rosie Wolford said.

The best way to spend the money is for the purpose for which it was intended — the renovation of the parking garage, Councilman Robert Forish said

“That's where it needs to go,” Forish said.

Councilman Richard Jim said he believes the city should use the money to pay off debt. The city spent money to renovate the garage, believing it would receive a $1 million grant from the state to pay for the project, Jim said.

But Deputy Mayor Kenneth Baldonieri said the city should use the money to leverage matching grants that could go toward projects that would improve the city.

“We've got to look down the road and very carefully plan how to spend it,” Baldonieri said.

The city, Baldonieri said, can not use the money to repay a portion of the bond issue from the parking garage because the bonds cannot be redeemed earlier than five years from when they were issued.

Graziani said he favored using the money for matching grants for projects, rather than adding it to the general fund to cover operating expenses. Graziani said he would like to prepare a five-year capital budget beginning in 2014.

The city wants to create a recreational trail connecting Latrobe with St. Vincent College in Unity and has discussed a walking path along the Lincoln Avenue corridor.

Before it gets the money, Graziani said, the city must submit documentation showing it followed proper procedures in spending money on the garage renovations, including hiring contractors that paid prevailing wages and using American-made steel on the job.

The city officials did not suggest that the money should be used to lower property taxes.

During the meeting, city officials approved St. Vincent College's request to use the Latrobe Industrial Authority to borrow $17 million, including $5 million to renovate Gerard Hall and Bonaventure Hall, two dormitories on campus.

John Kachmar, St. Vincent College director of administration, said the renovation projects will include roof work and masonry work. Proceeds from the bulk of the bond issue will be used to refinance two existing bond issues at lower interest rates, Kachmar said.

The city does not incur any liability by approving the bond issue, said James Kelley, Latrobe solicitor.

The authority last week approved the borrowing, said attorney Daniel Hudock.

St. Vincent will go before the Unity supervisors on Thursday for that board's approval of the bond issue, Hudock said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252.

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