County holds forum on community needs

-A A +A
By Chris Sardelli

Lancaster County Council held a public hearing last week to gather input about community needs for housing, public facilities and economic development.

Grazier Rhea of the Catawba Regional Council of Governments moderated the March 30 needs-assessment hearing to review the county’s past needs and identify new ones.

The hearing is an annual requirement that must be met for the county to apply for Community Development Block Grant funds, which address the needs of people with low and moderate incomes. The issue was open for public discussion, but no residents participated.

“We offer all citizens a chance to be part of this,” Rhea said.

Rhea then reviewed the county’s prioritized community needs from 2008, using them to identify needs for 2009.

The 2008 needs included the Brooklyn Avenue neighborhood revitalization, the rehabilitation of the Kershaw East Mill Village, road improvements on U.S. 521 and economic assistance for local businesses.

Rhea said this year the county could receive grant funds for projects that fall under three categories – community infrastructure, community enrichment and village renaissance.

There will be about $8 million available for community infrastructure needs, which can be used for items such as water, sewer and drainage improvements.

The federal government will fund $5 million for community enrichment, which could be used for new fire-fighting equipment or energy improvements.

Village renaissance projects include lighting and sidewalk improvements, such as those needed on Brooklyn Avenue.

One change in the program, Rhea said, is the state has decided not to fund any housing rehabilitation projects this year.

“You can’t go inside a home and do any improvements, but you can do outside facades,” Rhea said.

Rhea also discussed which other projects could be included on the list, and which weren’t eligible for funding.

Fire stations are eligible for grant money, but emergency services stations are not.

Rhea said roads can be considered, as long as they are part of a larger project. She said the public works department had expressed a desire to fix several roads, but those roads would need to be in specific target areas.

“Everything on the list has to be in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods,” said County Administrator Steve Willis.

Willis said Rhea will take information from the meeting, as well as any further suggestions from County Council, and prepare a revised list of community needs.

This list will take into account needs from March 2008 that are still outstanding and needs that have been met.

Applications for funding are due by September, but the needs must be identified by July to develop them properly.

Suggestions will be compiled into a report by Catawba Regional and submitted to the state Department of Commerce.

If the federal government approves any of the submitted projects, funds will be funneled through the Department of Commerce before they are allocated to the county.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416