ALIQUIPPA – A high profile underdog from Beaver County is among those honored by the Governor’s Office for Local Excellence this year.
The Pennsylvania Department for Community and Economic Development named the city of Aliquippa a recipient of the Governor’s Award for Local Government Excellence in 2021. Each year local governments and elected leaders are welcomed for improvement in their communities.
“After an unprecedented pandemic that has ravaged communities across the state, this year’s awards speak for the resilience and proactive efforts of the inspiring Pennsylvania community leaders and groups we celebrate today,” DCED Secretary Dennis Davin said in a statement.
Mayor Dwan Walker and Councilor Donald Walker were specially nominated for their efforts to stabilize the city’s finances and strengthen its economy after years of structural deficits.
The brothers have been a “driving force” in rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, eradicating epidemics and fighting poverty for the past 10 years, Wolf’s government said.
“It speaks for what we’ve tried since our tenure,” said Dwan Walker, who was elected Aliquippa’s first African-American mayor in 2011. “To change the landscape of Aliquippa and to put the city above everything. This shows that Aliquippa doesn’t want to be left behind. We want to be known as a city of excellence and a city to do business in. “
The award was welcome news for the Walker brothers, who said they fought to redefine a city that is often equated with football or crime and corruption.
One of the most challenging tasks is balancing the city’s budget and pursuing a strategy to leave the Pennsylvania Act 47 status. According to state law, Aliquippa could lose its designation “desperate” as early as June 2022, more than three decades after its first entry into the program.
“This is a big deal,” said Dwan Walker. “It’s good to take these monikers off. If you are in a desperate state, they will not do business with you. But if you’re one of the few to leave Pennsylvania, that speaks volumes. “
With help from the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance and the revamped Aliquippa Economic Development Corporation, Donald Walker said city guides continue to prioritize the removal of destroyed property. As the population declined and poverty rates increased, Aliquippa was left with an overwhelming number of derelict buildings. An estimated 800 residential and commercial spaces are already vacant – and almost 18% of the city’s residential units.
“We have now demolished about 42 destroyed houses,” said Donald Walker. “There is a nationwide pandemic of empty and run-down buildings. We attack broken window syndrome because everyone says broken windows mean broken communities. “
Mayor Walker said his city welcomed more than 50 new businesses during his tenure, and the city had entered a neighborhood partnership program to further expand industrial, commercial and business locations. The AEDC also works with the Pittsburgh Food Bank and the Salvation Army to provide food to hundreds of low-income residents.
“We were classified as a food desert because we don’t have a grocery store in our downtown area. I would love to see someone publicly invest in a grocery store,” said Dwan Walker.
Other notable achievements for the city include a new digital media center in the local library and the establishment of a qualified opportunity zone in the city. Aliquippa Municipal Water Authority in February laid the foundation stone for a new $ 15 million water filtration facility in hopes of providing cleaner drinking water for residents.
“As soon as something is published about Aliquippa, everyone jumps on it like they’re kicking a dog when it’s down,” said Dwan Walker. “I just want this city to live.”
Chrissy Suttles covers business, energy and the environment for Beaver County Times and the USAToday Network. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @ChrissySuttles.