The amount of Local Share Account money allocated to Washington County through gambling revenue dropped slightly this year, but not nearly as much as some feared as casinos across Pennsylvania were shuttered in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The county will have $6.6 million to allocate this year as the LSA committee met in a virtual setting Friday to begin reviewing 71 applications requesting to fund about $18.2 million worth of projects proposed by municipalities, sewer and water authorities, schools, hospitals and non-governmental organizations.
The committee will hold two hearings in a virtual setting Thursday and Friday to make recommendations on which projects should be funded before voting on the ones to send to the county commissioners for final approval.
The county received $6.9 million in 2020, meaning this year’s LSA allocation dropped by about $300,000. The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in North Strabane was closed for several weeks in the spring and then again at the end of December as the pandemic worsened, which likely cut the amount of gambling revenue that could be disbursed. But this year’s allocation is relatively similar to recent years, which have averaged about $7 million since 2015.
“I was very relieved to see the amount would remain here,” board of commissioners Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan said, adding that there is a minimum threshold that must be disbursed through the process. “So revenue is down, but it’s been a different year, so we’re just very grateful to the casino for the amount we’re receiving to reinvest in our communities.”
The process also has been delayed by the pandemic. Typically, the LSA committee would meet in December and forward its recommendations to the county commissioners before the end of the year. But this year’s allocation wasn’t announced until Thursday, delaying the ability for the committee to know how much money it had to give to various projects in 2021.
“The information seemed to be presented later this year with so many things going on with changes to election law and the CARES Act funding,” Irey Vaughan said of the announcement from the state Department of Community & Economic Development on how much money the county would have to disburse. “There just have been so many things going on, they had to prioritize. So we received this a little later than we would typically on the funding amounts.”
The LSA committee will hold virtual public hearings with the applicants from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday and 8 to 10 a.m. Friday. The meetings will be streamed online – information on where will be released this week – and there will be a link for the public at attend and comment. The committee will then vote Friday.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Kotula, who chairs the LSA committee, said they reviewed various projects for community improvement, economic development, job training and public interest, which includes water and sewage infrastructure.
“The committee undertakes this initial review to ensure that we understand all aspects of each project and that we are prepared to discuss these projects with the applicants,” Kotula said of Friday’s review process. “The LSA Review Committee is looking forward to learning more about these important projects during our public presentations next week.”
John Haynes, who is chief of staff for the county and a member of the LSA board, said he was excited about the process and looking forward to learning more about the projects during the interviews.
“There are many choices that will hopefully have a great and powerful impact on the county,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the presentations.”