Extension anticipated for DCED deadline
SUNBURY - Although no formal notification has been received by Northumberland County officials, Commissioner Richard Shoch said it is anticipated that the county will receive a 30-day extension from its Feb. 7 deadline to address the payback of state grant money for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP).
During Tuesday's commissioners' meeting, Shoch said he was informed that the deadline will be extended 30 days. The commissioner also repeated a request he made last month for his fellow commissioners to pass a motion to have an investigation conducted by the inspector general from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the FBI into the alleged mismanagement of the state grant that requires the county to pay back as much as $215,150.66 for failing to provide proper documentation to determine client eligibility.
"I'm not making any accusations, but I think the board as a whole should send a letter to the FBI and HUD requesting an investigation be conducted into this matter," Shoch said. "I think we owe it to the citizens of Northumberland County to make sure there was no fraud involved. An 80 percent failure rate for the grant program throws up a lot of red flags."
In addition to the HPRP, Shoch said he welcomed an investigation into other grant programs involving the county.
Commissioner Stephen Bridy, who said he has already talked to the FBI about the matter, isn't opposed to an investigation, but said there is no reason for the board to make a formal motion to that effect since any commissioner or member of the public has a right to reach out to authorities.
Shoch agreed, but said having the board formally request a probe would carry more clout.
Clausi agreed with Bridy that no formal motion was necessary, and told Shoch he had the same power as the other commissioners to request an investigation.
Clausi, who applauded the efforts of Congressman Lou Barletta for his assistance in getting the deadline extended, has repeatedly claimed he didn't vote to approve the HPRP, but Shoch disagreed. Shoch said county meeting minutes show that Clausi did in fact approve the program.
Clausi did not respond to Shoch's comments before moving on to the next topic.
Rick Reichner, of Sunbury, and Paul Leshinskie, of Coal Township, citizens who spoke during public comment, said they agreed with Shoch that passing a formal motion requesting an investigation would show the board welcomes such a move, which they believe is warranted.
HPRP was authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), and the funding was dispersed to state and local governments to keep individuals in their homes or to help individuals and families who were already homeless find affordable housing. The county received $365,361 from the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to implement the HUD program, and it must provide documentation to support the use of $215,150.66 to clients deemed ineligible by DCED.
Tax collector raise
In other business, the commissioners approved a 2.5 percent increase for all tax collectors in Northumberland County on a 2-1 vote with Bridy opposing.
The commissioners were requested by the cities of Sunbury and Shamokin to grant the increase for their respective tax collectors and assistants before the upcoming election. Northumberland County Tax Assessor Al Bressi explained that the county is responsible to pay one-third of the salaries for the tax collectors in the only two cities in the county, while the respective municipalities and school districts pay the remaining two-thirds of the salaries.
Bressi said the county pays taxpayers in the remaining 34 municipalities $1.50 per real estate tax bill and 25 cents for each $5 per capita tax bill.
All the tax collectors will receive the increase from the county. Any other increases must be approved by the municipalities and school districts.
Clausi said the increases will only cost the county approximately $3,000, while providing the tax collectors a little more money for their efforts.
Shoch and Clausi said it's becoming more difficult to maintain tax collectors.