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Four Pa. mayors are touring the state to highlight federally funded projects

Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti makes her first stop on the Mayors Are Rebuilding PA: American Rescue Plan Funding at Work statewide tour.
Kat Bolus
Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti makes her first stop on the Mayors Are Rebuilding PA: American Rescue Plan Funding at Work statewide tour.

Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti pulled into the Outreach - Center for Community Resources parking lot in a large white 16-passenger van just after 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 31.

The nonprofit’s headquarters in Scranton was the first stop on the “Mayors Are Rebuilding PA: American Rescue Plan Funding at Work” tour. Throughout the tour, Cognetti will be joined by Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter, Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk and Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace.

The federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) provided $6.15 billion to counties, cities and local governments across PA for COVID-19 response efforts. During the tour, the mayors planned to discuss projects funded by ARPA in their individual cities.

"It really is rebuilding the state, the cities in the state especially," Cognetti said.

At Outreach, Cognetti and Executive Director Laurie Chaffers discussed how the ARPA funding is helping combat learning loss as a result of the pandemic and expanding educational opportunities.

"We try to move today's families forward," said Chaffers. "And we do that by helping them achieve economic self sufficiency and family stability."

Outreach received two grants from the city's ARPA funding.

"Both of these grants have helped us, have allowed us to support people in education moving forward," Chaffers said.

Cognetti headed to Williamsport after 10 a.m. to pick up Slaughter. There they discussed investing in city parks and youth recreation at a new community splash pad at Shaw Place Park.

“What is exciting about this trip to Williamsport ... is Derek credits us, Scranton, for the splash pad idea," she said.

Slaughter and Cognetti traveled to Allentown for Tuerk, then to Lancaster to pick up Sorace. On Thursday, June 1, the mayors will head to Harrisburg to meet with Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis, followed by Pittsburgh to chat with Mayor Ed Gainey. Their tour ends in Columbus, Ohio, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ 91st Annual Meeting.

Cognetti is part of a panel at the meeting which will discuss the economy of cities. She will talk about Scranton’s Wage Boost Program.

“And how we're trying to help small businesses," she said.

She will also sit on a panel about climate resilience and highlight Scranton's climate action plan.

In January, the mayors were together in Washington, D.C., and decided to drive to the conference as a group.

"We realized that … we're all doing really cool things with the rescue plan funds," Cognetti said.

Because the rescue plan money went directly to the cities, they’ve been able to distribute it quickly to target issues in Scranton, she said.

"We'll continue to highlight that as we go across the state," Cognetti said.

The four mayors are part of the Pennsylvania Mayors’ Alliance steering committee. The alliance is in its early stages and will bring together mayors of Pennsylvania cities with 25,000 or more residents.

“We'll be meeting with the governor in June, with our new alliance, we'll be talking with him and focusing on those issues that then impact the more urban centers in Pennsylvania," Cognetti said.

Cognetti said the mayors are always bouncing ideas off each other.

"If you don't share those ideas ... we're never going to get anywhere," she said. "We can't start from scratch every day at the city."

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.