Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition has been chosen to receive an international Special Achievement in GIS Award, to be presented at the annual Esri International User Conference in July. It’s a testament to the work of a team of Geographic Information Systems specialists who have been creating effective graphics and data showing how the tax bases of Potter, Cameron, Clinton and many other Pennsylvania counties are being gutted by the presence of large volumes of tax-exempt state land. Their work is displayed in a Map Gallery found on the website, pastatelandtaxfairness.com.
“This is a tremendous compliment to the GIS professionals who have been working with our organization,” said the coalition’s chairman, Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel. “They continue to produce maps that graphically depict the high proportion of state land and reduced-assessment real estate in each county, municipality and school district. Virtually everyone who sees these maps has come to better understand our plight and support our cause. Our own Potter County GIS Director Will Hunt (left) has been an integral part of the Map Gallery’s development.”
Commissioner Heimel and GIS Director Hunt serve on the coalition’s steering committee. Other members are Commissioners Phil Jones (Cameron), Pete Smeltz (Clinton) and Tony Mussare (Lycoming), and Austin Area School administrator Jerry Sasala. The organization seeks to persuade the legislature to increase the amount of “payments in lieu of taxes” made to school districts, counties and townships for each acre of tax-exempt state forest, game and park lands; and to carve out 20 percent of the revenue the state gets from gas/oil leases and timber sales for the same three taxing bodies. In areas where the state owns a significant amount of real estate, private property owners are unfairly burdened with higher taxes.
Residents in Potter and eight other northwestern Pennsylvania counties will be able to earn two-year college degrees or receive other specialized training and education through the Rural Regional Community College. It has been more than three years in the making, according to Sen. Joseph Scarnati, who shepherded enabling legislation through the State Senate. Rep. Martin Causer was a champion of the bill in the State House of Representatives. A 15-member board of trustees is meeting regularly to direct the community college’s development and administration, in consultation with local educators, industrial leaders and business owners. Goal is to tailor curriculum to the needs of employers in the region. Representing Potter County on the board are Commissioner Doug Morley (left) and Ed Pitchford (right), chief executive officer of Charles Cole Memorial Hospital.
Potter County’s Women’s Residential Rehabilitation Center in the former Northern Tier Children’s Home now has five residents – and growing. Women who are court-ordered to the Harrison Valley facility receive comprehensive services designed to reduce their chances of reoffending. Up to 44 residents can be accommodated at the center, the only one of its kind in the state. It houses non-violent women, many of whom are in need of substance abuse and/or mental health treatment, employability support, educational assistance and other services. The women are housed in a residential setting, where families will able to visit and participate in structured counseling sessions with the detainee.
The program complements the county’s “specialty courts” project, providing special handling of criminal cases involving alcoholics and other drug addicts, and a new re-entry initiative that involves one-on-one counseling of men who are being released from the Potter County Jail. Nine staff members maintain the day-to-day operations. Executive Director Melissa Gee (second from left) and two caseworkers are responsible for providing drug, alcohol, mental health and educational services. Work release is available for some residents. Two have already secured employment in Harrison Valley.
Discussions are underway with officials from neighboring counties about sending their female prisoners to the center, which would lower costs for Potter County. State officials are studying the program and looking at the possibility of using it as a model. A deputy State Attorney General recently visited to get a first-hand look. Here, Joe Karpinski from Karpinski’s Office Systems of Coudersport delivers a copy machine his company donated to support the new Potter County Women’s Residential Rehabilitation Center.
Dog owners in Potter County who have yet to obtain licenses for their canines are running out of time. Dog wardens are conducting compliance checks over the next several weeks. They will be checking to make sure canines have been properly licensed and kept up to date on their rabies vaccinations. State law requires that all dogs age three months or older be licensed by Jan. 1 of each year. If a dog does not have a current license, its owner can face a fine of anywhere from $50 to $300, plus costs.
Cost of a regular annual license is $8.50. If a dog is spayed or neutered, the cost is $6.50. Residents age 65 or older and disabled persons receive a discount of $2.00. Lifetime licenses are also available at a cost of $51.50, or $31.50 for spayed/neutered. Senior and disabled discounts apply. Licenses can be purchased at the county treasurer’s office in the Gunzburger Building or online through the treasurer’s section of the county website (click on Departments), pottercountypa.net. Applications can also be downloaded directly at padoglicense.com.
Latest edition of Shale Gas Roundup is now available. It’s the quarterly newsletter of the Potter County Natural Resource Center and features timely, locally relevant news about shale gas development and related topics, Among highlights of this edition:
- Potter County’s shale gas bounty may lie more in Utica Shale than Marcellus.
- More drilling inevitable on state forest, game and park lands.
- Counties speak out on drilling regulations, future of impact fee.
- Where does Potter County stand in terms of shale gas development?
- Mythbuster: Gas flow increasing in Appalachian Basin.
- DEP’s tougher drilling regulations heading for new public comment period.
To access the April-June 2015 edition as well as all past editions, visit the website pottercountypa.net (newsletter icon is found on the cover page). Copies are also available at the Commissioners Office in the Gunzburger Building (first office on right inside Main Street entrance), or by contacting Dawn Swatsworth at 814-274-8290, extension 207.
A plan to revitalize downtown Coudersport and make it more appealing to tourists was unveiled during a public meeting that drew about 50 people to the F. W Gunzburger County Office Building. It calls for walking trails, aesthetic improvements, parking changes, cultural/business strategy shifts and a marketing campaign identifying Coudersport as, for example, “The Heart of God’s Country.” Benesch Associates has produced the blueprint for Coudersport Borough, in partnership with the Potter County Redevelopment Authority and the Coudersport Downtown Committee. Wednesday’s meeting included a description of the plan and an opportunity for public comment. It was conducted by (from left) Benesch representative Mike Peleschak, Drew Sonntag from the Urban Research and Development Corp., and Commissioner Susan Kefover, who heads the Downtown Committee.
The consultants recommended that a “Main Street Manager” or a similar champion be retained, possibly in partnership with other area communities, to spearhead the ambitious plan. They said there are state grants and other potential funding sources for many of their recommended downtown improvements and strategies. David Brooks, executive director of the Potter County Visitors Association, pointed out that while the grant application process could take many months or even years, community leaders could begin to implement portions of the plan incrementally.
The plan’s origins date back to PennDOT’s announcement two years ago that the department would be resurfacing U.S. Route 6 and repairing its substructure and rights-of-way in the business district. Work zone for the 2016 project is the Coudersport Arboretum (South West Street) eastward to the Coudersport Consistory area on East Second Street. Local leaders recognized the project as an opportunity to push for improvements in the downtown infrastructure and aesthetics. That has evolved to include proposals for new approaches to marketing the town and attracting new retailers.