Mercer Co. leaders tell Senator infrastructure needed for improvements

HERMITAGE, Pa. (WYTV) – It’s a long road ahead. That was the feeling after Mercer County leaders met with a U.S. Senator Monday afternoon, looking for improvements.

Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey stopped at Buhl Park in Hermitage to meet with about 20 local leaders for an hour.

Everything was up for discussion, from the opioid problem in the area, to blight, to education.

The major focus of the meeting, however, was infrastructure. Officials said the county has over $110 million worth of infrastructure costs for everything from water and sewers to bridges.

“We have a tremendous amount of companies that want to come in and locate here but if you don’t have the infrastructure in place, we lose those opportunities,” said Randy Seitz, CEO of Penn Northwest Development Corporation.

Both Sears and Macy’s recently announced they would be closing stores in the Shenango Valley Mall. That takes a toll on the area.

“It’s a deterioration of the neighborhood. It’s the decreased property values and lends it not appealing for people to move into,” said Sharon City Manager Robert Fiscus.

Sen. Casey agreed that fixing the infrastructure is not only good for business but will create a more active community as well.

“Sometimes the only connection to the outside world the community has is the bridge people cross when they go back and forth to work or back and forth to school, and we have to make sure they have those opportunities,” he said.

Blight was another topic of discussion.

Sharon alone has roughly 250 vacant properties. Fiscus said it will cost $1.5 million to tear them all down — money he said the city doesn’t have right now.

“We’re reviewing options and there’s not a lot, though. There’s not a lot of funding from the state and federal government, and the ability to tax the citizens is difficult.”

Casey said a massive infrastructure bill needs to be put forward. He also said the way we think about infrastructure needs to change and the internet will play a large role in that.

“Making sure that people can connect to the internet when they’re running a small business. Making sure children in our schools can have access to the internet so they can learn, do their homework, complete assignments.”

Still, it will take time.

As Casey heads back to Washington, local leaders here will continue to look for answers.