Administrators in Hazleton evaluating alternative options to pay for paving projects

·3 min read

May 11—Administrators in Hazleton want city council's permission to explore options for financing various paving projects throughout the city.

Council on Wednesday will consider a resolution that authorizes the administration to explore alternative options for paying for an estimated $1.9 million worth of paving projects that officials expected to finance through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank loan program, Mayor Jeff Cusat said.

The city, however, is behind in having its annual audits completed and could not produce the documents to qualify for the state loan, Cusat said.

"They are now requiring the 2020 audit before they'll finance it," Cusat said of the paving project. "We still don't have the '18 (audit) done."

Administrators planned to use the PIB loan to pay for repaving the entirety of the Hilltop neighborhood, Muir Avenue and Franklin Street between Poplar and Broad streets; Carleton Avenue and Coxe Streets to St. Charles Drive; Buttonwood Street, from Church to Poplar streets, and to possibly construct David Avenue.

When built, the latter of the streets would extend from Terrace Boulevard to Broad Street.

Cusat said that the city had its 2017 audit completed in a timely manner, but fell behind schedule after some members of council questioned the 2018 audit process.

"Those questions were looked into and we sort of lost our place in the rotation," Cusat said.

Work on the '18 audit was expected to resume last spring, but was delayed because of the pandemic, Cusat said.

"During COVID, they couldn't come in and get the paperwork," he said.

The '18 audit is in final draft form but some closing documents are needed before it is finalized, he said.

State officials, however, wanted to review the 2020 audit before agreeing to finance the PIB loan, the mayor said.

With the '19 audit a "few months" from completion, Cusat said the paving season would have ended before the city can produce the 2020 audit.

The cost of construction and materials will increase as the city waits for those reports, so the administration will instead ask council to instead turn to traditional lenders, he said.

As with the state loan, officials would borrow around $1.9 million — and use between $180,000 and $200,000 from the city's annual liquid fuels allocation to pay the loan over the next 10 to 12 years, according to Cusat and City Administrator Dan Lynch.

"The payment method is the same, the project is the same, it's just that we'd like to look for a different lender," Cusat said.

Officials would target the same streets that would've been part of the state loan, as those thoroughfares are in parts of the city that are not eligible for funding through the federal Community Development Block Grant program, Cusat said.

The latest proposed paving projects are proposed after several of the more heavier-traveled streets in the downtown were repaved last year through the federal Section 108 Loan Guarantee Program. The last portion of that project will be completed along Wyoming Street this year, Cusat said.

The city plans to use money left over from the federal loan program and part of Hazleton's 2021 Community Development allocation to pave several streets on the west side of Poplar Street in the Heights neighborhood, Cusat said.

Council meets 6 p.m. Wednesday at city hall.

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