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County funding breathes life into Lairdsville sewer project

A school bus heads down Route 118 in Lairdsville on Tuesday afternoon. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

In order to cover a shortfall of $1.1 million in grant funding for the Lairdsville sewer project, the Lycoming County commissioners approved two agreements to put the project back on track.

The project was originally to be entirely covered by $2.8 million in grants, but the low bids received by Franklin Township, where Lairdsville is located, still exceeded the funding available.

Mya Toon, the county’s chief procurement officer, told the commissioners that the shortfall was a result of the pandemic.

“That was a result of COVID as well as all the additional costs associated because of COVID and the economic impact,” Toon said.

“Because of that shortfall, they came to the commissioners and requested assistance so that it wouldn’t put a further burden on the taxpayers in Lairdsville, as well as the township,” she explained.

To assist them, the commissioners approved a grant and monitoring agreement with Franklin Township in the amount of $500,000 and a loan agreement not to exceed $700,000.

Toon said the county is still determining the source of the grant funding, either Act 13 monies or an American Rescue Plan Act grant or a combination of both.

Shannon Rossman, the county’s planning and community development director, said that because the original funding had been obtained through PENNVEST and Community Development Block Grants carries with it a specific timeframe, and there was not time to re-bid the project. There was also the fear that the bids would come in even higher.

“The reason it’s so time-sensitive is because they have contracts. They have bids from contractors that will be held for 60 or 90 days. That time’s running out,” Commissioner Rick Mirabito said, adding that in order to receive the grant funding they already have the township has to be able to prove that they are going to complete the project.

“Some of the constituents would look at this and say this is a lot of money,” Mirabito said. “It’s a very difficult situation in rural Pennsylvania.”

Noting that the median income for the county is $54,000 with two people working, Mirabito said, “The median household income in the community that this is going to assist is $29,000, which means that either two people working, or one person, they’re trying to survive on $29,000 a year.”

Mirabito explained that the new sewer project became critical when the on-lot sewer systems in Franklin Towship began to fail. The Department of Environmental Protection then mandated that the problem be addressed.

“The mandate is really DEP exercising its function of protecting the public…we can’t have raw sewage coming up out of the ground or getting into water systems,” he said.

Once the new sewer system is in place, residents will be paying about $105 per month for the service.

“I think it’s a good thing that we’re doing, and I think it’s exactly the kind of role of county government–to help parts of our community that are really struggling,” he said.

The $700,000 loan agreement that the commissioners approved will be paid back to the county over a 15-year period at zero percent interest.

Commissioner Scott Metzger said that the township had indicated that they might not need the entire amount of the loan in order to complete the project.

“They feel they can get some other revenue sources by the time that would come due. So they will borrow some, but they highly doubt that it will be up to $700,000,” Metzger said.

Both commissioners said that the new sewer system might spark economic effort in that area.

Mirabito said that if the houses in the Lairdsville community now have a functioning sewer system, “maybe people will move in and buy.”

Metzger concurred. “It increases the value of a property immediately.”

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