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Lebanon County Commissioners on Thursday approved several requests from its redevelopment authority to obtain funding through the state’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for 2021 and shift funding from a prior year’s budget for ongoing projects.

Commissioners approved submission of the 2021 CDBG application, which is due next week to Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development, and an adjustment to the 2019 budget to accommodate additional expenditures on two projects whose costs have risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dan Lyons, programs director of the Lebanon County Redevelopment Authority, said the 2021 application is nearly ready to be submitted now that the public comment period has concluded for local municipalities seeking funds for future projects.

“Every year the county receives an entitlement allocation from the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development and goes through a process to receive those funds,” Lyons said Thursday. “The application is due a week from today and the process started this summer with a public hearing, where he asked members of the public for potential use of the community development funding or past program performance.”

He added that the county solicited funding requests from municipalities with the exception of Lebanon city, which is covered under the federal Housing and Urban Development program, and South Lebanon Township, which receives its own entitlement from the state.

“Now we have an interesting piece of news that we learned earlier this week,” said Lyons. “As a result of the 2020 Census, there will be another local state entitlement community, and that is Millcreek Township. So for two decades now, it has been the county and on behalf of South Lebanon Township, and beginning in 2022, it will be the county on behalf of South Lebanon and Millcreek townships.”

Lyons said the exact entitlement for Millcreek Township is unknown at this time. He expects it to be around the state minimum of between $70,000 and $80,000 per year.

Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz asked Lyons how a change in the way prisoners are calculated – moving their census data location from where they are housed while in jail to their home municipality – might impact South Lebanon Township, the location of the county prison.

“I suspect that will impact the data for South Lebanon Township if they are not going to count the prisoners anymore, but we were not notified of any change to the township’s entitlement,” said Lyons, who added that South Lebanon Township receives their own earmark of $150,000 per year as part of the CDBG program.

“I’m not sure, but I believe they are protected under a different arrangement with the state,” he said. “They were actually included as an entitlement under some sort of impacted communities. In the early ’80s there was a statewide study where South Lebanon qualified under that provision and that has remained untouched despite the change in census data.”

Commissioner chairman Robert Phillips said the $150,000 that South Lebanon Township receives seems like “an unfair allocation” when they get about half of the entire county’s allocation. Phillips said he believes that Cedar Haven most likely impacts the funding amount that South Lebanon Township receives, which Lyons confirmed, adding that the prison population also influences the formula used to determine how funds are allocated.

In addition to approving the 2021 CDBG funding request, the commissioners also granted the redevelopment authority the ability to shift about $35,000 for two ongoing projects, in Jonestown and Myerstown boroughs, that had been approved as part of the authority’s 2019 budget. The shift of funds was necessitated due to the rise in construction costs caused in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have the money and we are doing construction projects this year with those funds,” said Lyons. “The construction projects we bid this year came in higher than the cost estimates that were prepared pre-pandemic in 2019. We are requesting to take money from the county’s rehab program line item within the CDBG program to fund the excesses for the Myerstown ambulance and Jonestown projects, construction projects that are underway.”

In other county business, the commissioners agreed to:

  • Provide financial assistance to two organizations through the county’s hotel tax fund for promotional purposes. A total of $4,000 was approved for the Lebanon Valley Poultry Fanciers to support a $8,000 promotional budget for their 2022 poultry show. In its application, the organization noted that visitors from 18 states traditionally participate at the event. The Mount Gretna Historical Society will receive $600 to construct 14 signs for a self-guided historical tour of the borough.
  • Receive the donation of one acre of land from Sue Ellen Bowman, 365 Tunnel Hill Road, for the county’s Farmland Preservation program. Commissioner William Ames noted that the preservation program is one that’s “near and dear” to the hearts of the county commissioners.

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At the end of the meeting, the commissioners received an update from Jamie Wolgemuth, chief clerk/county administrator, on the immediate timetable for the bid process for the county’s new 911 Call Center.

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Wolgemuth said the county plans to open bids on Nov. 10, with “the idea to take action on those bids the following Thursday” at the regularly scheduled commissioner’s meeting.

“If the bids fall within the parameters that we hope they will be, then we will go out to the bond market around Thanksgiving,” he said.

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James Mentzer

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...