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Pa. community block grant funds shrinking

February 26, 2006|By DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -

A few years ago, many of the homes in Fannettsburg, Pa., had failing holding tanks that leaked raw sewage into the groundwater and Indian Lake.

Since 2002, when a sewage treatment system went into operation, 169 homes in the Fannettsburg area have been connected to the sewage system, according to Metal Township (Pa.) Supervisor Anna Swailes.

Last week, the township's municipal authority received another $70,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to expand and complete the system, adding another 29 homes in the Fannettsburg area, Swailes said.

The county allocated about $850,000 in CDBG money over a period of years for the $4 million system, Swailes said. The $45 monthly user fee, she said, is less expensive for residents that once had to have holding tanks pumped out monthly.

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"Logic tells you it has to have improved the groundwater as well as the lake," Swailes said.

Since 2000, Franklin County has distributed more than $2 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Funds that have been used by communities to build sewage treatment and water systems, but the pool of money is shrinking, a trend that is expected to continue in 2007.

"Obviously, the county is going to have to extend projects over more years," said Dan Wolfe, a community planner with the county Planning Department.

Cuts in 2005 were driven by the federal deficit, and 2006 funding was affected by the Gulf Coast hurricanes that diverted more money out of the program, he said.

"We're looking at another 25 percent (cut) next year," Wolfe said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is surveying county grant managers around the state to compare the number of projects funded in 2004 to 2006 in an effort to convince the federal government to restore funding, Wolfe said.

Last week, the county commissioners approved allocations totaling $413,000 to the Dry Run Water Association, Quincy Township Municipal Authority, Mont Alto Municipal Authority and Metal Township Municipal Authority for sewer and water projects. Mercersburg also received funding for a sidewalk reconstruction project.

In most cases, these are multiyear projects that have received CDBG funding in the past or will get it in the future and the projects advance through stages, Wolfe said.

The county's emphasis has been on improving utilities within existing towns and villages. Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said that strategy will, to some extent, slow development of farms and open land for housing by providing potable water and functioning sewer systems in those communities. There also are environmental benefits, he said.

"The idea is to draw development to where those services are," Swailes said.

Elliott said Thursday the CDBG program helped Fannettsburg, Orrstown and Mont Alto afford storage tanks with a capacity of 1.4 million gallons, while water system improvements partially funded by the CDBG are providing 71 million gallons per year.

Sewage systems funded through the grants are treating 224 million gallons per year, Elliott said. CDBG funding also has been used to subsidize more than 700 sewer lateral connections for low- and moderate-income homeowners, according to Planning Department figures.

That includes about 270 homeowners in Quincy Township who received financial assistance in paying for their laterals, Township Supervisor Bob Gunder said.

Swailes said the sewage system in Fannettsburg was aided by other federal and state funds, without which it would not have been affordable for the users.

Stricter environmental regulations in the future likely will mean more mandates for communities to improve water quality and reduce pollution, but reduced funding could undercut those efforts.

"The users are going to have to foot the bill if there's no funding out there," Swailes said.

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