indiana borough bldg sign

Indiana Borough and Indiana County officials are wading through comments and needs as they put together an application, now due Aug. 31, for a special Community Development Block Grant of $87,437 for the borough.

“The borough is investigating what would be the best use of their funds,” said LuAnn Zak, assistant director for community development and housing in the Indiana County Office of Planning & Development, during a virtual hearing Tuesday aimed at the borough’s business community. “At this point in time there has not been a final determination.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the second of two conducted to obtain input about using the funding being made available to the borough under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act. The borough actually will get $78,600, with the county using $8,837, or 10.1 percent, for administrative purposes such as advertising and preparing an application.

Also, Zak pointed out, “there are some questions that we are waiting for clarification on.”

Proposals must meet one or more of three objectives: benefit low- and moderate-income persons; prevent or eliminate slums or blight; and/or alleviate immediate threats to the health and safety of the community. The county on behalf of the borough must commit no less than 70 percent of the total funds, after administration costs, to projects which principally benefit low- and moderate-income persons.

It appears one purpose for the funding will be continued participation in a research program being conducted by BioBot, a company formed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that specializes in wastewater epidemiology.

Previously, borough Manager C. Michael Foote said the borough has entered a partnership of sorts with BioBot, collecting samples to track the possible presence of the COVID-19 virus in sewage the borough takes into its wastewater treatment plant.

The samples are being collected anyway, said Roland Francis, the borough’s plant pre-treatment coordinator.

It is a national research project, involving researchers at BioBot, MIT, Harvard University and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital seeking to map COVID-19 across the United States.

Foote said it is a “feather in our cap to be participating,” but an expensive one — right now costing the borough $120 per sample, with the price to rise soon to over $1,200 per sample.

Foote said there also was a possibility that the surveillance program could come under a larger partnership involving Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Indiana Regional Medical Center.

He said the subject also came up Monday at a meeting of borough council’s Public Works Committee.

Helping nonprofits is a possibility.

However, Foote said, “we have spoken to some of our nonprofits; none have reached out to seek any assistance.”

Stephanie Walters, a borough planning and zoning staffer, said she had contacted some nonprofits at the beginning of April, where some indicated to her they could use the money, but are getting adequate funding from elsewhere. She said she would be following up with other organizations.

There were few in attendance at either hearing, available through Zoom and Facebook Live. A hearing aimed at the community last week brought out 14 to 15 participants, while Tuesday’s meeting brought out eight.

In both cases, that included borough staff and officials, including Foote and Council President Peter Broad, as well as county Commissioner Sherene Hess last week.

In either case, the comment period was supposed to end at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Zak said she didn’t think anyone would object to extending deadline for written or verbal comments until June 30 at 4 p.m.

Zak can be reached at (724) 465-3875 or by email at admin1@ceo.co.indiana.pa.us.

Borough staff also may be contacted, through www.indianaboro.com or the borough’s Facebook page.