Lebanon County is ready to enter the next phase in the development of its new comprehensive plan.

The county’s planning department was asked by the County Commissioners at a workshop session on Wednesday, Feb. 28, to submit an application for cost-sharing to the state for the development of its new plan now that the project scope and estimated costs have been submitted by Camp Hill-based Gannett Fleming.

The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code requires that county comprehensive plans be reviewed every 10 years, and updated, as needed.

Last August, the firm gathered information from county officials and additional content for the plan from township supervisors during their annual convention in October

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Preliminary cost estimates for the comprehensive plan, which will provide relevant planning guidance for community and economic development in Lebanon County for at least the next 10 years, is projected to be between $133,000 to $177,000. 

The county was provided two expenses, one for a lesser developed plan at a lower cost and one that would contain additional content and come with a higher price tag.

Julie Cheyney, director of the Lebanon County Planning Department, informed commissioners that cost-sharing with the state through the Department of Community and Economic Development is available to the county.

“We would be available for funding sources through DCED for what they call the Municipal Assistance Program, MAP funding,” said Cheyney. “That actually allows for – I think originally when they started this program the maximum you could get was $50,000. They changed those guidelines. A comprehensive plan update for a county is an eligible expense. They will fund 50 percent of that cost – of the eligible costs.”

Consulting and professional fees are among expenses considered to be eligible costs while others are outside those guidelines.

“Things that aren’t eligible are legal fees. Infrastructure would not be part of a comprehensive plan,” said Cheyney. “Doing a comprehensive plan update, I believe that 50 percent could be covered through that MAP funding.”

Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz asked if it is a competitive grant process, to which Cheyney replied, “It is.”

“They have two grant rounds, they have a spring, which is March and is coming up close,” said Cheyney, who noted the filing deadline for the spring grant application is Friday, March 8. “She (a DCED representative) encouraged me to put an application in for the March application (window). The next round won’t be until the fall of the year.”

Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz asks a question about funding for the county’s new comprehensive plan at a workshop session on Feb. 28. (James Mentzer)

A decision should come from DCED about spring funding approval in either April or May, said Cheyney. “However, she said sometimes the budget process gets in the way and delays that announcement. She can’t predict how that will go.” 

If the county gets funding in the next few months, Cheyney said she believes her department would be ready by the fall to pursue the plan. If the county doesn’t get financial approval until the fall, then it won’t be able to start its plan until July 1, 2025, since those monies won’t be released until that date.

Based on that information, county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth recommended the county move forward with applying in March – even though several items are still to be determined. The county hasn’t determined which plan they will pursue and doesn’t know whether additional state funding is available through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for the transportation portion of the comprehensive plan. 

“The most prudent way to do it right now would be to take half of the maximum and make a commitment for the other half, and however that is put together, we don’t know today,” said Wolgemuth. “Some of it is going to be in-kind. Some of it is going to be staff time. Some of it is going to be PennDOT dollars that may or may not count towards your cash match.”

Wolgemuth added that the purpose of the application is to determine how much money the state is able to provide based on how many other applications are received during this funding round. 

“If they say half, you are good to go with the other half,” said Wolgemuth. “If they say 50 (thousand), then the county has to adjust the whole project, probably. You go with what you know to be the top end and go from there.”

Commissioners asked Cheyney to have the necessary resolution language prepared for their meeting on Thursday, March 7, so it can be approved and the application filed by the deadline the following day.

Commission chairman Bob Phillips asked if the recently county-funded workforce needs and housing studies, whose information will factor into the comprehensive plan, were eligible for state funding. While the answer to his question was unknown, Cheyney was asked to follow-up with state officials in case they are expenses eligible for reimbursement.

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Cheyney previously told LebTown that Lebanon County’s first comprehensive plan was implemented in the 1970s and was more urban than countywide. Later, in 1987, an interim countywide plan was created. The last comprehensive plan, which took two years to draft, was created in 2007.

Following the workshop, the commissioners convened into executive session to discuss personnel matters.

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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...


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