Taxpayers Take Issue With W-B Grant Applications
WILKES-BARRE — City council on Thursday gave Mayor Tony George the OK to submit applications for nearly $2 million in state grants — some being sought by nonprofits and a municipal authority — despite objections from a few residents.
Sam Troy questioned whether the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority needs the $316,672 it’s seeking to rehabilitate and upgrade a pump station at the north end of Wilkes-Barre.
“The WVSA really socked it to us taxpayers,” Troy said, noting WVSA bills have gone up significantly in recent years.
Currently, the agency charges customers $55 per quarter for sewage treatment. Two years ago, the quarterly rate was $36.75.
“So why should the city go out of its way to apply for them … when they’ve been pretty cavalier about helping the taxpayers?” Troy asked.
Troy also said other projects might be more deserving of the limited funding available from Luzerne County’s Local Share Account.
The funding comes from gambling taxes paid by the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Twp. The Commonwealth Financing Authority chooses which grant applicants will be awarded funding each year.
Resident Bob Kadluboski accused the authority of making political hires and wasting money on unnecessary positions and urged council not to approve sponsoring the authority’s application.
Resident John Suchoski said city officials should be submitting grant applications for its own infrastructure and crime-prevention projects first.
“On Washington Street, the bridge is out and we’re worried about getting the Kirby Center a new sound system,” Suchoski said. “I understand these guys need help, but everybody in the city doesn’t go to the Kirby Center (or) to the Art League.”
The F.M. Kirby Center is seeking $353,000 to upgrade its sound and heating/ventilation/air-conditioning systems and to address basement flooding and repair water damage.
The Wyoming Valley Art League is seeking $300,000 to make the building handicap-accessible and to make repairs to eliminate and prevent water leaks.
Suchoski also noted that those projects and two others are for nonprofits operating in the city’s downtown area. He said grant money should be spread to improve other parts of the city as well.
Council Chairwoman Beth Gilbert said she agreed that grant funding is needed in city neighborhoods and asked city Administrator Ted Wampole if grant applications for city projects are prioritized.
Wampole first noted that the WVSA pump station serves about 13,000 city residents and hasn’t been upgraded since it was installed in 1977.
In response to Gilbert, Wampole said city Grants Coordinator Mark Barry receives the applications, administrators review them and sometimes contact applicants to request further information, and the administration decides whether or not to ask council for permission to forward the applications to the state for consideration. It’s the state authority that prioritizes projects.
Other local projects for which grant applications to be forwarded to the state are:
• Improvements to the city police department’s gun firing range — $360,000.
• Renovation/restoration work on the Irem Temple — $300,000.
• Acquiring and renovating a South Franklin Street structure for a Children’s Service Center out-patient therapy program for adolescents and adults with substance abuse disorders — $330,000. In other business, council approved:
• Taking a $3 million tax anticipation note from PNC Bank as the lowest responsible bidder with a 1.76 percent interest rate. Other bids included rates of 1.95 percent and 2.19 percent, from M&T and FNCB, respectively. The loan, typically taken out at the start of each year to fund city operations until revenues start coming in, is due for payoff by Dec. 31, 2018.
• The mayor’s nomination of Jerry Meehan to the city Municipal Authority.
• Entering an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Health for a $191,399 Health Preparedness Grant.
• Selling to Michael Chmiola a small, L-shaped piece of city property abutting his land near Vine and East Division streets for $500.
• A resolution supporting an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution transferring decennial redistricting from the state legislature to a citizen committee.
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