New Castle News

September 5, 2013

County to handle block grant money again

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Lawrence County government is taking back the administration of its federal Community Development Block Grant money.

The annual allocation has been handled for the past 18 years by Lawrence County Community Action Partnership.  The commissioners decided Tuesday to put the money back into the hands of the Lawrence County Planning Office and its director, Amy McKinney.

The planning office has assisted the service agency with the funds for the past 10 years, and actually handled the program itself 18 years ago.

It is up to the county to determine who adminsters the program, which is to benefit low- to moderate-income communities.

“Lawrence County Community Action Partnership has done a tremendous job with the administration all these years,” Commissioner Steve Craig commented at the commissioners meeting.

Pointing out some communities “have benefited greatly,” he said, “stormwater problems that have bedeviled South New Castle” have been resolved as a result of the grant.

But the county’s takeover of the program “will help us with our bottom line in terms of administrative funding,” he said.

Community Action Partnership has been reaping up to 18 percent of the grant for administrative fees. That money now will go to the county.

“It’s my understanding that the state is moving to get this back to the counties,” Commissioner Bob Del Signore commented.

Commissioner Dan Vogler said the commissioners send letters to all the municipalities each year, inviting them to submit requests for the funds.

“Surprisingly, a lot of municipalities have never submitted requests.”

New Castle, Union Township and Ellwood City are exempt from getting the county’s funds. Those communities receive their own block grant money because of their percentages of low- to moderate-income people.

For right now, those three communities will continue to administer their own programs, Vogler said.

Shenango also is an entitlement community, but a few years ago the state directed that its funds also be administered through Community Action Partnership. The county now will oversee Shenango’s program as well.

Del Signore said the commissioners met with Tom Scott, Community Action Partnership’s executive director, who pledged his support in helping the county through the transition.

This year’s allocation is $240,000, which is a $20 increase from last year.

Shenango’s entitlement this year is $105,000.

Deborah R. Hennon, director of emergency and community services for Community Action Partnership, pointed out that the county’s allocation used to be $500,000.

In addition to improvement projects, a percentage of the funds have been used to continue a 20-year-old program of housing rehabilitation for people who meet income guidelines.

The use of this year’s money will be determined by whatever requests the counties get from communities, Vogler said.

Last year’s block grant was used to buy equipment for Wampum’s sewage treatment plant. Some also went to housing rehabilitation, the food bank and transportation.

The county will conduct two public hearings before approving the use of the funds.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)