Easton City picked a new councilman, heard a pitch to back efforts for train service in the Lehigh Valley and listened to gloomy warnings the city should expect a lot less in federal community development block grant funds, the lifeblood of neighborhood improvement projects.
The new councilman, Jim Edinger, a longtime West Ward resident who lives in the 1100 block of Lehigh St., was council’s choice to replace former councilman Michael Fleck, who resigned to move to Allentown to advance his campaign-consulting business, instead of Stephen White, a resident of the 900 block of Ferry St., who was the only other person who applied.
“Both were very strong and passionate about the city,” said council member Ken Brown.
Earlier in the meeting Kirk D. Raup, executive director of Suburban-Metro Rail Transit, Lehigh Valley, or SMART-LV Regional Rail, read a proposed resolution to council asking it to help create a Rail Transit Authority, one of the many missing pieces in the long-talked about idea to bring passenger trains to the region. Similar plans to bring commuter trains to the Poconos have been floated for decades. Despite all the talk and some would say hype, no trains are any closer to making runs here or in the Poconos, though Raup said the plan for trains in the Poconos is “actually a little bit ahead of us.”
Trains stopped running through Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton in 1962, he said.
Mayor Sal Panto said council will discuss Raup’s proposed resolution at a meeting in August.
In a more near-term problem, Karen Parish, who advises Easton on its Community
Development Block Grant Program, told council it should be prepared for what she estimated will be a 25 percent cut in funding from the federal government.
The city is anticipating it will receive slightly more than $700,000 in 2014, a figure Parish called “overly optimistic.”
Parish said she has suggested the city be prepared for a number closer to in the low to mid-$600,000.
Block grant funds were used last year for a canopy at the downtown amphitheatre, playground equipment for Centennial and Walnut Street parks in the West Ward; trash receptacles for the downtown and West Ward and completion of 6 and 7th streets crosswalks, among other things.
Panto criticized the continuing slide in federal funding the city has been experiencing over the years and said he found it particularly disturbing that elected officials in Washington, D.C., treat mayors such as himself as just another “lobbyist” looking for money.
Parish said the block grant money the city now gets is less than half what it was just six or seven years ago. “The program is taking a beating,” she said.