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USDA rep. visits Jersey Shore with eye toward helping fund projects

A President Joe Biden appointee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited Jersey Shore recently to establish a connection that may lead to funding opportunities for local projects.

Bob Morgan, the Pennsylvania executive director of the USDA, toured the Jersey Shore Joint Water Authority last week before meeting with borough officials and the Lycoming County Commissioners to discuss the borough’s public services building.

“It was a way for Bob to get to know us — for him to have a personal connection to the community and to the project,” Cody Hoover, borough manager, said.

During the stop, Hoover explained the history of the public service building, which aims to combine the Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police, the Citizens Hose Volunteer Fire Company and the Citizens Hose Ambulance Company under one roof.

Hoover reiterated that the 12-person Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Department is currently using a building built in the 1970s for a five- or six-man police force that is located in the flood plain, and its chief, Nathan Deremer, has in the past explained the facility is in need of significant repair.

Citizens’ Hose is in a similar situation. Its current building was built in the 1950s and has experienced little change since then, Hoover said. Citizens’ Hose sold the Wheeland Center to West Pharmaceutical for an expansion of jobs, forcing the fire department to relocate its administrative staff. The department wants to bring in a new building for both its vehicles and its staff, Hoover said.

The borough’s municipal offices, meanwhile, are also in the flood plain, Hoover said.

“This will bring us all together for regionalization. It will cut costs and improve communication between all three entities,” Hoover said. “We also discussed moving the Magisterial District Judge into the building as well — their building is in the flood plain as well, and is outdated.”

Morgan explained the USDA’s state department of rural development is charged with being an economic development agency for rural America.

Some of that help comes from loan arrangements for communities that are doing community facilities projects, like Jersey Shore Borough, Morgan said. Additionally, the USDA also assists businesses in rural areas, and has a division that works on water and environmental projects.

“So, essentially, USDA serves as a funding agency for many rural communities,” Morgan said. “Three and a quarter million Pennsylvanians live in rural communities. Our job is to help them grow, and help them make life in their communities better than they are now.”

“This allows communities to meet their needs,” Morgan said. “That’s one of the major reasons why we are out in your community today — to see some of the areas we can help in Lycoming County.”

The meetup was organized by Jason Fitzgerald, president of Penn Strategies, a company that helps municipal governments find loans.

“This demonstrates to the federal government that Jersey Shore is a growing community that has its act together,” Fitzgerald said. “We need their support to make this very important regionalization project happen for public safety reasons, for economic reasons.”

“It’s really the future,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald emphasized that Morgan is a Biden appointee who cares about rural America.

“He has the support of Republicans and Democrats, but he was appointed,” Fitzgerald said of Morgan. “He really cares about rural Pennsylvania; he doesn’t look at politics. He spent all day in Jersey Shore. He visited the joint water authority and listened to projects there, and spoke with borough officials and commissioners.”

“We were very happy to be here and meet the folks in Lycoming County, and we will be back. We want to continue our relationship,” Morgan said. “We have a long history with funding projects in this area of Pennsylvania and are looking for opportunities to do that in the future.

“We’re going to try not to be a stranger.”

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