Local share of casino revenue totals just over $6.9 million; committee recommends 35 projects

Barbara Miller

Revenue available from The Meadows Racetrack and Casino to be, by law, plowed back into Washington County dipped slightly in the past year.

In recommending a list of projects to the county commissioners for approval today, there is $6.9 million available, down from a typical $7.5 million from years past, noted Jeff Kotula, chairman of the panel that evaluates proposed projects vying for funds.

“The casino has done some great things to improve, to add some new amenities and options out there terms of dining, so I look forward to their new marketing efforts to rejuvenate and re-energize The Meadows,” Kotula said Wednesday after giving a list of recommended projects to the county commissioners.

“I think it’s been a great addition to Washington County, and I think that will continue to be the case.”

The $6.9 million is not all the money available, Kotula emphasized. With $26.5 million worth of additional grants and other “leverage” that local governments, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations have amassed, the “total impact” of gambling revenue for use in Washington County translates to a total of $33.4 million.

The city of Washington received two recommendations under community improvement, one of which is an ongoing project to build a restroom at the Community Pavilion on South Main Street. The recommended 2020 funding was $150,615.

“We’ve seen great use for that pavilion, not only with the farmers market but with the Whiskey Rebellion Festival each year and the First Friday events and the Italian Festival,” said Mayor Scott Putnam. “There’s a need for permanent restroom facilities at that location.”

With $149,385 leverage amount already designated for the project, Putnam said the 2020 LSA money should cover the rest of the project. He said the construction will probably start next summer.

The other Washington project is a downtown façade improvement program, which was recommended for $100,000, with a $25,000 match. Business owners in the downtown area of the city can apply for portions of that funding to renovate storefronts.

In the last two years of the program, Putnam said, the city has seen about $175,000 be invested into the improvement of downtown façades.

“I think you can see a great difference in our downtown over the last two years,” he said. “Obviously, this LSA program is allowing the city to do more things without increasing taxes.”

The Dreamers Co., a Washington nonprofit organization, also received $250,000 to make improvements to the former Immaculate Conception convent at 130 N. Franklin St. The Dreamers Co. purchased the building two years ago and has been renovating it into a headquarters and community center.

LSA funding will be used for electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Aaron Miller, on behalf of The Dreamers, said it would be the first LSA grant they’ve received and the largest project they’ve tackled.

“If it’s awarded as recommended, it will go toward getting us past the large mechanical issues with the building,” he said. “We needed the help. It’s the first commercial property that we’re working on, and we’re excited for making renaissance a reality.”

With 88 requests for funding totaling more than $27 million, the have-nots outnumbered the haves.

The committee rejected North Strabane Township’s bid for nearly $1.7 million. The township wanted to use the funds to purchase property affected by two 2018 landslides in the Majestic Hills residential development.

Three damaged houses had to be razed and the township wants to purchase a fourth, which is unoccupied, so it can finish restoration of Oakwood Drive. The municipality also wants to acquire property to restore water and sewage lines.

Manager Andrew Walz, whose township specifically requested $1,678,000 from the LSA review committee, first heard about the rejection Wednesday afternoon during a telephone call from the Observer-Reporter.

“We’re obviously happy that the board considered this and we’re obviously upset by the result,” Walz said. “We’ll do what we can to help residents affected by this disaster. We’ll leave no stone unturned to assist them in their time of need.”

He added that the township has lawsuits pending against multiple bodies and has applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.

Kotula said the number of projects proposed ranked among the largest in the history of the program. He encouraged any entity that did not make the cut to contact a member of the LSA committee to discuss how to make the proposal more likely to be funded in the future.

“Sometimes they’re just missing the mark a little bit,” Kotula said.

Recommendations for the latest round of funding were the first to be announced since state Rep. Bud Cook (R-West Pike Run Township) took aim at the program last spring, is still seeking co-sponsors for legislation to redirect the money to school district tax relief for individual property owners.

Kotula discounted the effect Cook’s criticism may have had.

“This was a very typical year for the LSA process and review committee itself,” he said.

“There were no changes to the program, no changes to the process and the committee continued our focus, as we have for over a decade, on vetting and recommending high-impact projects for Washington County.

“The process has demonstrated success for over 11 years, and we will are very fortunate to have the ability to invest in ourselves as a county and community through the LSA program.”

Rick Shrum contributed to this story.

Click to see the whole list of approved LSA projects.