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Borough officials discuss programs designed to improve the community

With Tyrone’s future lying in parallel tracks with the Interstate 99 project, borough officials hope two state-funded grant program will help boost the region’s economy – and make it look a little better too.
Recently, Tyrone Borough Manager Al Drayovitch and Mayor Patricia Stoner sat down to discuss how each of these programs work and what they mean to the community of Tyrone.
HOME Investment Paternerships program
The HOME Investment Partnership program is not new to the borough. In the early 1990s, it did wonders on low-income family-owned homes in the borough. But with a need for the funding in other areas, the borough strayed away from the program for a few years.
But in 2001, officials once again referred to the 1995 survey that showed more than 400 homes in the borough were in some need of rehabilitation to bring the property up to coded standards.
After pitching the borough’s need to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, using $100,000 of the borough’s CBDG funds as leverage to show the level of commitment, a grant in the amount of $240,000 was awarded.
With the program, the borough was able to advertise the program to low-income elderly homeowners first, then to low-income family homeowners. Eligible individuals were placed on a waiting list, then reviewed by the County of Blair Redevelopment and Housing Authority and ranked in an order beginning with which homes were in the worst disrepair.
According to Drayotvitch, the program allows state-money to be funneled into homes that aren’t up to borough code. The grant money allows the borough to authorize on of three qualified inspectors to examine the home to determine what improvements can be made.
“A major problem we’re seeing is the amount of lead contained in a good number of these mostly older homes,” said Phyllis Garhart, the borough’s director of administration. She said inspectors also look for structural faults, un-insulated homes, bad windows or siding, etc.
With the grant received in 2001, the borough began 10 projects and all are nearly finished.
Earlier this month, the borough agreed to proceed with establishing resolutions to get the ball rolling again. On Jan. 6, officials unanimously agreed to adopt a document outlining the guidelines for inclusion in the program. The borough also gave the go-ahead to authorize the filing of a $320,000 grant application with DCED to begin a new round of projects.
Like in 2001, the borough again contributed an additional $100,000 of CBDG money.
“The grant application doesn’t require matching funds,” said Stoner, “but what it does is show how committed we are to the program.”
According to grant coordinator with DCED Dale Fields, the Tyrone program is working just like it was written to.
“The organization (COBRAH) that’s administering the grant is doing a fine job,” said Fields. “The housing in Tyrone has definitely improved and we’re hoping the borough continues pushing for this money.”
According to Stoner, the perception in some parts of the community is that funds in this program could or would be used in areas other than for housing rehabilitation.
“That is totally not the case,” said Stoner. “It’s impossible for the funds to be used for anything but that. These funds are administered very carefully and the state wouldn’t allow anyone to use funds for one program in another.”
Drayovitch echoed Stoner’s statement.
“Because it takes so many different organizations to operate a project like this,” he said, “messing with the funding would take a cooperated effort by everyone involved. It’s, like Pat said, impossible.”
Fields said the program is audited every three years and he has personally visited homes in Tyrone that were completed through the program.
“I ask each family if they are happy with the program and if they are happy with how it was administered,” he said. “Everything I’ve seen in Tyrone is right up to standards. The program is working great and there’s no reason to believe anything is amiss here.”
Fields said if an entity is misappropriating funds, the state would know about the problem immediately due to the program’s “close scrutiny.” He said if a municipality if found to be misappropriating funds of any kind, the amount would be repaid from that municipalities general fund.
“And they can probably forget about receiving state funding anytime thereafter,” he said.
Should the recently submitted application be accepted by DCED, Garhart said the money will be used to begin the next round of rehabilitation, which would include approximately 15 homes.
For more information on the HOME program, contact Tyrone Borough at 684-1330.
Streetscape/Gateway project
The Streetscape project began years ago in Tyrone. This program is funded through the state Department of Transportation and its funding is required to be used on an overall plan for downtown revitalization.
When the idea of Streetscape developed into a project, borough officials decided to seek transportation funds to help rebuild the downtown. They immediately thought of PENNDOT.
“Really, they kind of owed us one,” said Stoner. “When they decided to build the new Route 220 Bypass around town, they took about 200 homes.”
They learned of a new PENNDOT initiative known as Sustainable Streets, a program that allowed municipalities to receive statement for town improvements.
“It was extremely competitive fighting for these funds,” said Stoner. “In fact, we were just one of six municipalities in the state that was awarded funding.”
That year, 2000, the borough received a $932,000 grant, but after a study of the downtown and learning that entire redo of the downtown would costs in the neighborhood of $2 million, PENNDOT decided to increase the funding to about $1.1 million.
The improvements in this “Streetscape/Gateway” project would include refurbished sidewalks that are ADA accessible, newly planted trees along the roadway, underground electric and conduit work, a new period lighting scheme, new curbing, etc.
Phase I consisted mostly of projects in the areas on Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street. Some projects originally proposed for this phase were deferred because of the potential of future development in those specific areas.
This phase is nearly complete, save for minor cosmetic improvements, said Drayovitch. He said it’s now time to begin thinking about Phase IIA.
At the Jan. 6 meeting, officials discussed the recent proposals from Innovative Consulting Group for the redesign of plans and construction management services for the first part of Phase IIA, which includes about $310,000 grant funding.
According to Drayovitch, $230,000 of this funding was awarded through PENNDOT as enhancement money. Drayovitch these funds include federal monies filtered down through PENNDOT. The amount also includes $80,000 of state-funding that was once earmarked for the installation of a train platform at the Tyrone Intermodal Center.
In the spring of last year, questions were raised by AMTRAK as to the continuation of passenger service. Then Norfolk Southern told the borough it must construct a platform three times larger than the one initially decided upon and also a structure that would allow passengers to walk across the tracks to board trains on the side of the tracks opposite the station.
Drayovitch said this drove the costs of the project way out of reach.
“We were probably talking a million dollars right there,” he said. “We only had an $80,000 grant.”
The borough decided to request PENNDOT, the issuer of the $80,000 in grant funding, to move the funds from the platform project into the Streetscape project. PENNDOT agreed because the money was still being used in a transportation project area.
“The funds set aside for the Streetscape project are for that and just that,” said Stoner. “We have specific projects that are outlined that need to be completed as they are outlined. We just can’t move the funding here and there. No Streetscape money is going into housing rehabilitation, and no housing rehabilitation money is going into the Streetscape project.
“It just can’t possibly happen.”
Phase IIA of the project consists of areas along Logan Avenue, near the VFW and Citizens’ Fire Hall; on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 11th and 12th streets; on Tenth Street, from Logan to the train underpass; on Logan, from Tenth to Herald Street.
Officials believe $310,000 would be enough to complete the project.
That leaves Phase IIB, which would consist of areas of Logan and Pennsylvania Avenue. Engineers estimate the cost of that stage of the project in the neighborhood of $650,000. That, however is a few years down the road as eligibility for this type of transportation funding is only awarded every other year.
“We’re really excited about the programs that we (the borough) have become involved in and it’s going to make our community look that much better each and every year,” said Stoner. “It will be exciting to see all the commuters coming off I-99 and parking on the beautiful streets of our downtown. They’ll visit our shops and stores and take stories home of what a nice downtown Tyrone has.
“It’s just a matter of time and with the direction of this community’s leaders and their unprecedented support, Tyrone will again become what it once was.”