MERCER COUNTY Panel will decide how to use funds

A commissioner denied that the county is holding up the Oakland Avenue viaduct project.
MERCER -- Those buying houses and property in Mercer County may not know it, but they are helping less fortunate residents obtain housing.
Since October, fees for registering mortgages and deeds at the recorder's office have doubled, and the increase is going into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Dennis Puko, director of the Mercer County Regional Planning Commission, called it & quot;an invisible way of raising funds & quot; and the program & quot;one of the most exciting things & quot; he's seen in his 23 years in planning here.
Last year, commissioners authorized raising mortgage and deed recording fees from $11 to $22. The county is authorized to set aside the funds by Act 137, a state law aimed at assisting those below the county median income.
Puko expects $140,000 to $200,000 to be raised the first year, depending on the number of mortgages and deeds filed.
To help decide how best to use the fund, Mercer County commissioners Thursday named a 13-member advisory panel with members drawn from housing agencies, municipalities, utilities, agriculture and education.
The board's organizational meeting is 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4 in the planning commission office.
Puko said the group will first set up a process to rank proposals for using the funds.
One possible use, he said, is as a local match to attract state and federal grants. For example, he plans to apply this fall for & quot;Brownfields for Housing & quot; state grants.
Organizations involved in housing will also be asked for input. Ultimately, any projects must be approved by county commissioners.
Rumors denied
Commissioner Ken Seamans, meanwhile, denied rumors that commissioners are holding up the Oakland Avenue viaduct project.
County Engineer Mark Miller said the county, state and other involved agencies are reviewing a report by the contractor on the partly constructed bridge. Miller said although it is a county bridge, funding is entirely from the state and federal government and therefore, the county does not have the final say about whether to proceed.
Commissioners agreed to guarantee $6.15 million in bonds issued by the city of Sharon for library and other capital improvements.
They entered a $27,010 contract with Shingledecker's Welding, Franklin, for repairs to the bridge on Mill Road in Perry Township. Miller said it was the lowest of six bids.
They also awarded a contract for security services for the domestic relations office to Woodring Security Services, Meadville, for $13.90 hourly. Woodring has had the contract for the last seven years and was the only bidder.
Bill Jones, Mercer County Transit Transport manager, reported the county has been awarded a grant which will pay 85 percent of the cost of shuttle service for disabled people under age 60 living in rural areas.

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