Local School Head To Testify Before State Panel

January 27th, 2015 Comments off

scales-of-justice-tippedAustin Area School District in rural Potter County is a poster child for the Pa. State Land Tax Fairness Coalition (new Coalition website here), with about 90 percent of its real estate tax-exempt due to state ownership. On Thursday, Jan. 29, Austin Area School Superintendent Jerry Sasala will testify about the inequities during an appearance before the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission in Greenville. It’s comprised of 12 Senators and Representatives, as well as the State Education Secretary, State Budget Secretary and State Deputy Secretary of Administration.

Superintendent Sasala is poised to advance the coalition’s mission to persuade the legislature to increase the in-lieu-of-taxes payments on state-owned land, and provide a cut of the revenue the state derives from gas/oil leases and timber sales for counties, school districts and municipalities. “Our school district is severely stressed by the high proportion of real estate that is owned by the state and is thus tax-exempt,” Sasala will tell the commission. “By law, school districts, municipalities and county governments depend on the real estate tax for the bulk of their necessary operating revenue. The system is unfair, since property owners face a burden that is clearly disproportional and unfair.”

Advice Available To Those Seeking Public Office

January 27th, 2015 Comments off

Running-for-OfficeIf past trends hold true, townships, boroughs and school districts will be scrambling for candidates to fill their influential government offices during the 2015 election cycle, which begins Feb. 17 when they can begin circulating petitions. Each municipality and school board has seats to fill, starting with Republican and Democratic nominations to be decided in the May 19 primary election and concluding with the final ballot during the Nov. 3 municipal election. Nominating petitions must be filed by March 10.

To address the shortage of candidates and lack of information on the electoral process for local offices, Penn State Extension is offering a webinar geared toward those seeking township, borough and school board offices from 7-9 pm on Monday, Feb. 9. “Toss Your Hat in the Ring” will include an overview of Pennsylvania local government and the responsibilities of a township supervisor, borough council member, and school board member; instructions on how to run: filing a petition, reporting campaign expenses and other important information. The webinar won’t offer campaign tips or strategies. Focus is on understanding the roles, responsibilities and personal rewards that come with public service.

Fee for the webinar is $25. Details and registration information is available at http://extension.psu.edu/community/ecd/courses/toss-your-hat-in-the-ring, or by contacting Judy Chambers at (717) 334-6271. For more information on local offices to be filled in the 2015 elections, contact Potter County Director of Elections Sandy Lewis at 274-8467.

Potter County Early Learning Team Launched

January 26th, 2015 Comments off

education_earlychild-300x102Many of the social problems that are plaguing local communities can be traced to a common root – the absence of healthy structure in early childhood. A project to address some of these gaps, the Potter County Early Learning Team, was formally unveiled at last week’s meeting of the Potter County Board of Commissioners. Helene Nawrocki, the team coordinator, told Commissioners Doug Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover that the goal is “to have early education available to every child in the area.”

Almost two-thirds of preschoolers in Potter County don’t have access to any formalized education and socialization programs, she pointed out. The Early Learning Team is out to change that. It’s a coalition of business leaders, policymakers, and organizations. Goals include establishment of more preschool programs, caregiver training and public education.

Research has shown that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by the age of five. The first few years of a child’s life are critical in determining lifelong cognitive functioning as well as behavioral, social and physical health. Children who start on the right foot are more likely to graduate from high school, stay out of jail, and become financially self-sufficient. Those without access to quality early education and effective parenting are more likely to quit school, become teen parents, develop addiction to alcohol or other drugs, suffer declining physical health, and become dependent on social services.

Preschool is just on part of the equation. Teachers, social workers and others who work with children have confirmed that the most important lessons – good or bad – are learned in the home environment. Public education activities have begun with the issuance of new releases (example below), flyers and handouts to be distributed by medical officers, public agencies, schools and others. More details will be announced.

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play-learn-grow2It’s In YOUR Hands!

Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and other caregivers can help promote intellectual growth by taking a few simple steps:

  • Be warm and loving. If you are stressed or tense take a few deeps breaths before picking up or talking to your baby or toddler.
  • Respond to your baby’s gurgles and sounds. Mimic them back to the baby.
  • Talk, sing and read to your baby or toddler. Inexpensive books can be found at the Goodwill store. Spend time with your child by visiting your local library. Ask if it has a story hour.

Anyone who would like information on programs that may be beneficial to their child is encouraged to contact the Potter County Early Learning Team by calling 814-274-4877 or by sending email to helene@pottercountyedcouncil.org.

Local Drinking Water Protection Efforts Lauded

January 26th, 2015 Comments off

MarcusKohlPix1Public officials in Potter and Tioga counties are getting high marks for their commitment to protecting drinking water resources. Marcus Kohl, director of the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection regional office in Williamsport, commended the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition (TDWC) and a similar organization in Tioga County as guest speaker during a joint meeting of the two coalitions in Mansfield. Kohl (right) expressed his support for vigilant protection of drinking water supplies from any adverse impacts of earth disturbances and industrial activity.

On a related note, TDWC chairman John McLaughlin (below) of Potter County reported on the ongoing efforts to acquire equipment that will monitor public water sources 24/7 for changes in conductivity and other characteristics. Erica Tomlinson from the Tioga County Conservation District noted that she’s working on an educational video emphasizing the importance of protecting public drinking water sources. The units could be tied into an emergency services dispatch center to trigger quick response in the event of a pollution episode.

JohnMcLaughlinTioga County Planning Director Jim Weaver updated members on the mapping of sourcewater areas with GPS technology and site visits. Penn State Extension water specialist Jim Clark announced that he is involved in a project to detect blue-green algae in ponds, lakes or other impoundments. Certain species of these algae can release a toxin into the water.

Next TDWC meeting will be held on Feb. 11 at a location to be announced.

Latest Potter County Veterans Newsletter Available

January 26th, 2015 Comments off

Veterans-Choice-CardLatest edition of the quarterly newsletter, Potter County Veterans News, is now available. Among the more timely stories in the January-March 2015 edition is a summary of the VA’s new Veterans Choice Card program. It is being distributed to all veterans enrolled for health care with the VA. The card can be used to access health care from local providers if a veteran cannot be seen by the VA in 30 days, and/or the VA’s closest medical facility is challenging to reach. It’s important for veterans interested in using the Choice Card to call the VA’s toll-free phone line at 1-866-606-8198 to confirm eligibility. The January-March 2015 edition and all past issues are available on the county website, pottercountypa.net, or by contacting Dawn Swatsworth, executive secretary for the Potter County Commissioners, at 814-274-8290, extension 207. Among other stories in January-March 2015 edition:

  • Battlefield heroics revealed in Private Edwin Tubbs Memorial Bridge dedication.
  • ‘Call To arms’ to help vets during Post 192 Veterans Day program.
  • LEEK Preserve hosts hunting experience for wounded veterans.
  • Local VA clinic continues service through 2018.
  • TU Healing Waters event to honor Vietnam veterans.
  • Specialist Donald Stiles Memorial Bridge to be dedicated.
  • Disabled veterans may qualify for tax exemption.
  • PTSD ruling will help some Vietnam veterans.
  • Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund off and running.

New Website, Other Progress In State Land Tax Issue

January 18th, 2015 Comments off

state mapWhile a new website is being launched to support the Pa. State Land Tax Fairness Coalition, more partners are coming aboard. Mission of the coalition is twofold: an increase in the in-lieu-of-taxes paid to counties, townships and counties for state forest, game and park lands; a share of revenue desired from oil/gas leasing and timber sales on state forest land with the same three local government bodies. With such a large volume of real estate being tax-exempt due to state ownership, the coalition points out, private property owners bear too heavy of a tax burden. Show here is a map of Pennsylvania depicting state forest land (in green) and other state-owned, tax-exempt land. This map and other information can be found on the new website, pastatelandtaxfairness.com, which remains under construction.

monroecccccPotter County is represented on the coalition with Commissioner Paul Heimel and GIS Director Will Hunt, as well as Jerry Sasala from Austin Area School District, serving on the seven-member statewide steering committee. About two dozen of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have 20,000 or more acres of state-owned land. Commissioners from all but a handful of those counties have signed on for the coalition’s campaign. Interestingly, commissioners from several counties with little or no state land are also coming aboard in recognition of the financial plight many of their colleagues are facing. Earlier this month, Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel (far right) took the coalition’s mission to the Poconos Region to seek support. He’s shown with Monroe County Commissioner John Moyer (left) and Chief Clerk Greg Christine. Monroe and Juniata counties are the latest partners to sign on. Steering committee members plan to continue reaching out to counties that have not officially come on board to seek their support.

sasalaAustin Area School District in rural Potter County is a poster child for the Pa. State Land Tax Fairness Coalition, with about 90 percent of its real estate tax-exempt due to state ownership. On Thursday, Jan. 29, Jerry Sasala (shown) will testify about the inequities during an appearance before the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission in Greensburg. It’s comprised of 12 Senators and Representatives, as well as the State Education Secretary, State Budget Secretary and State Deputy Secretary of Administration. “Our school district is severely stressed by the high proportion of real estate that is owned by the state and is thus tax-exempt,” Sasala will tell the commission. “By law, school districts, municipalities and county governments depend on the real estate tax for the bulk of their necessary operating revenue. The system is unfair, since property owners face a burden that is clearly disproportional and unfair.”

causerMeanwhile, one of the champions of the Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition’s mission drew attention to the cause when he was sworn into this seventh term of office. Rep. Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint) cited the inequities of having so much real estate exempted from taxation. He listed “ensuring fair compensation for state-owned lands” among his top three priorities for the 2015-16 legislature. Causer confirmed that he will again introduce two bills aimed at ensuring the region gets its fair share of compensation from the state. One will increase the payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) on state-owned forest, park and game lands from $3.60 per acre to $6.00 per acre. The PILT is divided equally among the municipalities, school districts and counties hosting these lands. The other bill would call for 20 percent of total revenue collected from the sale of timber, oil and natural gas on most state-owned lands to be deposited into a restricted fund for disbursement across the Commonwealth, proportionally based on the number of acres of state land in each municipality, school district and county.