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Lycoming County commissioner expresses concerns about exclusion from $1M vote

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Executive Plaza.

Upset with the fact that “in 72 hours, $1 million was discussed, voted and passed,” without an opportunity for him to have input, Lycoming County Commissioner Scott Metzer issued a statement on the vote at last week’s commissioners meeting on funding a parking garage for the Old City project.

“What I find disturbing about this action is that it was voted and approved so quickly without consideration of the chairman,” said Metzger, who is chairman of the board.

Prefacing his comments with praise for Lycoming College and Pine Ridge Construction Management for “investing millions of dollars for education and economic development into this section of our community,” Metzger said, “I have been supportive of the East End Gateway Project and the Old City Revitalization. My further comments are in no way against either entity or the overall project.”

Metzger was on vacation last week when approval was given by the other commissioners, Tony Mussare and Rick Mirabito, to give the funding for the project. The county’s contribution to the overall cost of the parking structure is 3.8% with Williamsport expected to contribute 3.1% and the state 4%. The college and the developer would provide the remaining funding. It was noted during this week’s commissioners meeting that the city has yet to approve its portion of the funding.

“On Tuesday, July 26, my two colleagues called me while I was on vacation to express that they had met with the college and the developers and the college and developer were requesting a million dollars towards the project for a parking garage,” Metzger said.

“It is my understanding that this garage is 40,000 square feet with 165 parking stalls. Commissioner Mirabito made note that the county would receive 42 spaces,” he said.

“I stated to both of them that I was not ready at that point to commit to that amount of money as I had several questions that needed answered. Some of those questions were what amount is the city investing, where the money was being allocated from — among other questions,” Metzger said.

At that point, which was two days before the commissioners regularly scheduled meeting, Metzger said that he was told by Mussare that he had called to see if Metzger would agree to having the action item placed on a future agenda.

“As I am the chairman, I am the one that sets the agenda, and I agreed that, when I returned from vacation, I would place it on a future agenda,” Metzger said.

“They noted the governor recently reopened the RACP grant process that had a short window until Aug. 19,” Metzger added.

The state’s official website states that the “Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) is a Commonwealth grant program administered by the Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational, and historical improvement projects,” like the East End Gateway Project.

Because this grant program has the Aug. 19 deadline for applying, there was a sense of urgency that the vote on the county’s funding would be taken as soon as possible. Although, Metzger contended after speaking to state officials, there would have been ample time even if the vote were taken at the meeting this week for the college and the developer to get the information together to apply for the RCAP grant before the deadline.

What happened between the phone call between the commissioners and Metzger was a series of miscommunications which brought Dr. Kent Trachte and a representative of Pine Ridge to the commissioners’ July 28 meeting instead of their meeting this week, which is when Metzger assumed the vote would be taken and he would have time to have his concerns addressed.

“I believe my colleagues did not have prior knowledge that Dr. Trachte nor the developer were going to be in attendance that morning. Nor do I believe that Dr. Trachte nor the developer did anything wrong,” Metzger said.

“It was my understanding that it was a miscommunication about the timing of when the item was going to be placed on the agenda,” he added.

A vote to amend last week’s agenda was taken in order to add the vote on the funding request.

The fact that he was not included in the meeting via telephone by the other commissioners was noted by Metzger.

“My colleagues could have attempted to contact me by phone to join the meeting or could have stated that the chairman is not available this morning but out of respect we will table this till next Thursday since he stated that he had several questions,” Metzger said.

“So, this decision was made without my input and my questions being answered,” he said. “This is a decision that involved $1 million that warranted all three of our input.”

In his comments, Metzger stated that the funds would be taken from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds which the county is still in the process of determining where those funds will be spent. Mirabito clarified that the funding would come from another source, possibly Act 13 funds which are derived from gas drilling in the county. Mirabito stressed that the funding for the parking garage would not come from taxpayers.

“It is wrong how this matter was handled last week and does not display good government. I would hope that in the future that my colleagues would be more mindful moving ahead so monies that are allocated with all three of us involved in the decision making process,” Metzger said.

“We are all elected officials and when one of us is excluded it is a slap in the face of the voters that placed that individual in office. The office of commissioner was designed to make sure that the three of us have representation. We need to make sure that happens,” he said.

Offering his apology at the meeting, Mirabito stated that the decision to move forward with the vote on the funding was made out of a sense of urgency since the college and developers had just learned that the RCAP grant application was being reopened.

Noting that the arrival of Trachte and the developer at last week’s meeting was the result of a misdated text, Mirabito said, “I guess the concern on their part was that they had a lot of stuff to do in order to make the Aug. 19 (deadline).”

“You have a perfectly legitimate concern there. It is a lot of money. I don’t want you or the public to think that we did it flippantly,” Mirabito said, adding that he had always been upfront about his support for the project.

When Mirabito stated that he could understand how Metzger could feel slighted by not having a say in the vote, Metzger replied, “It’s not me. I represent the people who voted me in office. It’s a slap on them.”

“I watched the 57 minutes of the meeting…not once was the commissioner chairman mentioned that he had additional questions,” Metzger said.

“I totally appreciate what you’re saying and we certainly, I think, all three of us will be mindful in the future,” Mirabito said.

Metzger indicated during his comments that Mussare, who was not at this week’s meeting, had already apologized for excluding him from the discussion.

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