Lebanon County will apply for nearly $1.2 million in state funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for renovations for affordable housing. 

Dan Lyons, programs director for the Lebanon County Redevelopment Authority, asked the county commissioners on Thursday to grant permission for LCRA to be the agency that will apply for $1.19 million through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s (DCED) Whole-Home Repairs Program.

Lyons told commissioners the state had announced last year that it was making federal ARPA funds – which were first distributed to states in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – to all 67 Pennsylvania counties based on a formula it had developed. Funding is available to low-income households and landlords who provide affordable housing to qualified renters. 

When asked by LebTown what the formula entailed, commission chairman Robert Phillips said it is based on the percentage of affordable housing within a given county.  

“It is primarily a housing rehabilitation program, very similar to other programs we run through the redevelopment authority,” Lyons explained to the commissioners about the Whole-Home Repairs Program. “It has a component for owner/occupants in addition to landlords. This program will provide loans to landlords who provide affordable housing rental units. It also has a job training or a workforce development component.”

Lyons said 4 percent of the funding can be earmarked for administrative costs, and added that, if approved, the authority would submit the application on behalf of Lebanon County before the end of January, which is when DCED’s application window closes. 

In a letter to the commissioners dated Dec. 2, Karen Raugh, executive director of LCRA, wrote that it was a “new housing rehab program for county-wide agencies to address habitability and safety concerns as well as improve energy and water efficiency, and make units accessible for persons with disabilities.”

Rauch wrote that this program is similar to others it administers and “that there is robust demand for the type of services the Whole-Home Repairs Program is designed to provide.” She also said the program is comparable to others it administers because it “uses the same income eligibility and ownership standards, serves the same target populations, and will draw largely on the same pool of contractors.”

In other county business, Bob Dowd, director of the Department of Emergency Services, presented four different action items, including change orders in the amount of $72,343 for the new $30 million DES (911) Center being constructed in North Cornwall Township.

“The majority of this change order is for changes to the stormwater system that, as the land was developed, they found places that they had to change a few things to make it work, and this is a result of that – which is what you would expect with a project like this,” said Dowd. “The rest of it are minor changes.”

Dowd said other changes include a credit from the general contractor for some construction materials that were no longer needed once changes were made to a section of a wall. “This is an excellent thing and it shows the integrity of the contractor,” he added, noting that the credit totaled $1,488. 

Other change orders included revisions to the parking lot design, in the amount of $6,872, $8,025 for changes to indoor signage, and $4,987 for a wooden blocking strip to be installed around the entire exterior of the building to boost the roof’s stability.

“You have to be pleased with these kinds of changes, considering where we are at in this process,” said Phillips.   

Dowd agreed with Phillips. “We anticipated – or we budgeted – for $1.7 million worth of change orders, anticipating that this (the building’s construction) will evolve, but we’re through a lot of the expensive phases and we’re at $280,000 to date, so we’re doing very well. It‘s a testament to good engineering.” 

Dowd also presented renewal of the county’s annual professional services agreement with MCM Consulting Group of State College, in the amount of $96,788.50 for the state-mandated Hazard Mitigation Plan, which is required in each Pennsylvania county. 

“The Hazard Mitigation Plan’s purpose is to identify any hazards or vulnerabilities in the county and put in place any potential remedies for them,” said Dowd, who added that the cost of this contract is covered by a state grant. “This allows us – all the way down to the municipal level – to be eligible if any funding streams open up to address things like flood mitigation, snow mitigation, any sort of natural or man-made disaster that comes down. This allows funding to be allocated to us – if it is identified as such.”

The third item presented by Dowd was for a change in the agreement Lebanon County has with York-based Capital Area Communications, a company that has traditionally provided about 20 hours a week in support of the county’s emergency radio communications system. 

“This changes that number of hours to just a bulk number of hours per year that will be applied to projects as needed,” said Dowd. “This lowers the contract amount that we are paying, which was around the $70,000 range, down to $39,600.” 

The final DES item presented to the commissioners was for approval of a sharing agreement with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania State Radio system. 

“This is a mutually beneficial agreement that basically says, in exchange for us allowing the Pennsylvania State Police to locate radio equipment on our towers, we can do the same on their towers,” said Dowd. “In the interest of reducing overhead and utilizing existing infrastructure, this is a good thing for everyone.” 

Commissioners unanimously approved all four items presented by Dowd. 

Commissioners also approved a requested change in vendor to Phoenix Graphic Services of Rochester, New York, from Runbeck Election Services of Phoenix, Arizona, which had been selected to provide mail-in balloting services at the previous meeting of the commissioners on Jan. 5.

At its last meeting, the commissioners had approved Runbeck to provide its services, but pivoted the next day to the other vendor that had been presented by Drasher as a bid finalist. On Jan. 5 and again at Thursday’s meeting, Drasher noted that both companies’ bids were comparable and that he’d be happy to select either one as the county’s 2023 mail-in ballot service provider.

“Runbeck (the original vendor) is overextended and unable to move forward with the contract anyway, so we’re going to move to Phoenix,” Drasher told commissioners. “The nice thing is that both vendors play nice with each other already. The differential that we were looking at the last time I was here is that we are buying a very large Runbeck machine that’s a fantastic piece of equipment. It would have made sense to bundle it together.” 

In other county business, the commissioners: 

  • Approved Ordinance Number 64, which changes the Uniform Parcel Identifier fees that are paid to the Recorder of Deeds office by applicants from $10 to $20.
  • Voted to certify county funds for farmland preservation, an annual process to establish the base amount that’s being applied to matching dollars that are potentially available through the state Department of Agriculture for the county’s farmland preservation program. The total accumulated amount that was certified for a match for 2023 is $252,277.
  • Accepted two hotel tax grant fund applications. The first was in the amount of $6,888 for Friends of Coleman Park to make needed renovations to sports fields that are used for softball tournaments that draw out of town guests to Lebanon County throughout the year. The second was for the Pennsylvania Gourd Society’s June event at the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center and Fairgrounds in the amount of $5,287. PGS’s funding request is for advertising, marketing, concession costs, and awards.
  • Granted a full exemption request from real estate taxes to one fully disabled veteran.
  • Approved the treasurer’s report, various personnel transactions as presented, and the minutes of its Jan. 5 meeting.
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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; Lancaster...