Revised budget may slash Claude Kehler Community Park funds
SHAMOKIN - A revised budget slashing costs for proposed renovations at Claude Kehler Community Park will soon be presented for approval by the state.
Project coordinators are preparing a budget proposal for city council's approval that would cut the project from $500,000 to $300,000, all of which would be grant funding, according to Tom Grbenick, a grant contractor.
If council is on board, it would than be turned over to state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
"We're just trying to piece an alternative scenario together. Our hope is that we can still have a project that is good for the city and that satisfies DCNR's grant requirements," Grbenick said Friday.
DCNR awarded Shamokin a $250,000 grant in December through its Community Conservation Partnership Program. It was sought by and approved under the direction of the previous iteration of city council and former city clerk Steve Bartos.
The grant awards are required to be matched in full, meaning Shamokin would have to bring $250,000 to the table or risk losing the award. A combination of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and recreation tax money was initially considered to meet the matching amount.
The city is beset by economic hardship. An estimated $800,000 loan is still being pursued to pay off an accumulation of unpaid bills from 2013. The recreation tax has since been reduced by more than half, with that money redirected in the 2014 tax levy for debt service.
Shamokin officials are likely to ask the state to reduce the award to $150,000, easing the burden of matching the grant only with CDBG funding - a combination of federal and state grant money that must be used for specific projects such as recreation.
First discussed in February
The idea of seeking a reduction was first discussed publicly during a February meeting.
Councilwoman Barbara Moyer, director of parks and recreation, said Friday that city finances remain top priority. She supports scaling back the Kehler park project as opposed to losing the funding altogether.
"Rather than losing everything, you do what you can," she said.
Shamokin has 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 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.
The plans were to create walking paths, landscape the area and add lighting, benches and picnic areas. Two foot bridges spanning Shamokin Creek were planned to 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.
Grbenick is working on the project revisions with the city's contracted engineer, Mike Brinkash, who could not be reached for comment.
The foot bridges are expensive and likely to be scrapped, Grbenick said. A picnic pavilion could also be scuttled and less expensive materials considered.
Connecting the existing Kehler park to the proposed expansion across the creek is desirable, but Grbenick said he fully understands the city's current economic priorities. The foot bridges could be considered in another project phase should city council seek out grant funding in the future.
The revisions are expected to be discussed during Wednesday's workshop session, Lynn Dixson, the city's community development officer, said Friday.
Grbenick said DCNR officials also understand the city's predicament and wants the project to move forward. The agency seeks a finalized grant contract by June, he said.
An unrelated grant to rehabilitate the "99 steps" is also in jeopardy. The total project is estimated at $175,000 and would be completed in three phases. Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission awarded the city $25,000 last year for the first phase and Shamokin is required to come up with $35,000 to match - more money expected to come from CDBG sources. Although council has not yet acted, Mayor William D. Milbrand said Friday that he would recommend putting off the project and turning down the grant.
"At this time we just can't do it," Milbrand said.
The flood control project along Shamokin Creek and Carbon Run, funded with federal grant funding, will also be discussed Wednesday, Dixson said.
She said issues surrounding permitting will be addressed, and that deadlines on the creek project had been extended since the project had been stalled.