Requests for Luzerne County natural-gas recreation funding exceed available amount

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Luzerne County Courthouse -

Handing out natural-gas recreation funding is a rare opportunity for cash-strapped Luzerne County to play Santa Clause, but there’s not enough leftover money to go around, a review of requests shows.

County Council members received $314,781 in applications for natural-gas recreation funding by their Sept. 1 deadline, and only $65,457 is left to disburse, records show.

And because the county itself is among the applicants, the amount available for outside entities likely will drop to $55,457.

The county administration requested $10,000 to fund maintenance at the River Common, a county-owned recreational area along the Susquehanna River. As part of that award, King’s College and Wilkes University have each agreed to kick in $20,000 for programming.

County officials have received complaints that maintenance of the River Common has decreased due to the elimination of an outside landscaping contract to save money.

In addition to the county request, outside entities submitted applications for 17 projects involving parks, playgrounds and other recreational programs.

The only non-government applications came from the Harveys Lake Little League and nonprofit Country Heart Farm in Hazle Township.

An animal sanctuary, Country Heart offers on-site and traveling therapy programs for all ages, including children with special needs, funded solely through private and community donations and grants. The organization requested $20,000 for fencing to expand its pasture and to buy a trailer to transport horses and ponies to visits.

The Harveys Lake Little League sought $9,800 to help build a pavilion and renovate the concession stand, which is more than 60 years old and needs security and structural improvements. The group raised $2,000 toward the project.

Slocum Township requested the highest amount for a single project — $40,000 to upgrade playground equipment for children up to 5 years old, including those with disabilities. No local match was cited.

Plains Township sought two allocations, $35,000 each, to build 3,000-square-foot rain gardens that collect stormwater runoff and provide public education about environmental best practices — one at the township municipal park and the other at the Birchwood Hills residential development. The township will provide $5,000 matches, or $10,000, for both.

Butler Township also asked for $35,000 to help construct a trail network and add playground equipment for children with disabilities at the Freedom Park recreation complex. The township has invested $713,000 in the park to date, and Valley Regional Girls Softball is donating a $50,000 match.

A synopsis of the other requests:

• Swoyersville, $20,680 to replace swing sets and add mulch at three playgrounds. No local match is listed.

• Sugarloaf Township, $17,064 to construct a unisex bathroom accessible to the disabled at the Joe LaRock recreation complex. The township will pay the cost difference, if any.

• Wright Township, $15,000 to construct two dog parks at the township recreation park off both Route 309 and South Main Road — one for dogs under 30 pounds and the other for canines over that weight. The township would provide $5,000.

• Black Creek Township, $13,496 to install a fence at the Rock Glen Park, which includes a swimming pool, to increase visitor safety and privacy for neighbors. The township will handle site work.

• Hazleton, $13,000 to restore 2o-year-old tennis court surfaces at the Beech Street Playground. Cargill, a local meat processing company, donated $12,000 toward the project raised through a golf tournament.

• Dupont, $11,271 for playground mulch, Little League field sod and four new metal picnic tables at the borough’s Community Park, the only green space in the 1.5-square-mile municipality. An estimated $1,720 in volunteer labor would be provided as a match.

• Penn Lake Park, $10,000 to repair the borough park’s basketball and tennis courts. No local match was cited.

• Conyngham, $10,000 to restore a deteriorating park gazebo used for concerts, library story times and other events. The borough would provide a $4,000 match.

• Hazle Township, $7,500 to help clear land for a football field near existing soccer fields at the township’s Community Park. The township also would pay $7,500.

• Shickshinny, $6,752 to buy two aluminum picnic tables, playground mulch and two basketball backboards and hoops at the Oak Street and Crary Street parks. No local match was offered.

• Larksville, $5,218 to buy new bleachers for Romanoskey Park, which hosts many recreational and athletic events. The borough would furnish $500.

Previously, a county screening group made recommendations to council on how surplus recreation funding should be spent. Under a new plan adopted this year, council members will handle all application screening, nominate recipients and issue awards based on majority vote.

The county has received $228,623 to $307,629 annually from natural gas drilling since the state authorized such earmarks under Act 13 in 2012. Some of this funding covers black fly spraying along the Susquehanna River and a portion of county building and ground and engineering salaries.

Luzerne County Courthouse County Courthouse

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

What’s next

Luzerne County Council will discuss the requests for recreation funding at Tuesday’s work session, which follows a 6 p.m. voting session at the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.