PITTSTON — Borrow the money or wait for a grant?
That’s the $1 million question city officials have been discussing over the beautification of the remaining two blocks of Downtown Pittston.
Called streetscaping, the plan is to fix up the downtown business district with brick crosswalks, period lighting and new sidewalks and curbs. The area on Main Street, from the Fort Jenkins Bridge to Market Street, has already been complete. The next phase will refurbish the two-block area between Columbus and Market streets.
The streetscaping program and growth in new businesses are the primary reasons many say Pittston is undergoing a renaissance.
Business owners met with city officials last week and learned of a possible delay until grant money becomes available next year. A U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, up to $1 million, has already been approved.
State Rep. Mike Carroll, a member of the state House’s transportation committee, said the transportation bill that recently passed created a multi-modal funding source for projects that are not roads, bridges or transit. He said the money can be used for aviation, rail and port, bicycle and pedestrian projects, which includes streetscaping.
“The money will be available next year and the plan is for Pittston to apply,” Carroll said. “Without a guarantee, I will make every effort to help Pittston secure a grant. It would eliminate the need for them to borrow the money.”
Part of the transportation funding comes from higher wholesale state taxes on gasoline and diesel that went into effect on Jan. 1, the first of three increases. The law lifted the cap on the wholesale fuel tax dating back to 2006.
Mike Lombardo, a member of the city’s redevelopment authority, said the city must consider the grant before any loan is signed.
“The administration and the authority decided we ought to look at the grant avenue before taking out a loan, which would be on the taxpayers,” Lombardo said. “
The USDA loan would cost the city about $3,000 a month over 40 years. That loan will be available for five years, in case the grant is not allocated to Pittston.
“The question was: Is the administration committed to doing the project, and the answer is we absolutely are,” Lombardo said. “But we believe we can secure that grant.”
The group of merchants that are affected are some of the oldest businesses in town, including Sabatelle’s Italian Market and the Gramercy Restaurant. Argenio Chiropractic Center, Fashion Ceramic and J D Custom Pools & Services and others businesses in that area also had representatives at the meeting.
“In fairness, that’s a great group of merchants, they are our longest core of merchants,” Lombardo said. “It has taken a little longer than they want.”
Mayor Jason Klush said the loan money is there if needed.
“But if we’re going to get free money, why borrow the money?” Klush said. “The city is reasonably debt free. Why go into the hole at this point?”
A separate streetscaping project along Kennedy Boulevard is moving forward. And the project to install a traffic light at the corner of Market and South Main street is also moving forward.