PTSSD grants 20K to Spirit newspaper

The Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict, un­til re­cently, awar­ded funds to non­profits, com­munity groups’ pro­jects, parks’ friends groups, edu­ca­tion­al and sports pro­grams and loc­al churches. This year, the dis­trict has provided a grant to the for-profit com­munity news­pa­per.

The Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict has awar­ded a $20,000 grant to the Spir­it com­munity news­pa­per. It is the first time the dis­trict has awar­ded funds to a private busi­ness.

Joe Rafter, chair­man of the PTSSD board, said the board de­cided that de­liv­er­ing funds to the Spir­it would be­ne­fit the com­munity by provid­ing new com­puters to the news­pa­per.

A big part of the board’s de­cision, he said, was the fact that the pa­per provides in­tern­ship op­por­tun­it­ies to stu­dents of Drexel and Temple uni­versit­ies and Mes­si­ah Col­lege.

Formed after years of ne­go­ti­ations between com­munity groups and rep­res­ent­at­ives of Sug­ar­house casino, the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict was cre­ated in Janu­ary of 2010 as part of a com­munity agree­ment with Sug­ar­house.

The dis­trict is in­ten­ded to en­sure that the areas closest to the gambling house will not be neg­at­ively im­pacted by its prox­im­ity to the neigh­bor­hoods.

To that end, the casino prom­ised yearly fund­ing – which could grow to over $1 mil­lion per year when the fi­nal stage of the casino’s planned con­struc­tion is com­plete – to be dis­bursed by a board of rep­res­ent­at­ives, which is made up of res­id­ents who reside with­in the dis­trict the PTSSD serves.

The dis­trict in­cludes Fishtown, North­ern Liber­ties and parts of Kens­ing­ton and cur­rently re­ceives an an­nu­al sti­pend of about $500,000. So far, the board has re­ceived three pay­ments from the casino, total­ing over $1 mil­lion.

A sev­en-mem­ber board re­views any ap­plic­a­tion for fund­ing – es­sen­tially, any­one who works or lives with­in the dis­trict’s bound­ar­ies can ap­ply – and funds are doled out to ap­plic­ants at pub­lic meet­ings. 

Un­til re­cently, the dis­trict’s funds have gone to non­profit groups loc­ated with­in the tar­geted ser­vice dis­trict – or non­profits that work with groups with­in the dis­trict – and to pro­jects for area com­munity groups, to friends groups at area parks, to edu­ca­tion­al and sports pro­grams for loc­al youth and seni­ors, and to loc­al church pro­grams.

In an email to the Star, Kerry Auge, ad­min­is­trat­or for the PTSSD, said that this is the first time the board provided funds to a privately owned, for-profit busi­ness be­cause it “felt strongly that the Spir­it would be able to en­hance the qual­ity of life in the com­munity with the ad­di­tion of graph­ic design and journ­al­ism in­terns…”

Also, when asked to dis­cuss the de­cision, Auge shared a list of ad­di­tion­al reas­ons for provid­ing fund­ing to the pa­per, which in­cluded that the Spir­it rovides: “…free press/ads for many loc­al non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tions; …a hub for seni­ors and/or oth­ers without tech­no­logy at home to use com­puters, fax ma­chines, copi­ers; …a ven­ue for loc­al or­gan­iz­a­tion to sell tick­ets/shirts, etc.”

The Spir­it’s of­fice also serves as a pick-up and drop-off point for the ap­plic­a­tion forms for that need to be filled out by any­one who would like to re­quest funds from the PTSSD.

Con­tac­ted last week, Spir­it ub­lish­er Mary­anne Mil­ligan said the com­munity pa­per provides sig­ni­fic­ant ser­vices to the river­wards, not­ing that many of the pa­per’s stor­ies fo­cus on loc­al non­profits and new busi­nesses throughout the river­wards. These stor­ies, she said, could be con­sidered “free ad­vert­ising.”

“That’s all free ad­vert­ising for them,” said Mil­ligan. “It’s free pub­li­city ab­so­lutely…It’s more than just the com­munity cal­en­dar.”

Loc­al seni­ors, she said, can also vis­it the pa­per’s of­fice to use com­puters to, for ex­ample, pay a bill on­line – she said it’s not likely that they would vis­it the of­fice to simply check their e-mail.

The pa­per usu­ally provides two spots for col­lege in­terns each school semester, Mil­ligan said.

The pa­per’s of­fice also provides loc­al groups – Mil­ligan poin­ted to the Fishtown Ath­let­ic Club and the ath­let­ic club’s alumni as­so­ci­ation –a place to sell items for fun­draisers.

Yet, so far, the news­pa­per is the only strictly for-profit busi­ness to re­ceive a share of this com­munity fund­ing – though Rafter joked that these days, “How many pa­pers can say they are mak­ing a profit?”

In oth­er parts of the city where SSDs ex­ist, fund­ing doesn’t ap­pear to have been used in this way.

In­stead, the Old City Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict – fun­ded through a 5-per­cent tax on busi­nesses with­in the dis­trict – uses funds to af­ford mar­ket­ing pro­grams to pro­mote all busi­nesses in the dis­trict and fo­cuses on clean­ing and green­ing the area.

The Sports Com­plex Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict – fun­ded by the loc­al sports teams - spon­sors com­munity events, af­fords area clean-up ef­forts and puts fund­ing to­ward pro­grams to help ease traffic flow prob­lems in the heav­ily-traf­ficked area.

Shawn Ja­los­in­ski, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the SC­SSD, said the group has nev­er provided funds to any news­pa­per – in­stead, the SC­SSD has its own com­munity news­let­ter.

Rafter said the board has turned down sev­er­al re­quests for busi­ness grants in the past.

Asked if she is wor­ried the new fund­ing could slant the pa­per’s cov­er­age of the casino or the PTSSD in the fu­ture,

Mil­ligan said she was con­fid­ent that the money would not cre­ate any ed­it­or­i­al bi­as.

“We are go­ing to re­port on the things that need to be re­por­ted on,” she said.

The PTSSD holds monthly meet­ings at 6:30 p.m. on the third Wed­nes­day of each month, up­stairs at Liber­ties -  ar and res­taur­ant loc­ated at the corner of 2nd Street and Fair­mount Ave. All meet­ings are open to the pub­lic.

<em>Grant re­quest forms are avail­able on the PTSSD’s web­site at www.pen­ and can be emailed to the board’s sec­ret­ary, Dolores Grif­fith at dgrif­fith@pen­ or can be dropped off at the of­fices of the Spir­it, at 1428 E. Susque­hanna Ave.

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