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Luzerne County infrastructure loan receives second stage of approval

Luzerne County’s Redevelopment Authority unanimously voted Wednesday to adopt resolutions needed to advance county government’s receipt of more than $50 million in gambling funding to address infrastructure, officials said.

The move came the day after a county council majority agreed to guarantee a new infrastructure loan under the condition the funds cover only county-owned projects.

The loan is possible because new state legislation customized solely for the county redirects $3 million annually for 25 years from the casino-gambling Local Share Account (LSA) to create an infrastructure fund.

The county Redevelopment Authority must borrow to create the fund and then repay the debt using the annual $3 million LSA earmark. The county is involved because financial institutions want assurance the county would repay the debt if the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township unexpectedly closes down the road.

The legislation leaves it up to the county redevelopment authority to recommend projects that should be funded, with final award approval by the Commonwealth Finance Authority — a state entity that already approves other LSA awards that are not part of this special program.

To address county council concerns about the guarantee, a memorandum of understanding between the county and redevelopment authority approved by both entities allows council to decide which projects the authority submits to the Commonwealth Finance Authority.

Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Andrew Reilly verified the authority board unanimously approved the related resolutions Wednesday.

The authority also discussed the possibility of issuing another request-for-proposals from financial institutions to handle the transaction, although no motion was made during Wednesday’s meeting, he said.

Some have argued the authority should seek proposals again because the original request stated no guarantee would be provided by the county or authority.

Replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River, currently estimated at $45 million, is identified as the primary project to be funded, although county officials will have flexibility if they deem other projects a higher priority, officials said.

Council Chairwoman Kendra Radle said Wednesday she believes the bridge replacement is warranted for public safety reasons, including emergency response.

Council has time to weigh other options once it secures the funding, which will take some time, Radle said.

State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, who was instrumental in designing and pushing for the loan program, issued a statement thanking council, the authority board and county and authority staff for their work to advance the initiative.

“Moving forward, we will work with county council and the county redevelopment authority as well as our state and federal partners to secure these funds and other necessary funds to complete these important public infrastructure projects,” he said.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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