Luzerne County plans to provide $15 million in grants to municipalities for infrastructure projects, county Manager C. David Pedri announced Tuesday.
The money comes from a business development loan fund that is no longer in high demand and cannot be used for county general fund operating expenses, officials said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, has been encouraging community development offices to reprogram large pools of unused funds instead of allowing the money to continue sitting unused in the bank.
“The county is very happy to make $15 million of improvements to the areas of our county that need it the most,” Pedri said in a release. “The funds utilized for these projects can truly make a difference in our communities.”
Set up in 1982, the loan fund has provided more than 669 loans to economic development agencies and for-profit businesses since its creation, county Community Development Director Andrew Reilly has said. The fund steadily grew through interest earnings and repayments.
However, Reilly said there was only one loan requested in 2016 and none in 2017 or 2018 to date, possibly because other loan options have comparable interest rates without federal requirements for job creation and economic benefits.
Street and sewer repairs, recreation improvements, flood and drainage work and demolition of architectural barriers and blighted structures are among the projects that may be eligible for the funding.
In general, projects must be in low and moderate income areas to qualify, officials said.
Pedri said he will personally reach out to 25 municipalities that already have established income-eligible zones to alert them to the funding.
Eligibility maps show four boroughs entirely meet income requirements: Edwardsville, Freeland, Nescopeck and Shickshinny.
Parts of these municipalities also meet requirements: Ashley, Dupont, Duryea, Exeter, Kingston, Larksville, Luzerne, Plymouth, West Hazleton, Wyoming and these townships — Black Creek, Butler, Foster, Hanover, Hazle, Jenkins, Newport, Plains, Salem, Sugarloaf and Wilkes-Barre.
Projects outside these zones also may qualify if municipalities complete surveys demonstrating at least 51 percent of the impacted residents are low or moderate income, Reilly said.
The county’s four cities — Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Pittston and Nanticoke — already receive their own community development funding and are not eligible for the county grants unless they demonstrate projects they are investing in also would help residents outside city boundaries, Reilly said.
Funding to target blight may be awarded for a project outside an income-eligible zone, but Reilly said only a small portion of the $15 million can be spent on this type of work.
Due to the strict requirements and push for more shovel-ready projects, Reilly does not expect a scenario where requests exceed available funding.
The county also is researching if any deteriorating county-owned roads and bridges fall within eligible areas that may qualify for funding.
Pedri stressed no county tax dollars will be spent or sacrificed on the infrastructure projects.
Before the county issues project applications, it must accept public input through March 19 on the plan to use the loan fund for infrastructure.
A meeting to seek public comment will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday in the council meeting room at the courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre. Questions and comments also may be submitted by contacting community development from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at 570-824-7214.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.