Economic development sees relief in budget proposal

BROOKVILLE — While human services, higher education and basic education may endure significant cuts once the state’s final budget is approved, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) is seeing a little relief from the cuts this year.

“All in all, we did OK; we fared OK,” said Eric Bridges, executive director of the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission. “There are still some areas of concern, but at the end of the day, we’ll right-size the organization and do what we have to do, to maintain a high level of service.”

Tuesday, Bridges presented the Jefferson County Commissioners with a report on how the county has benefited from various projects over the past year-and-a-half.

According to Bridges, the commission serves as the region’s rural transportation planning organization, and through a committee, is principally responsible to solicit, identify and prioritize the region’s transportation projects.

Since Jan. 7, 2011, 12 Jefferson County transportation projects have been put out to bid for a total of more than $12 million.

A $30,000 grant also helped to purchase new stop signs in the county.
In addition, the commission has helped with government procurement, development finance, workforce operations and Women, Infants & Children (WIC).

From May 1, 2011, through May 11, 2012, contracts were awarded to Jefferson County companies as a result of technical assistance from North Central’s government procurement program, totaling slightly more than $45 million, one of which was a $40 million contract with Brookville Equipment to supply locomotives to the transit authority of Florida.

“There’s been a lot of activity in Jefferson County,” Bridges said.
Also in his report, Bridges said North Central has closed on 42 separate loans to various companies in Jefferson County since 2003, a combined total of $14.7 million, and has approved five CDL training requests in the last three weeks.

North Central also receives an allocation for WIC. Currently, 902 county residents participate in WIC, which is within 95 percent of the target established by the state.

“We need to be at least 80 percent or above in order to secure continuing funding,” Bridges said. “It’s the highest percentage of all of our areas, so we’re really pleased about that.”

Right now, North Central is also helping the county’s Department of Economic Development with its business park project, which is considered a “top priority” project.

Bridges said the project has recently become compartmentalized after the county had difficulty securing funding through the Economic Development Administration (EDA).

He said the project has been scaled back from a $4 million project, and the county is now writing an EDA grant for only $500,000.

“The EDA request is now specific for infrastructure to come under I-80 into the park,” he said. “The challenge is figuring out how does Jefferson County take what it wants to do and work it into something the EDA will support. We’re still going to pursue it. We’re hopeful that the project will be funded.”

With regard to the budget, Bridges said he is mainly concerned about possible cuts to the Department of Public Welfare, Workforce Development and Workforce Investment.

“We may see some double-digit reductions in that funding in the next fiscal year — that’s going to be an area of concern for us,” he said.

“But all things considered, there were programs that had endured reductions in previous years, and we didn’t see so much in the governor’s budget this year. Our conversation really switched more toward our legislative advocacy, trying to get the senate at the house to support the governor’s budget with respect to the economic development program through DCED, and so far so good, it looks like that’s going to happen.”

Also Tuesday, the commissioners:
• Approved the Punxsutawney Groundhog Festival Committee’s tourism grant application for $2,000, which was submitted by the Hotel Tax Committee.
The money will be used for advertising.

• Re-appointed Clyde Salandra and Judi Anthony to the Jefferson County Planning Commission. Both terms will expire Dec. 31, 2015.

Kristin Hullihen, planning director for Jefferson County, said there are two vacancies on the planning commission, and those interested should contact her at 814-849-3047.

In other business:
• All county offices will be closed Monday in observance of Memorial Day.

• The jail board will hold a regularly scheduled meeting at noon Tuesday.

• The next regularly scheduled commission meeting will take place at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 12.