High school students in Potter County are the focus of a new program designed to guide them on their quest to find a career path. A unique partnership between Potter County Human Services and the Potter County Education Council is being implemented in cooperation with the county’s five public school districts as well as Port Allegany. Bob Wicker, retired Oswayo Valley School District superintendent, is directing the Career Vocational Mentor Program. He believes there’s not a similar partnership in the country and Potter County’s initiative may serve as a national model. Six part-time mentors are being hired by the high schools to connect students with job shadowing, internship possibilities, summer employment opportunities, and to organize site visits. They also serve as a liaison between the schools and area businesses and industries to assess their employment needs. Activities are integrated with each school’s guidance department. In many cases, guidance counselors are tasked with responsibilities that limit their time in providing comprehensive educational and career counsel to students. Funding for the innovative program is divided between the partners. Potter County Human Services allotted $30,000 from its state block grant for youth development. Each school district contributed $3,000 and the Education Council committed to a $5,000 payment as well as administration.
Members of the Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition are meeting this week to plot their next steps in the concerted push for a plan that would lessen the burden for Potter County taxpayers by nearly $1 million annually. Goal of the broad-based coalition is to persuade the state legislature to increase the amount of money it pays to counties, school districts and townships for each acre of state forest, game and park land. By law, this property is tax-exempt. In some sections of Pennsylvania– Potter County is a prime example — upwards of half the acreage is state-owned. That shifts the real estate tax burden to homeowners and other property owners. Cameron, Clinton, Lycoming and several other counties have had their tax bases similarly gutted by state ownership. Among coalition leaders are Commissioners Paul Heimel (Potter), Phil Jones (Cameron), Pete Smeltz (Clinton) and Tony Mussare (Lycoming), along with Austin Area School Superintendent Jerry Sasala.
Clinton County is victimized more than any, in terms of the total acreage that has been stripped from the tax rolls due to state ownership. Commissioners Smeltz and Jeff Snyder from Clinton have joined Commissioners Heimel and Jones on a series of more than 50 face-to-face with Senate and House members to promote their mission — an increase in the annual “payment in lieu of taxes” the state makes for each acre of land it owns. Currently the figure is $1.20 paid to the affected school district, county and township. Two bills that have been languishing before the Pa. House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee call for increasing the payment to either $1.80 or $2.40. If the latter were to be approved by the General Assembly, the tax burden for property owners in Potter County alone would be decreased by about $950,000 annually.
“There’s no question that we’re being heard,” Commissioner Smeltz said. “But the support that the lawmakers have expressed for the cause has not translated into action. All we’re asking for is fairness. This is basically a fight for what’s right.”
Several statewide organizations are supporting the coalition, which was formed in 2014. Among them are the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, Pennsylvania State Grange, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania Association for Small and Rural Schools, Pennsylvania Landowners Association, Pennsylvania Forest Products Association and others. Most recently, the coalition appealed for support from the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, which has more than 30,000 members from across the state.
Details on the Pa. State Land Tax Fairness Coalition activities, including a map gallery that graphically depicts local impacts, can be found online at pastatelandtaxfairness.com.
Democratic Primary President of the United States: Hillary Clinton 402, Bernie Sanders 557, Roque Rocky De La Fuente 20. United States Senate: Joseph J. Vodvarka 112, John Fetterman 239, Joe Sestak 249, Katie McGinty 373. Pa. Attorney General: John Morganelli 169, Josh Shapiro 445, Stephen A. Zappala Jr. 329. Pa. Auditor General: Eugene A. DePasquale 844. Pa. State Treasurer: Joe Torsella 850. Representative in U.S. Congress (5th District): Kerith Strano Taylor 836.
Republican Primary President of the United States: Ted Cruz 706, Marco Rubio 25, Jeb Bush 29, Ben Carson 46, John R. Kasich 397, Donald J. Trump 2,364; United States Senate: Pat Toomey 2,937. Pa. Attorney General: Joe Peters 1,350, John Rafferty 1,495. Pa. Auditor General: John Brown 2,682. Pa. State Treasurer: Otto Voit 2,681. Representative in U.S. Congress (5th District): Glenn GT Thompson 3,072. Senator in Pa. General Assembly: Joseph B. Scarnati III 3,009. Representative in Pa. General Assembly (67th District; unopposed): Martin T. Causer 3,027; Representative in Pa. General Assembly (68th District; unopposed) Matt Baker, 240.
A statewide voter referendum asks, “Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to abolish the Philadelphia Traffic Court?” Potter County results are: Yes, 1,998; No 1,752. A statewide voter referendum that raises the mandatory retirement age of judges from the current 70 to 75 appeared on the ballot. However, a court ruling declared that the results will be invalid and the issue will likely appear again on the November ballot.
(All results are unofficial until certified by the Potter County Canvassing and Computing Board.)
One of the nation’s most highly respected private schools for needy children has resumed an outreach effort in the northcentral Pennsylvania counties. Representatives from Milton Hershey School met with the Potter County Commissioners this week. They’re appealing to families in need, social service agencies, local church and community leaders and area professionals to recruit new students.
Milton Hershey School is a cost-free residential school in Hershey that was started for orphan boys by Mr. and Mrs. Hershey. It now serves more than 1,800 boys and girls from financially and/or socially needy situations. “The school provides a positive, structured home life and quality education for pre-kindergarten through grade 12, at no cost to the needy,” explained admissions counselor Mark Brezitski. “Tens of thousands of lives have been changed for the better at Milton Hershey School.” More information is available from Brezitski at 717-520-3502.
Potter County Conservation District has welcomed Jared Dickerson (left) as its new watershed/nutrient management technician. He fills the post vacated by Jason Childs (right), who was appointed district manager earlier this year. A graduate of Otto-Eldred High School, Dickerson holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Lycoming College. He also minored in environmental science and served an internship with the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection’s water quality division. Among his duties are helping area organizations, farmers and landowners with conservation practices. Dickerson will also be closely involved with district’s nutrient management programs for agriculturalists.
Crusades to prevent water pollution can take many forms, from political activism to government regulations. But behind the front lines are water warriors who represent the feet on the ground for a cause that has overwhelming public support. One of those battalion leaders is Jim Clark, who’s often referred to as a “water specialist” for Penn State Extension. The impact of his educational work in Potter, Cameron, McKean and other counties in the region is immeasurable. Most recently, Clark has been on a road trip to conduct workshops geared mostly toward farmers, titled “Keeping Pesticides out of Groundwater.” He has also met dozens of private water well owners to teach them steps that can take to prevent contamination of their drinking water.
The farmer-focused program has been conducted in Potter, Elk, Tioga, Clearfield, Jefferson, Armstrong and Indiana counties. Growers learn about the characteristics of groundwater – to the extent that it has been documented – and steps that can be taken to lessen or eliminate contamination. Pennsylvanians withdraw about 1 billion gallons of groundwater each day and about half of the state’s population gets at least part of its drinking water from groundwater.
“The recent California drought experience should teach us all not to take water for granted,” Clark said. “The lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, points out the decline of the country’s water infrastructure.” Providing public water sources for all users isn’t practical, he added, so it’s important for private water supply owners to be educated on pollution prevention. “It is always less expensive to protect clean water than it is to try and clean it up after it has been contaminated,” Clark pointed out.
Farmers have a personal interest because most rely on private supplies for their own drinking water. Farm water wells will usually be the first to be contaminated by pollution from pesticides. Clark’s workshops have emphasized best management practices, decisions, and actions for farmers to best protect that water. More than 300 agricultural producers have attended the sessions. Survey results found that virtually all of them reported learning something new from the work and 87 percent said they intend to take action to improve their operations as a result of attending.
Clark is also actively involved in the Potter County Water Quality Work Group, the Potter County Natural Gas Resource Center and the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition.