Somerset County Courthouse

Somerset County Courthouse is shown on Monday, May 14, 2018.

SOMERSET – Two Somerset County communities that receive federal funds annually to upgrade infrastructure and level blighted structures will drop out of the nationwide program next year.

With the populations of Windber Borough and Jenner Township dropping below the 4,000 mark, according to the 2020 census, they are among 11 communities in Pennsylvania that will no longer receive dedicated Community Development Block Grant “entitlement” funds, said Steve Spochart, Redevelopment Authority of Somerset County director.

In each community’s case, that’ll mean a loss of more than $94,000 annually in specialized funds, the county’s 2021 application for CDBG funds shows.

“It puts us in a bind,” said Jim Furmanchik, Windber’s borough manager. “Whether it’s housing rehabilitation, social or environmental improvement projects, the CDBG program has helped to improve the quality of life for low- to moderate- income residents in Windber, and we’re going to be sad to see this funding go away.”

Furmanchik pointed to a 17th Street infrastructure and curbing project now under way in town as a prime example. Once that work is complete, the borough had planned to use future CDBG funds to add new sidewalks along the same corridor – “but now we’re probably going to be $50,000 short,” he said.

Furmanchik worked to raise awareness about the U.S. Census last year, concerned that Windber might fall below 4,000 residents. But the response rate – even with residents able to participate online – dropped sharply, much as it did in the City of Johnstown.

“There’s no doubt in my mind there’s more than 4,000 people living in Windber, but we’ve got to live with this for at least another 10 years – until the next census,” Furmanchik said.

In the meantime, the loss of more than $90,000 yearly will add up to more than $900,000 for Windber over that span, he added.

“It’s a shame, but we’ll deal with it,” Furmanchik said.

Spochart said he received confirmation over the past several days from the Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the federal housing program, that the change will take effect in 2022.

Sidewalk repairs, home rehab part of 2021 application

In addition to Jenner Township and Windber, three additional communities qualify for CDBG entitlement funds – Somerset Borough, Somerset Township and Conemaugh Township – and all three will remain in the program in 2022.

The Somerset County commissioners approved a countywide application Tuesday for approval to spend $883,513 on projects in six communities. Two are designated funds for Jenner Township and Windber, which are still eligible for 2021 funds.

Windber is applying for formal approval to complete a sidewalk project in the 600 to 700 block of 17th Street.

Jenner Township is one of three communities planning to use its funds toward sanitary sewer repairs – in the township’s case, on Rose Road. Spochart noted that’s the type of work that is often tough to pay for, because even small projects can carry a high price tag.

Somerset Township and Rockwood Borough are also planning sewer projects totaling $181,000 and $266,219, respectively. In Rockwood’s case, their project fit the income and project guidelines to qualify for a portion of the county’s annual allotment, Spochart said.

Somerset Borough will use its $117,000 to address water and sewer line replacement needs on a stretch of South Center Avenue that’s in line for sidewalk repairs.

Conemaugh Township is applying to use $128,798 to rehab homes for a number of income-eligible homeowners within the township.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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