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McKeesport officials will embark on an ambitious plan to demolish 150 to 200 homes and pave long-neglected streets, Mayor Michael Cherepko said Wednesday night.
Addressing city council before it voted on the 2018 budget, Cherepko said the "McKeesport Rising" project is intended to leverage the proceeds of the $159 million sale of the city's sewerage authority to Pennsylvania-American Water Co.
That sale of the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport is expected to close before the end of the year, the mayor said, and should net taxpayers more than $40 million.
"I think it's only appropriate to manage that money as carefully as possible to last as long as possible," Cherepko said, but added that next year's budget also includes $2.5 million earmarked toward capital projects, including blight removal and street paving.
"And if all goes well, I will probably come back to council to ask for a similar amount next year," the mayor said.
Cherepko said the program will touch every ward and every neighborhood of the city, but will start along main thoroughfares such as Walnut Street, Versailles Avenue, Evans Avenue and Jenny Lind Street.
"We are looking at ways to make an impact right off the bat, so that even people driving through can see what we're doing," he said, adding, "we have to get a grasp on our neighborhoods again."
Some of the demolition work will be put out for bid to contractors, but other work will be done in-house by city employees, Cherepko said.
"This is about changing the morale in our neighborhoods, it's about people seeing that something is getting done, and taking more pride in their own property," he said.
In addition, city officials, including Administrator Tom Maglicco and Public Works Director Steve Kondrosky, are looking at new paving equipment, including an Asphalt Zipper pavement grinder, to speed street resurfacing and lower the costs.
"It gives us a lot to look forward to next year," Council President Rich Dellapenna Jr. said after the meeting. "It's encouraging."
By some estimates, McKeesport has upwards of 800 abandoned, vacant houses, and "the number just keeps growing," he said.
"You've got to eliminate the blight to make McKeesport more inviting, and you've got to kind of market the city," Dellapenna said. Calling the effort "McKeesport Rising" is a good start, he said.
By 7-0 vote, city council on Wednesday night authorized Cherepko and other officials to explore investing the proceeds of the sewerage authority sale in the Pennsylvania School District Liquid Asset Fund, a $6 billion investment portfolio created in 1982 and overseen by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
The fund is advised by RBC Global Asset Management and held by PNC Bank, according to the research company Standard & Poor's, which has given the fund its highest possible rating --- AAAm.
Under state and federal law, Cherepko said, municipal officials are required to seek out responsible, safe investments, and the Pennsylvania School District Liquid Asset Fund is one that's under consideration.
"We have very limited options for investing," he said. "Contrary to what you may have heard about us investing the money and making a 10 percent return, that is not realistic."
Not all of the $40 million will be immediately available for investment, City Solicitor J. Jason Elash said following the meeting. Some of the money will be held in escrow accounts as the sewerage authority's business is wound down following the sale.
Among other business, Pennsylvania-American will have to negotiate easement agreements for some sewer lines, Elash said.
A portion of the money is likely to be held in escrow for up to 18 months while those negotiations, and other liabilities, are taken care of, he said.
Originally published December 06, 2017.