County To Establish 2020 Census ‘Complete Count Committee’

July 11th, 2019 Comments off

Preliminary field work for the 2020 U.S. census in Potter County is well underway and temporary jobs are being filled. This week, county officials met with a regional census official to work on strategies geared toward assuring that every Potter County citizen is counted. Heather Conrad (right), a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, conferred with (from left) Planning Director Will Hunt and Commissioners Paul Heimel, Doug Morley and Susan Kefover. Conrad offered pointers on forming an effective Complete Count Committee, to be spearheaded by the Board of Commissioners and Director Hunt.

Census numbers have a direct impact on grants, as well as dozens of programs, public works projects and government representation. Data are used to distribute support for education, transportation, health and human services, housing, criminal justice, employment services, farming and environmental protection. According to the Census Bureau, for each uncounted citizen, a county would lose an estimated $20,000 in federal benefits during the decade.

Potter County got a jump-start on the 2020 census. The Planning Department has been working with township and borough officials to support an accurate result. Planning staff has also drawn in the county Emergency Management and Assessment offices to identify new homes and verify mailing addresses. Census questionnaires have been reduced from 10 pages to 10 questions. Forms will be mailed to area residents in early 2020. They can respond online or by phone. Census-takers’ non-response follow-ups will begin in May. At the same time, the U.S. Census Bureau is beginning to add staff. First in a series of local fairs was held recently at the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport. There will be part-time job opportunities to conduct field work and door-to-door assessments. Anyone interested in potential employment as a manager, crew leader, clerk, census representative or field agent can find information as well as apply for positions online at census.gov. More information is also by calling toll-free 1-855-562-2020.

More Than 2,500 People Heard On Comprehensive Plan

July 1st, 2019 Comments off

About 60 residents of Potter, Cameron and McKean counties took advantage of another chance to speak their minds about their communities’ future during the latest public hearing on the Northern Pennsylvania Tri-County Comprehensive Plan, held recently in Port Allegany. A project of commissioners and planning boards from the three counties, the plan will guide decision-makers across a broad spectrum of public policy areas for the 2020-29 decade. Its implications will be felt in everything from economic development, environmental conservation, transportation, employment, education, small business, community facilities and other areas. Brian Funkhouser (left) from the consulting firm Michael Baker International moderated the Port Allegany meeting. So far, roughly 2,500 people who have participated across the three counties have established the top issues for action as:

  • business attraction, workforce development and employment;
  • protection of clean air, water and natural places;
  • expansion of infrastructure (including public works and high-speed internet);
  • enhanced attractions for tourism and recreation;
  • strengthening downtown amenities and community services;
  • investing in expanded housing;
  • addressing gaps in health care and drug addiction services.

Other issues raised by a sizeable number of citizens include preserving agriculture (including the forest products industry), education, volunteerism and transportation. Focus groups have been meeting to provide the framework. Input is also being accepted by planning directors Will Hunt (Potter), Jeremy Morey (McKean) and Cliff Clark (Cameron).

Initial research cited multiple public policy challenges that will be posed by declining population, combined with steady increases in median age. Implications will be felt in terms of needed services, changes in the job market, economics and other areas. While the master document covers a three-county region, the plan will include sections that are exclusive to each county. The plan is mandated by the state and must be updated every 10 years. Total cost is $115,000, with $80,000 covered by federal funding and the remaining $35,000 shared equally among Cameron, Potter and McKean counties.

Hunt reports that the three-county steering committee will meet July 15 in Emporium to review the latest round of public input. A draft of the comprehensive plan will be posted in early fall for a 45-day public comment period, and an updated document will be presented to the three board of commissioners for recommended adoption before Thanksgiving.

State Lags In Paying Share Of DA’s Salary

June 13th, 2019 Comments off

scalesPotter County Commissioners continue to await payment from the state for its share of District Attorney Andy Watson’s salary. Act 57 of 2005 obligates the state to pay the 65 percent of a full-time DA’s salary, which was increased by the state government to $182,184 in 2019. By law, the District Attorney’s salary is $1,000 less than the salary of a county’s President Judge. When those payments lag, the county covers the entire cost, a situation that does not sit well with commissioners across the state.

The commissioners this week received a long-overdue payment of $116,544 from the state as reimbursement for the D.A’s 2018 salary. Another $118,420 is due for 2019. According to a spokesman for the Office of Attorney General, the Criminal Justice Enhancement Account does not have enough funds to reimburse the full amount in a timely manner. As the funds continue to accumulate in the account, the state will make at least a partial payment for the overdue 2019 reimbursement.

Successful School Year For Career Mentor Program

June 7th, 2019 Comments off

Another successful year for the Career Mentor Program was celebrated with a luncheon at the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport. Beginning with the 2015-16 school year, the Potter County Education Council (PCEC) has partnered with school districts to place a dedicated professional staffer in each district. The mentor advises students on career planning; coordinates field trips, job shadowing and other opportunities for students to experience local jobs and professions; serves as a liaison between employers and educators; and communicates with students one-on-one to review options such as college, technical training, military service or direct employment following high school graduation. Nicole Brown Zaun serves as career mentor program supervisor for the PCEC. The program is supported by the Potter County Commissioners, Potter County Human Services, local school districts, and the Seneca Highlands Career & Technical Center. Shown from left at the annual luncheon are: Hailey Brown (Coudersport); Nicole Zaun; Virginia Kamper (Northern Potter); Heather Supplee (Galeton), Jennifer Osti (Austin), Alexis Reed (Port Allegany) and Jon Skipper (Seneca Highlands CTC).

Taking Potter County Internet Access To Next Level

May 28th, 2019 Comments off

Potter County Commissiones and the Potter County Planning Commission hosted an informational session at the Gunzburger Building on the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) high-speed internet project– and the options to expand internet service beyond Tri-County’s footprint. Aaron Young (shown), who recently joined the team as chief technology officer for the Tri-Co Connections subsidiary, explained that the build-out will start in Potter County and eventually extend to nearly 17,000 REC members in the cooperative’s seven-county service area. A $27 million loan will supplement federal and state grants to pay for the historic $77 million project, according to Bill Gerski (left), senior vice president for business development.

Construction is underway in Potter County for the first 100-mile phase, bringing fiber optic/broadband service to 723 residential, 626 seasonal, 98 small business, and 9 large business customers. Over the next five to six years, another 3,150 miles of fiber will be constructed. Tri-County REC itself will benefit in multiple ways, including remote monitoring of its electrical network, from substations to distribution lines and individual installations; smart meters, and other capabilities.

Potter County Planning Director Will Hunt explained that the county learned through extensive public surveying related to the new comprehensive plan that expansion of broadband service is a high priority in underserved areas. “We are now taking steps to identify gaps in broadband service in and around Potter County, and to help identify potential partners and funding sources that may be able to fill the gaps for rural broadband in areas not serviced by Tri-County,” Hunt added.

His office has compiled an assessment as follows:

Opportunities

  • Improve the quality of life for Potter County residents by closing the gap of the “digital divide.”
  • Ability to close the gaps and provide services to residents who currently do not have access to internet service of 25mb or greater speed;
  • Funds to be allocated by the state or federal governments to support the build-out in underserved areas.

Challenges

  • Identify the homes and businesses not serviced by existing internet service providers.
  • Identify potential providers to fill the service gaps.
  • Investigate partnerships and/or incentives to attract service providers.

Steps Forward

  • Create a planning committee to supervise a feasibility study for development of expanded broadband service.
  • Identify public and private partners to serve on, or advise, the committee.

Commissioners, Local Govts. Partner For Bridge Funding

May 17th, 2019 Comments off

A work group comprised of the Potter County Commissioners, representatives of the Potter County Association of Township Officials and Potter County Planning Department will convene later this year to review requests for funding to support local bridge repairs. The application process is now open. Townships and boroughs must submit their requests no later than Sept. 26.

Each year, the commissioners invite local governments to apply for a share of the Pa. Act 13 Bridge Improvement Restricted Use Fund received by the county through a state fee on shale gas wells. Under Act 13, county commissioners have the authority to distribute the funds as they see fit, as long as they address at-risk bridges. Commissioners Doug Morley, Susan Kefover and Paul Heimel, together with the County Planning Department, developed a system whereby the money is expended according to an evaluation/ranking framework to address the most critical needs. Several other counties have since adopted the Potter County system as a model.

Under Act 13, Potter County receives $40,000 annually in the Restricted Use Fund. Details can be found on the county website, pottercountypa.net, under the Planning Department tab. More information is available from Potter County Planning Director Will Hunt at 814-274-8254, ext. 229.