Areas of Scranton, Blakely and Jessup Designated as Federal Opportunity Zones

SCRANTON, April 20, 2018 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today announced that areas of Scranton, Blakely and Jessup were designated as Federal Opportunity Zones by Governor Tom Wolf.

Eight census tracts in Lackawanna County – six in the City of Scranton and one each in Blakely and Jessup – were included in the 300 Opportunity Zones submitted by Governor Tom Wolf to the US Treasury earlier today.

“The areas of Lackawanna County designated as Opportunity Zones by the Governor present prime areas for development that will enable us to build upon the platform of business attraction, sustainability and growth of our anchor higher education and healthcare institutions,” Blake said. “These Opportunity Zones designations will allow our region to utilize a new economic development tool that is flexible enough to finance a broad spectrum of projects in diverse settings — small towns and urban centers alike.”

The Federal Opportunity Zones program encourages long-term investments in low-income urban and rural communities by offering federal tax incentives for those who reinvest unrealized capital gains into “Opportunity Funds,” or specialized vehicles dedicated to investing in low-income areas.

“The designation of the Opportunity Zones – and the investment capital that can come with that, offer an important opportunity for enhanced economic development in Lackawanna County,” Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce president Bob Durkin added. “We are grateful to the Governor for selecting these sites, and thank Senator Blake for shepherding this request through the process.”

Blake noted that, while there were 8 designations made in Lackawanna County, he had advocated for additional designations of census tracts in Archbald and in downtown Carbondale.

“The local Opportunity Zones encompass the heart of our largest downtown business district, important commercial and industrial sites in South Scranton and key sites for continued development and job growth in business parks in Jessup and Blakely,” Blake added. “I am encouraged by today’s announcement and will continue to work to bring jobs and private investment to our region.”

The Treasury Department is expected to respond to state submissions within 30 days.

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Blake Applauds Early-Stage Investments in Lackawanna County

HARRISBURG, November 14, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today applauded the investment of over $170,000 by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) in regional economic development projects.

The funding, approved by the BFTP/NEP Board of Directors, is designed to develop and grow early-stage technology-oriented companies; help established manufacturers creatively apply new technology and business practices; and to promote an innovative community-wide infrastructure.

“I applaud the BFTP/NEP Board of Directors for their dedication to bringing early-stage investment back to Lackawanna County,” Blake said. “This program has been critically important to our economy and continues to make smart investments that develop and grow our innovative local businesses.”

In 2013, Senator Blake spearheaded the development and passage of the Innovate in PA program which provided for the sale of deferred tax credits in order to provide a source of investment capital for investment by the BFTP and others.

The following local companies received an early-stage company investment through the Ben Franklin Technology Partners:

  • ChannelApe (Scranton) received $100,000 to support customer integrations and marketing and sales efforts for an integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) for e-commerce store owners.
  • Pleasant Mount Welding (Carbondale) received $25,000 to complete an advanced wastewater treatment system that removes pollutants from wastewater at treatment facilities.
  • Simplex Industries (Scranton) received $25,000 to fully integrate and implement AutoCAD 3D architecture and line automation equipment and processes to improve production flow and increase throughput.
  • JED Pool Tools (Scranton) received $21,450 to implement an Enterprise Resource Planning tool.

Since beginning operation, BFTP/NEP has helped to create 17,415 new jobs for Pennsylvania workers and to retain 27,384 existing jobs, to start 492 new companies, and to develop 1,591 new products and processes.

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Blake Announces Nearly $2 Million in Regional Grant Funding

HARRISBURG, November 14, 2017 – State Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe) today announced nearly $2 million in state grants for 11 projects throughout the 22nd Senatorial District.

The grant funding was approved earlier today at a meeting of the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) and was awarded through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development under the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program; Sewage Facilities Program and the Multimodal Transportation Fund.

“The investment of $2 million in our regional economy to support critically important infrastructure and safety projects as well as much-needed recreation projects is wonderful news for communities across Northeastern Pennsylvania,” Blake said. “I applaud our borough officials for their work to secure these competitive state investments and for their continued dedication to improving the quality of life and the safety of our transportation infrastructure for our residents.”

The largest area grants were awarded through the CFA Multimodal Transportation Fund which provides grants to encourage economic development and ensure that a safe and reliable system of transportation is available to the residents of the commonwealth.

The following NEPA projects received multimodal funding:

  • Lackawanna County received $505,367 to pave a 1.2-mile section of Stauffer Road at the Stauffer Industrial Park in Taylor Borough.
  • Pittston Township received $453,229 for improvements to Freeport Road.
  • Covington Township received $229,425 for the Langan Road bridge/culvert improvement project.
  • Archbald Borough received $205,000 to make pedestrian safety improvements along Kennedy Drive, Columbus Drive and Main Street in the borough.
  • Blakely Borough received $200,000 to fund a streetscape project in the Peckville business district.
  • The Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority received $70,000 for preliminary and final engineering design associated with the downtown connector as part of the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail located in the City of Scranton.

Four projects in Lackawanna County received funding through the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program.  This program was funded through the Marcellus Legacy Fund established by Act 13 of 2012 and allocates funds for planning, acquisition, development, rehabilitation and repair of greenways, recreational trails, open space, parks and beautification projects. A 15% match of the total project cost is required.

The following Lackawanna County projects received Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program grant funding:

  • The Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority received $100,000 Scranton Marvine Connector project along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail.
  • Taylor Borough received $95,245 for the construction of a splash park at Derenick Park off of Union Street in the borough.
  • Greenfield Township received $85,737 for the Greenfield Municipal Veterans Memorial Recreation Park.
  • The U.S. Ecological Advanced Research and Conservation Hub received $27,200 for the Riverwalk Amphitheater Planning Project in Mayfield.

Lastly, the Covington Township Sewer Authority received $18,147 through the Sewage Facilities Program for the expansion of the Covington Treatment Plant. The Sewage Facilities Program is also funded through the Marcellus Legacy Fund and requires a 50% match of the total project cost.

The Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) was established in 2004 as an independent agency of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).  The CFA consists of seven Board members: four legislative appointees and the secretaries of DCED, the Office of the Budget and Department of Banking and Securities. Project approval requires five affirmative votes, four of which must come from legislative appointees.

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Joint Legislative Hearing in Pittsburgh Focuses on Eradicating Blight

Wilkinsburg, August 4, 2016 – At the request of state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, a joint state Senate-House Democratic Policy Committee hearing was held today on efforts and resources to fight blight within our communities, including the successes and challenges of land banks.

“Blight is a scourge that impedes both business and residential interest in a community,” Costa said. “We must do what we can to give our municipalities the resources, tools and flexibility they need to quickly eradicate blight and begin revitalization efforts.”

Costa said blight poses health and safety risks, reduces neighborhood property values, drains municipal revenue on enforcement and maintenance efforts, and discourages community investment and growth.

 

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said “transforming dilapidated properties from community liabilities to revitalization linchpins must be our shared goal.”

Boscola added that Pennsylvania has approximately 300,000 vacant properties – many of them eye-sores. She said legislators should steer clear of “one-size-fits-all solutions” and give local government leaders the “flexibility to tailor revitalization efforts that fit their unique needs.”

State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), who co-chaired the hearing, said the state has passed several laws in recent years aimed at assisting local governments in blight removal and revitalization initiatives. He added that there are also numerous proposals under consideration in the legislature that would generate more funding for demolition and revitalization work and toughen penalties against absentee owners.

Costa said a 2012 law that established land banks provides an innovative way to acquire and ready properties for reinvestment. He pointed to the local Tri-COG Land Bank as a “promising program that numerous Allegheny county communities should look into.” Tri-COG recently received a pledge of $1.5 million in seed funding from the Heinz endowment.

A land bank acquires blighted properties, clears delinquent taxes and liens, and prepares the property for investment and revitalization – all aimed at returning the property to the tax rolls and productive use. A county or municipality must have a population of at least 10,000 to form a land bank. Local governments have the option of joining and must pay 5 percent of yearly delinquent tax collections to help fund the program.

Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Kyra Straussman lamented that a fourth of the city’s footprint is abandoned and vacant property that the government does not control.

“While our tax base is eroding, we are simultaneously directly paying millions in tax dollars annually to keep problem vacant and abandoned property just as it is,” she said.

Matt Madia, who serves as chief strategy and development officer for Bridgestone Capital investment program, discussed his firm’s revitalization work, including its $9.6 million effort to revitalize the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He said some of their business loans have resulted in new businesses occupying commercial space that would otherwise be vacant. He said providing this core business sector with its products and services helps make a neighborhood “welcoming and livable.”

Mark Mohn, vice-chair state Association of Realtors Legislative Committee, said rising property local taxes has worsened the blight problem by making home ownership less affordable. He said lawmakers should consider shifting the tax burden away from homeowners to more broad-based local and state resources.

“It’s time to stop picking the pockets of homebuyers,” Mohn added, suggesting that lawmakers should consider allowing bond referendums and Social Impact Bonds where municipalities can pay back outside investors for transforming blighted properties into productive ones.

Others who testified were: Cynthia Whitman Daley, policy director of the PA Housing Alliance; Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation; A. William Schenck, TriState Capital Bank Board Member, Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh; An Lewis, Director, Steel Rivers COG; Daniel Lavelle, board member, Pittsburg Land Bank; and Liz Kozub, Community Development coordinator, Turtle Creek COG.

Joining Costa, Gainey and Boscola were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), and Representatives Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence) and Paul Costa (D-Allegheny).

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Senate Democrats Outline Legislation to Combat Opioid and Heroin Crisis

Harrisburg, May 18, 2016 – With drug overdose deaths reaching epidemic levels, Senate Democrats unveiled legislation today to address the opioid addiction crisis from prevention through recovery.

“Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and there is no easy solution to fix the problem,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said. “When addiction finds its way into a family, it can nearly paralyze them for fear of what the future may hold.”

Recognizing the need to provide support at all levels, the Senate Democrats’ legislation focuses on providing new opportunities for education and treatment as well as expanded support options in the community for addicts, professionals and families.

“We cannot address this problem in a vacuum and must work to provide the necessary services and support to everyone involved,” Costa said. “Families are being affected and communities torn apart as a result of opioid abuses and heroin addiction.”

Opioids are a class of drug that include heroin as well as the prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. According to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study, fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania increased 14 fold between 1979 and 2014.

“We are in the midst of the worst ever overdose death epidemic and the worst public health crisis of the last 100 years, Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Gary Tennis said. “It will continue to take a collaborative effort among many partners to effectively address this crisis.”

The package of legislation includes:

Emergency Addiction Treatment Program – Charging the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs with establishing a comprehensive program that includes new addiction treatment facilities for those drug users that are currently going without care; new intake methods to provide information to those with addiction problems or their family and friends; advice and assistance in accessing treatment; and data collection to help identify patterns of addiction.

School Aged Children Opioid Awareness Education Program – Requiring the Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health, and Education to work cooperatively to design an opioid awareness education programs to be delivered in schools.

Addiction Treatment Professional Loan Forgiveness Program – Require the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) to develop an addiction treatment professional loan forgiveness program.

Opioid Addiction Prevention and Treatment Assessment – Impose a 10 percent assessment on the first sale of an opioid into the state. Revenues from the assessment will be used to support the purchase of naloxone for local law enforcement and emergency management personnel in addition to supporting addiction prevention and treatment programs.

Responding to the Senate Democratic proposals to the drug and alcohol problem, Deb Beck from the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania said that the drug and alcohol problem “has reached epidemic levels in the state and these proposals will be life saving in impact.”

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