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The county commissioners learned Thursday that the county will receive a minimum of $400,000 through a Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) grant for the beautification of John E. Wengert Memorial Park.
State funding could balloon to over $1 million if the county receives the full amount of $650,000 via an additional grant that the Lebanon Valley Conservancy plans to submit to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). It was noted that this grant was in the early stages of development and details still have to be finalized.
Laurie Crawford, Executive Director of the Lebanon Valley Conservancy, said the funding request would permit her organization to plant native trees to address climate change as well as provide monies for its traffic garden. Crawford added that the conservancy has matching dollars through Penn State REACH and other financial supporters to steer toward the creation of the traffic garden.
Crawford said the grant funding would be executed toward the end of 2023.
Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz asked if the proposed rain garden would include plants and other foliage that would attract butterflies.
“Yes, and there will be signs for people to understand how the rain garden functions and things like that as well,” said Crawford, in response to Litz’s question. “All the plants will be native and picked as buffer plants since we are protecting the Quittapahilla (Creek) in this section. And all native plants will encourage pollinators, specifically. But there will be native plants to attract bees and butterflies as well.”
Crawford noted that at the request of Lebanon City Mayor Sherry Capello the park will also include a barn and a silo to honor the Wengert family.
Litz asked Crawford to explain the traffic garden, which is a fairly new concept to this area. After noting that there are very few of them located in the nation, and the closest one to Lebanon County being located in Philadelphia, Crawford answered Litz’s question.
“They are essentially a mini-city,” said Crawford. “There are buildings that look like regular buildings and the path where you would ride your bike will be marked like regular road markings, but it is all miniaturized, So when you are riding your bike you understand that when there is a stop sign, you have to stop too.”
Consultant John Wengert, who is president of Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails, Inc., was given unanimous approval by the commissioners to file the DCED grant paperwork for a grant that he told the commissioner was already tentatively approved by the state.
“I feel pretty confident, based on the communications we’ve gotten from DCED, that we’re going to get $400,000 toward this project,” Wengert said. “That was the piece we were missing last year – we didn’t have the match for the DCNR portion. So with this commitment from DCED, plus the county’s commitment and LV Conservancy and LVRT’s cash commitment, we’ll be able to do the whole thing, the park and the trail through the park.”
Wengert said this is a unique situation because while the grant was already approved, the county was submitting the application retroactively. He added that the application is ready to be submitted, but requires the county’s approval to authorize Wengert, as a consultant, to submit the application on behalf of Lebanon County.
“All I’m doing is preparing the document,” Wengert said, in answering a question from Litz about whether he could legally file the application when he isn’t a county employee. It was then determined that Wengert could file the application with the commissioner’s approval.
Wengert added that the DCED grant is also unusual because it does not have to be reimbursed to the state.
In other county business, the commissioners approved the hiring of Fresh Creative, located in the 800 block of Cumberland Street, to administer a $60,000 marketing campaign to raise awareness about the availability of funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
ERAP is a federal program that provides CARES funding to landlords for those tenants who are unable to pay their rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the March 5 meeting, the commissioners were informed that the county has through the end of July to distribute over $9.32 million to cover rental relief, administrative costs, and to provide case management services through ERAP.
Samuel Ortiz, administrator, Lebanon County Community Action Partnership (CAP) noted at that earlier meeting that $8.47 million is designated for housing assistance, $466,288 for administrative costs, and $381,424 is earmarked for case management.
On Thursday, Ortiz said Fresh Creative has created a website, which includes Spanish translation services, for county residents to apply for relief through ERAP. The website, which went live March 8, has received about 400 hits and 25 applications have been submitted online to CAP seeking rental assistance, Ortiz added. (The website to register for ERAP assistance is located at www.lebanoncountyrenthelp.com.)
Because 65 percent, or about $9 million, has to be obligated for rental assistance by the end of July, there will be a major push by CAP to inform the public about ERAP funding availability.
“The team at Fresh Creative, according to recent Census data, has discovered that Lebanon County has 17,476 rental units, 6,600 of which are in the city,” Ortiz said. “Because of that, we want to effectively market the program to the English and the Spanish, and these are the different avenues that are available to us.”
Before giving their approval to hire the local marketing agency, Ortiz told the commissioners that the marketing campaign, which would take place over the next three months, is less than 1 percent of its overall ERAP funding.
The commissioners also unanimously approved two grants from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts for Lebanon County. The county will receive just under $10,000 to cover costs for its DUI Court and about $6,500 for its Veterans Court programs.
Near the end of the meeting, Jamie Wolgemuth, Chief Clerk/County Administrator, provided an update on the county’s mass vaccination center, noting that its first day of operation on March 17 went smoothly.
“People have been complimentary on their way out, and everything has gone well,” Wolgemuth said.
He added that the first day was slower than expected with only 600 vaccines administered, but that the vendor was expecting to deliver 1,200 doses both Thursday and Friday of this week. Wolgemuth informed the commissioners that the public can register to receive vaccination appointment notifications at www.lcdes.org. Once registered, email blasts will be sent to individuals to sign up for an appointment, which are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.
“We expect that the same provider will have another 3,000 vaccines available next week, and provided everything keeps going as well as it is, they expect to continue to get that allocation each week,” Wolgemuth said. “I will say again that the best way to get in the loop is to go to lcdes.org and sign up to get the informational emails, which will come out as soon as we know that the provider will have additional supply.”
Wolgemuth said the current mass vaccination center provider is Lititz-based CNS Occupational Medicine, and he added that WellSpan Health officials expect to be working there by the end of March.
He said, however, that he did not know what quantity of vaccine that WellSpan Health will provide at the vaccination center, which is located in the 1700 block of Quentin Road in North Cornwall Township in the former Kmart building.
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