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Senator defends ice rink grant

March 24, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

ZULLINGER, Pa. - State Sen. Terry Punt said a grant to help build an ice rink was not approved for political reasons, but because the $250,000 will help revitalize a Franklin County community.

The grant to help Cumberland Valley On Ice build the Doris I. Billow Ice Arena was awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which Punt oversees as chairman of the state Senate's Community and Economic Development Committee.

The grant program is under fire by some state legislators, led by state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, who alleged that those who vote for Gov. Tom Ridge's policies are rewarded with grants.

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Vitali called for a halt to the program until an effort is made to prove that grant applicants are treated equally and funds are awarded on a "merit-need basis."

With the impending closing of Fort Ritchie and the downsizing of Letterkenny Army Depot, among other factors, the area could face tough economic times. The ice rink will help to rebuild the community, said Punt.

"I'll go after any program that's out there to benefit my district in Franklin County," Punt said. "If I don't or if Rep. (Patrick) Fleagle doesn't, then the money will go to someone else."

State Auditor General Robert Casey recently sent two auditors to the state Department of Community and Economic Development to request records of the grant program and interview department officials.

"They're making sure the grants meet all of the criteria," Punt said. "I'm glad to see they're taking that approach."

The $250,000 awarded to the local ice rink project is part of $14 million available through the community revitalization program.

That program is one of 32 state grant and low-interest loan programs with a total budget of $24 million, Punt said.

Some local officials applaud Punt for getting the grant for the ice skating rink.

"Sen. Punt is out there looking out for Franklin County and trying to find any grant money available for his district," said Washington Township Manager and Cumberland Valley On Ice board member Michael Christopher.

Punt, who is honorary chairman of Cumberland Valley On Ice, brought the grant program to the attention of the board members who then filled out the application last November.

"To my knowledge, Franklin County hasn't been too successful in the past getting these grants," Christopher said. "Historically they've been given to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and other big city areas."

The $250,000 will be used to reduce the debt incurred by borrowing money from banks to fund the $2.7 million project, Punt said.

Meanwhile, Cumberland Valley On Ice is continuing its capital campaign to raise $500,000. As of last week, the organization had raised $285,000.

Soil boring tests for the ice rink's foundation have been completed at the location on Pa. 16, five miles from I-81.

Christopher said they expect to open bids for construction on May 1, and ground is to be broken later that month.

The ice arena is scheduled to open in late fall.

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