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Luzerne County Council mulls grant applications for ARP money

Newswatch 16's Chelsea Strub has more on some of those applications and questions surrounding the distribution of taxpayer money.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — As part of the American Rescue Plan, Luzerne County was granted more than $112 million. The Luzerne County Council voted to distribute $60 million to businesses, organizations, and municipalities negatively impacted by the pandemic through an application process.

The council received 140 applications since September for a federal grant opportunity through the American Rescue Plan.

"Most of them are municipalities or authorities and some organizations, some nonprofits," said Tim McGinley, a member of the county council.

75 of those applications scored high enough for further consideration from county council.

"We asked each and every applicant to fill out an application, which include their budget, include some legal documentation, especially if they're an authority or whatever. And then a narrative of their proposed program."

A narrative should prove the applicant was hurt by the pandemic or met other criteria like an infrastructure or recreational community need.

Candy's Place, a cancer wellness center in Kingston, applied for $115,900, citing financial struggle because of the pandemic.

"The biggest impact we had is our ability to fundraise as a nonprofit," said Thomas Ruskey, Candy's Place director. "We're always running the tightest of margins, so our large fundraisers, our annual walk, we had to do virtually, a number of other fundraisers we've had, we've had fashion shows, other things, obviously, car shows, things that brought people together. And because of the pandemic, those went away."

One of the applications is for the Jewish Community Alliance in Northeastern Pennsylvania. McGinley says that application for more than $15 million to make improvements to Nesbitt and Kirby Parks needs a closer look.

"They're a fine organization, but they're doing a pass-through, which means that we're just going to get the money and pass it on to other people who will be doing the work. And it's based on the Kirby Park and Nesbitt Park. And there's a person on the other side of the dike closest to the river. There was a study done many years ago now that suggested the work to be done. And the price tag at that time was about $15 million."

McGinley said that study was done in 2005, and he doesn't believe the cost is likely to be the same. He says that's one of the applications that deserves a closer look.

"I think we have to look at that because of the situation, because of the fact that it's old information they're starting with. So, yes, I do think that's one that has to be looked at, and more information has to be forthcoming."

Newswatch 16 left a message for the leaders at the Jewish Community Alliance to ask about those concerns, but we did not hear back.

A vote to approve this list is on the Luzerne County Council's agenda for Tuesday's meeting, but McGinley says it will likely be tabled until some questions about the possible awardees and their proposed projects can be answered.

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