The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 19, 2012

Blight effort should be more than cash grab

Daily Item

---- — Northumberland County planning officials have approached their counterparts in six municipalities in a bid to form a pool of Community Development Block Grant funds to focus on blight eradication efforts. County officials believe that by combining their block grant dollars, the effort would have a larger local match to seek state dollars.

The county asked the municipalities to designate up to 30 percent of their grant allocation in exchange for receiving an identical share of whatever additional match the blight effort receives from the state.

County planning director Pat Mack said that officials in three communities -- Shamokin, Coal Township and Ralpho Township -- have expressed an interest in participating in the pooling plan. Sunbury and Milton are still on the fence, while planning director Pat Mack said he has little confidence that Delaware Township will buy into the proposal.

The planning department has asked for answers by Oct. 1 so that the county can apply for the additional state money by the end of the year.

The planning department's vision of pooling funds to create leverage to obtain additional state support for the project might be a reasonable practice in the private sector. It may be a profitable way to approach the grant-winning game.

But is it right?

While those frustrated by government like to suggest the public sector might function more efficiently if it operated more like a business, the government cannot be run like a business. Those working for taxpayers should not be looking to game the grant systems to get more money, no matter how worthy the cause.

Certainly, fighting blight is an effort that most people in public office in Northumberland County will endorse.

The idea originated with the county's housing authority which received $35,000 to establish a blight task force. The effort germinated with a bid for state dollars and has continued to develop into a broader bid to get a larger sum of state investment.

All the while, the blight eradication efforts has been beset by a lack of clarity except for the demonstrated interest in local and county officials to use the problem as a pretext to obtain funding from other levels of government.

We hope community leaders across the county will explore how they can support ways to effectively improve the economic vitality of the places they call home. The effort cannot be only about getting more money.