City wants state to scale back grant
SHAMOKIN - City officials have asked a state agency to scale back the amount of grant funding awarded for an expansion project at Claude Kehler Community Park.
The city applied for a Community Conservation Partnership Program grant and was awarded $250,000 in December. It's required to match that amount in full, with a combined $500,000 in cash and in-kind service committed.
The funding was planned not to come from the general fund but rather from portions of Community Development Block Grant funding the city expects to receive from 2014 to 2016, according to Lynn Dixson, community development officer.
Another potential funding source, the city's recreation tax, is unlikely. That tax had stood at 7.028 mills in 2013, bringing in an estimated $168,000. But that fund will bring in less than half the tax revenue in 2014 after 4.028 mills were shifted to a different fund to cover outstanding debt.
Either way, Mayor William D. Milbrand isn't sure Shamokin can afford it.
"We have priorities
and we have to live within our means," Milbrand said. "Our main concern above all else has got to be the loan for the $800,000 in unfunded debt."
An unrelated grant to rehabilitate the "99 steps" is also in jeopardy.
Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission awarded the city $25,000 last year for the first phase of a three-phase project to restore the stone staircase to its original condition. The city is required to come up with $35,000 to match - more money expected to come from CDBG sources.
Milbrand is wary of allocating the necessary funds for the first phase let alone for what would be required for a project estimated at $175,000 for full completion. He said perhaps down the road the city could consider a far less detailed project to make the staircase functional.
City council struggled to balance the 2014 budget, approving a revised version Thursday that avoids the long-term furlough of two full-time police officers. (See related story.)
There's also the pending pursuit of a loan to cover an estimated $800,000 in unpaid bills, referred to as "unfunded debt," that had piled up by the close of 2013.
These and other financial factors led to a directive for Dixson to work with state Department of Conservation of Natural Resources to reduce the project scope, thereby reducing the project cost.
Milbrand said he anticipates DCNR officials to meet with city council to discuss options.
The city has now twice received state funds through DCNR for the Kehler park, located at Third and Arch streets.
In 2007, Shamokin received approximately $200,000 through the Community Conservation Partnership Program to revamp the park, an amount that was also required to be matched. The project, known as Phase 1, was delayed. When it resumed, costs increased. Dixson said DCNR helped by adjusting project scope to stay within the original budget.
The latest project, Phase 2, would expand the park across Shamokin Creek and onto a plot of city-owned land behind the former Coal Hole night club along Walnut Street.
A landscaped area with walking paths, lighting and benches is planned. Two foot bridges spanning the creek would link the expansion to the band shell area as well as the parking area along Third Street. Permeable pavers were planned for the parking area.
No one at City Hall is sure how the project will be altered, and there is no dollar amount targeted for the reduction.
The grants were pursued by former City Clerk Steve Bartos who had received approval from city council along the way.
A third, much more complicated grant-funded project - flood control along Shamokin Creek and Carbon Run - has stalled without a project administrator.
That role had belonged to Bartos, but he's been out of City Hall on medical leave since Nov. 13 and had resigned from the clerk position this week.
Bartos helped Shamokin receive $3.4 million in federal funds for a project that includes the historic preservation of the stone creek channel behind the city's downtown.
Milbrand said Mike Brinkash, project engineer, was asked to put the project on hold, adding that there were no immediate deadlines. Brinkash will be invited to a city workshop to explain the existing time line to council members, three of whom who were not in office as the project was pursued.
Dixson was directed to contact Federal Emergency Management Agency, which funded the project, about appointing an interim project administrator.