WILKES-BARRE — Instead of granting larger earmarks for a select few, Luzerne County Council members opted to hand out smaller, equal shares of leftover natural-gas recreation funding to 14 municipalities and two nonprofits for parks, playgrounds and other projects.
Each will receive approximately $4,424.
A total $70,782 was available. County Manager C. David Pedri pulled his request for $10,000 to fund landscaping at the county-owned River Common along the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre because he identified other natural-gas funding already budgeted and available for this purpose.
Councilman Robert Schnee proposed the equal allocation approach this week after predicting he and his 10 colleagues could spend hours debating the merits of each and still be unable to reach majority consensus.
The decision leaves most applicants with significant funding shortfalls to complete their recreation projects.
A total $309,782 was requested, according to a chart prepared by council Chairwoman Linda McClosky Houck. This includes Plains Township’s separate applications for two rain gardens at $35,000 each, though council decided to help fund only one at the township municipal park.
Butler Township also requested $35,000 toward the construction of a trail network and purchase of playground equipment for children with disabilities.
Slocum Township asked for the highest amount — $39,999.99 — to upgrade playground equipment for children up to 5 years old, including those with disabilities.
Schnee has speculated some applicants may have overestimated the amount of money needed to complete their projects.
Applicants can use the county earmark as leverage for additional fundraising to close the gap or decline the county funding if they don’t believe proceeding is feasible, council members said.
The county will pay half upfront and the rest upon proof of project completion within an 18-month deadline, McClosky Houck said. Unclaimed money will return to the county fund for other use.
The Harveys Lake Little League and nonprofit Country Heart Farm in Hazle Township were the lone non-government applicants.
An animal sanctuary, Country Heart wanted $20,000 for fencing to expand its pasture and to buy a trailer to transport horses and ponies to visit children with special needs. The Little League sought $9,800 to help build a pavilion and renovate its concession stand.
The other recipients, along with their requests and project plans: Swoyersville, $20,680 for playground improvements; Sugarloaf Township, $17,064 to build a unisex bathroom accessible to the disabled at the Joe LaRock recreation complex; Wright Township, $15,000 to construct two dog parks; Black Creek Township, $13,496 to fence in the Rock Glen Park; Hazleton, $13,000 for tennis court resurfacing; Dupont, $11,271 for park and athletic field improvements; Penn Lake Park, $10,000 for basketball and tennis court repairs; Conyngham, $10,000 for park gazebo restoration; Hazle Township, $7,500 to create a football field; Shickshinny, $6,752 for park improvements; and Larksville, $5,218 for new park bleachers.
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.
The administration’s $10,000 River Common commitment would unlock new awards of $20,000 each from King’s College and Wilkes University for event programming. Critics have complained the park, which includes an amphitheater and fishing pier/landing, is insufficiently maintained and underutilized.
Council members plan to vote on a cooperative agreement with the two institutions Oct. 24.