LAWRENCE COUNTY Commission considers redevelopment agency

The authority would have clout that county government doesn't.
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Lawrence County commissioners are considering creating a countywide redevelopment authority to help spur economic development.
Commissioners are expected to meet later this month with redevelopment authority experts to discuss the idea.
Commissioner Roger DeCarbo said he was initially against creating a redevelopment authority, but is now considering it.
The authority, which would be autonomous once created, would be able to get state funding the county could not access, he said. Its members would be appointed by county commissioners.
"There are instances in all 27 communities [in Lawrence County] in which development could occur and a funding mechanism is needed. A redevelopment authority could do it," he said.
Eminent domain
DeCarbo noted that a redevelopment authority also has the ability to take land by eminent domain for private development. The county can take land only for public use.
DeCarbo cautioned that eminent domain would be done carefully and those displaced would be helped.
Fellow commissioners Ed Fosnaught and Brian Burick said they are interested in the idea, but haven't committed to anything yet.
"There is potential merit to it," Fosnaught said. "I think there is a whole lot of discussion that needs to take place."
Burick said he wants to learn more about redevelopment authorities before making up his mind.
In the state
There are 39 redevelopment authorities in cities and counties across Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities.
PAHRA director Richard Drnevich said some authorities have been successful in wiping out blight and creating new jobs in their communities.
Counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania have had the ability to create redevelopment authorities since 1949, he said.
"I think it's just a very valuable tool for counties and cities to have available to address blight problems and help finance projects and programs. An authority has extensive powers. It's a public agency that is answerable to the city or county government," he said.
Fayette County in southwestern Pennsylvania has had a redevelopment authority since the 1950s and has most recently used it to improve infrastructure and housing, said Ray Polaski, Fayette County redevelopment authority director.
It operates programs that rehabilitates homes for low- and moderate-income residents and oversees new water and sewage line installation, he said.
Polaski said redevelopment authorities mostly follow the guidelines set by the county or city officials who have ultimate control over their membership.
"If the true intent of the commissioners is to seek grants for water and sewage lines, then that's what the redevelopment authority will do. It the intent is to provide housing opportunities, then that is its mission. It really depends on the needs of the community," he said.
Drnevich said money for these projects can come from a wide variety of sources, including state, federal and private funds.

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