Planning on how to spend pandemic funding

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — Many communities throughout northeastern and central Pennsylvania are trying to figure out how to build back better following the pandemic.

Among them is the seat of Luzerne County, which is benefitting from tens of millions of dollars in federal funding. It’s no secret that Wilkes-Barre is receiving a massive amount of money in American Rescue Plan funding. But what Eyewitness News learned Thursday is that the city is leaning on three social agencies for advice on how to best spend the funds.

How do you spend $37.1 million in federal funding to benefit a city negatively impacted by the pandemic? Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown is trying to answer that question with help from the United Way of Wyoming Valley, the Commission on Economic Opportunity and the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce. The mayor was flanked by representatives of the three agencies at a news conference. One part of the nine-point plan Mayor Brown crafted is business development.

“If new businesses want to come into the city, we’re going to help you with start-up funds. Getting back into the city, bring the city back,” Mayor Brown said.

“This is really a great opportunity for us now to start to re-imagine how we’re going to change Wilkes-Barre once again and bring in new businesses into the area.” Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce President Wico van Genderen said.

The focus will include empty storefront space at Midtown Village and other downtown vacancies as well as neighborhoods where small businesses have struggled during the pandemic.

“And I think that this is a great way to get really that business vibe throughout the city, not just in center city,” van Genderen said.

Financial assistance is also planned for home buyers in the Diamond City.

“And you want to buy a home and live as the primary residence, we’re going to help you with down payment on a home,” Brown said.

Also receiving some of the pandemic funding? Struggling families.

“There’s all kind of human service issues that have been the result of COVID and the mayor wants to do his part to ensure that those people who are hurting get some help,” United Way of Wyoming Valley President/CEO Bill Jones said.

Mayor Brown also calls for using the federal funding to shore up Solomon, Laurel Run and Mill Creeks and address stormwater and sewer line concerns.

And Wednesday night, he got council’s approval to use funding to reduce garbage bag costs by $3 a package and cut parking meter rates in half from $2 an hour to just $1.

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