County mulls how to use stimulus funds

Onorato meeting with municipal and county officials

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Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato yesterday met with a number of county department heads, municipal leaders and representatives of community organizations for an overview of the federal stimulus monies coming into the region.

So far, the county has seen an infusion of about $377 million in funds for roads and bridges, housing, social services and health and welfare, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which the Obama administration adopted early this year.

"One of the challenges we have to deal with is: How do we coordinate with all the municipalities? We want to make sure that you know what we're doing [with the stimulus funds], and we also want to hear from you about what your needs are," said Mr. Onorato.

Apart from the stimulus monies coming into the county through PennDOT for road and bridge maintenance, Mr. Onorato said the key projects his administration will undertake include sewer system upgrades, weatherization of houses in low- to moderate-income communities and demolition of abandoned houses using neighborhood stabilization funds.

County officials said much of the county's portion of stimulus funds will be awarded directly to certain parts of county government for the services those departments offer.

For example, the county Housing Authority was awarded $7.7 million from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for much-needed funding for system-wide improvements like roof and window repairs, and for the demolition of the Burns Heights public housing complex in Duquesne.

The Department of Human Services, which received $14.5 million in federal homeless assistance grants, was awarded about $2 million more from HUD for rapid rehousing of homeless families.

However, some of the stimulus funding is coming directly into the county's Department of Economic Development, which will disburse the funds for infrastructure development all across the county.

In March, the county received $5.5 million for neighborhood stabilization in communities with a high risk of home foreclosures. Some 85 municipalities are eligible for a share of the funds, but 18 of them were earmarked as the most needy.

They include: Braddock, Clairton, Duquesne, East Pittsburgh, Glassport, Homestead, McKeesport, McKees Rocks, North Braddock, Penn Hills, Port Vue, Rankin, Stowe, Swissvale, Trafford, Versailles, Whitaker and Wilkinsburg.

In addition, the county received $4.3 million in stimulus money under the Community Development Block Grant program, which will be used for court-mandated sewer upgrades.

Mr. Onorato said the funds will be critical in repairing sewer systems to comply with a state Department of Environmental Protection consent order with the county to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows.

In disbursing the stimulus funds, Mr. Onorato said "accountability is going to be a big issue with us. We will want to show how we spend every penny we get." In addition, he said, the county will list on its Web site the stimulus funds as they come in, together with the application requirements and deadlines for each program.

Charles Kolling, a county lobbyist with the Pittsburgh firm of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, cautioned county and municipal officials to consult frequently with both state and federal legislators because "in the end, they are the ones who are going to control access to the funding."

"Much of the funding is going to come through existing state programs, and so it is very important that you interface with your legislators," he said.


Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at krujumba@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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