County commissioners consider 40 who made the local share list

Barbara Miller
Observer Reporter

Fixing the roof of a cemetery chapel, funding a historical research and education center, and redeveloping the site of a former glassmaking plant might not normally come to mind when one hears the ka-ching of a slot machine.

Pennsylvania, in legalizing casino gambling, required that a percentage of revenues be devoted to improving communities and the economy in the counties that host the gaming facilities.

So $7.4 million in revenue generated by The Meadows Racetrack & Casino will be divvied among 40 proposals in the categories of community improvement, which also seeks to remove blight; economic development, including upgrading brownfields; job training; and public interest, which includes myriad of sewer and water projects.

Washington County commissioners expect to vote today on a list of projects to forward to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, which has the final approval.

The possible allotment to projects ranges from $10,000 for the Literacy Council of Southwestern Pennsylvania for a GED test voucher and scholarship program to $800,000 for the aforementioned Brockway Glass Plant project in Canton Township adjacent to Interstate 70. It has lined up $2,767,000 in matching funds so the building can be reused for manufacturing or warehousing.

The board of directors of Monongahela Cemetery Inc. proposed the chapel restoration, and the local share committee recommended $61,443 for roof repairs, to be matched by $69,429 in outside funding.

Washington County Historical Society, which pitched the research and education center project at public hearings earlier this month, will be recommended for a quarter of a million dollars. It has raised $111,218 in matching funds.

The matching money, known as leverage, totals $12,550,560 for all 40 projects.

Jeff Kotula, chairman of Washington County’s Local Share Account Review Committee, added the recommended funding and leverage to come up with a “total impact” of slightly more than $20 million.

Twenty-eight proposals didn’t make the list recommended for funding, and commission Chairman Larry Maggi asked about them.

Kotula gave as an example the Coyle Theater in Charleroi, which the Mon Valley Alliance foresees as a combination of office and retail space plus a 200-seat auditorium.

“While it is a good project, all of their resources are not identified yet,” he said. “Some larger projects take longer than anticipated.”

Just a few minutes later, the board reviewed an agenda item for Thursday’s meeting that moved $919,334 for the Cool Valley project in Cecil Township from the 2013 local share to the current year.

The project, which totals $11 million, seeks to upgrade three intersections along Morganza Road: West McMurray Road, Lewicki Road and Southpointe Boulevard.

Kotula said since The Meadows opened its temporary casino in June 2007, it paved the way for approximately a half-billion dollars’ worth of revitalization since the first round of public hearings in January 2008. Washington County’s local share comes from 2 percent of gross terminal revenue, which is the difference between what’s been wagered and what’s been won. A permanent casino opened in April 2009.

County officials are looking toward DCED approval over the summer.

Municipalities in Washington County with all but the tiniest populations receive a chunk of local share money directly from the state.

The process has not been without controversy.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, at a news conference Tuesday in Harrisburg, said the Department of Community and Economic Development has made progress in accounting for the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on job-creation programs, including those related to the Gaming Act’s Local Share Account.

DePasquale revisited his 2014 audit of state job-creation programs, and among the topics on which he focused was that DCED should discontinue its practice of including the job creation or retention numbers from local share projects unless it discloses its monitoring or lack of monitoring.

DCED’s response to DePasquale’s 2014 audit, according to the auditor general’s news release, was that the Local Share Account is not a job-creation program.

“LSA funding is meant for community revitalization and development projects,” the department responded to the audit. “That said, DCED staff has been evaluating the best ways to differentiate the Local Share Account job numbers from the verifiable job numbers of its job creation programs in the Annual Financing Strategy report.

“DCED, in concert with the governor’s Office of Performance through Excellence, has been planning, beginning in fiscal year 2019-20, to include only job creation programs in which creation and retention are a requirement, thus can be verified through monitoring.”

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