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City again discusses CDBG projects

| Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005

Connellsville Redevelopment Authority met with city officials during a public meeting Monday night to outline use plans for its Community Development Block Grant funding. No residents attended.

"The (first) meeting in December was the most important time for citizens and groups to make a pitch for projects," said Ralph Wombacker, authority executive director. "Right now is essentially the 11th hour."

The total federal budget for community development this year is $4.7 billion. Pennsylvania's share, down 7.5 percent from last year, is $55,485,726.

Connellsville, as a third-class city, automatically received $300,000, as well as an additional allocation prorated by population, for a total of $403,190. Projects funded by the CDBG program are suggested by the public but ultimately are chosen by city council. The first of two mandatory public meetings was held Dec. 13. Yesterday's meeting was a follow-up.

The largest portion of the city's CDBG funding this year is earmarked for firefighting equipment, including $84,000 to finish payment on a New Haven Hose Co. ladder truck and $85,000 to pay off a city fire department pumper truck. The ladder truck was bought in March 2002 at a cost of $372,474. The pumper truck was purchased in November 2003 for $224,846.

The city will use $79,000 to implement the first phase of a $179,000 storm sewer project along Fourth and Fifth streets. The second phase of the project is set for completion in 2006, with more CDBG funds.

The project, according to Connellsville Councilman Bruce Jaynes, will include the replacement of old narrow terra cotta pipes. The system was built during the early part of the 20th century, he said.

The new system will alleviate storm water from the sanitary sewerage system, which was built nearly 50 years ago. The systems were combined before strict environmental regulations were enforced, Jaynes said.

The diameter of the old lines is too small for storm drainage," he said. "This project will completely separate the two systems." A less expensive proposed project will provide heat to the third floor of the Connellsville Community Center. The $45,000 system will accommodate the floor's new tenant, Adelphoi Village. Last year, a combination of CDGB and Federal Enterprise Community money helped pay for an elevator to make the building accessible to the handicapped.

The least costly project on the CDBG list this year is the second phase of the state Hometown Streets program, which will be funded by a $38,000 matching grant.

During the first phase of the program, workers installed antique-style streetlights along Crawford Avenue, from Pittsburgh Street to Eighth Street. The second phase will include lights, benches and trash receptacles along Pittsburgh Street, from Fairview Avenue to Route 119.

However, the city has not yet received confirmation of acceptance to the program. Wombacker said if the city is not accepted, the allotted $38,000 will be disbursed into the sewerage project, utilized to buy general street amenities or spent some other way. The city will not lose the money.

"We'll deal with that if the project does not get funded," he said.

The remainder of the city's CDBG allocation -- $72,190 -- is earmarked for redevelopment authority administrative costs.

Although the redevelopment authority released a three-year plan for CDBG projects, the 2006 and 2007 money is set for only a few site-specific projects. Next year, $100,000 will finish the storm sewerage project along Fourth and Fifth streets, $100,000 will renovate the auditorium at the community center and $76,000 will improve sidewalks along South Arch Street. The remaining $55,000 is earmarked for recreation facilities and demolition of dilapidated structures.

Similar amounts for 2007 are divided into projects with general headings: storm sewerage system, public/community facilities, recreation facilities and demolition of dilapidated structures.

Yesterday's meeting doubled as a second chance for people to hear about the city's possible "First-Time Homebuyer Program," a project that is dependent on grants from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Wombacker said the authority will submit an application March 4, and the program will start shortly thereafter if Connellsville is accepted.

"When residents own their home, they take pride in maintenance of the property," he said, "and that has an effect on neighborhoods."

If accepted, about 16 families who buy a home within the city limits will receive two $10,000 loans at zero percent for home improvements and/or financing. The first loan will be forgiven by 10 percent, or $1,000, for each year the family lives in the home. After 10 years, the loan is completely erased. The second $10,000 will be paid back to the city when the home is sold -- whenever that happens.

The program is for working people without serious debt who can afford to pay a mortgage. Any family that falls under the following maximum yearly salary guidelines is eligible: one person, $31,000; two people, $35,450; three people, $39,900; and four people, $44,300. For more than four people, add $3,550 for each additional person. However, applicants who have bought a house within the last three years will not be accepted.

Participants are selected on a first-come, first-served basis.

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