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Valley News Dispatch

Arnold officials plan to spend $270,000 in federal money that may not come

| Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

Arnold officials will apply for more than $250,000 in federal grant money from the Community Development Block Grant program, even though its future is in doubt.

The move comes after council agreed Tuesday on projects for which funding should be pursued.

The Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Money is allocated to municipalities in order to subsidize affordable housing, fund anti-poverty initiatives and complete infrastructure work.

CDBG projects must meet certain criteria — chief among them, that they are targeted to lower-income areas. According to the program website, at least 70 percent of CDBG funds must be used for projects that benefit low- and moderate-income people.

However, despite this restriction, local officials have flexibility about how and where to use the money, making the grant program popular. Municipalities like Arnold often are strapped for cash when it comes to large infrastructure projects and tackling blighted areas.

Following two public hearings on the matter, the second of which was Tuesday, Arnold officials said they hope to receive about $270,000 to fund five specific projects or obligations.

According to Solicitor David Regoli, planned are: improvements to Fifth Avenue, purchase of equipment for the fire department, acquisition and demolition of some blighted properties, loan payments and administrative and planning costs.

President Trump's 2018 budget proposal calls for abolishing the four-decade-old program that was created under President Gerald Ford. The budget plan says that while the federal government has spent more than $150 billion on the program since its inception in 1974, it has not demonstrated results. It last was reauthorized in 1994.

But Rick Rayburg, Arnold's community development director, said in May that losing CDBG funding would make it “extremely difficult” to get projects done.

Rayburg said then that the city was getting ready to use CDBG funds to pay for a sewer project, and that the city also has used the grant money to demolish blighted houses over the past 15 years.

Mayor Karen Peconi said Tuesday that if CDBG money were to dry up, Arnold would struggle to continue working to fight blight and to meet its loan obligations.

“It's going to be devastating,” she said. “You see what comes out of that: It helps us fix the streets, the firemen get equipment, the loan for the demolition of all those properties.”

Last year, $3 billion in grants were awarded nationwide.

In 2016 and this year, at least 19 Alle-Kiski Valley municipalities received CDBG money in some form, though the funding provided to Westmoreland County has fallen by 31 percent in the last 10 years. Allegheny County has seen its funding drop by about 25 percent.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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