Commissioners keep stance against grant

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Two Blair County commissioners turned down requests to reconsider their stance against pursuing a state grant for more courtroom restoration work on Tuesday.

Commissioners Bruce Erb and Ted Beam Jr., who last week questioned the county’s ability to provide as much as $100,000 in required matching funds, told local residents Tuesday that they are still against applying this year for a grant offered by the state Museum and Historical Society.

“I heard from many others who said we took the right position,” Beam said, drawing a nod of support from Erb.

“The grant requires a match and right now, the numbers just aren’t there,” Erb said.

Commissioner Terry Tom­assetti proposed last week and again Tuesday that the county ask for the grant that has a Friday application deadline. Tomassetti suggested using the grant toward ceiling restoration work in Courtroom 1.

To match the state grant, Tomassetti suggested four county resources: a general fund contingency of $573,000; a pending reimbursement of $80,000 from a previous grant; $47,000 in Marcellus Shale revenue and, as a last resort, the county’s unassigned general fund balance of $4.6 million.

“All of us know there’s way to move money around,” Astride McLanahan of Hollidaysburg told commissioners.

“It would be a horrible, horrible thing to let that money go down the drain,” McLanahan said.

But without specific money for the required match, Erb and Beam said they would prefer to put the application on hold.

Jane Sheffield, executive director of the Allegheny Ridge Corp., cautioned that “political winds can change” and grants might not be available next year.

Sheffield also read a letter to commissioners from Jared Frederick, Blair County historian, who urged commissioners to pursue the grant.

“This courthouse is the civic heart of our county,” Frederick wrote. “Our citizens should be inspired every time they walk past or step foot in its halls. Do not allow the unfinished spaces of the courthouse to be the hodgepodge of old and new as they were for decades past.”

Commissioners also heard from Cristi Lynn Waltz of East Freedom who volunteered to run a fundraiser in support of the project and offered a $5,000 donation.

Erb said he would prefer that the next board of commissioners consider the county’s obligation that goes with this kind of grant.

Tomassetti said he was disappointed with the positions taken by his fellow commissioners.

The county always has more needs than money and deals with that by shifting priorities, compromising and making adjustments, he said.

Had the county been awarded a $100,000 grant and promised the $100,000 match, preliminary estimates indicate the 12-week ceiling restoration work could have been finished by the end of the year.