A workshop titled “How to Start and Finance Your Business” will be conducted by Clarion University’s Small Business Development Center on Wednesday, July 27, from 9 am to 12:30 pm at the Potter County Education Council on Water Street in Coudersport. Topics will include financing, license and tax information, business planning, regulations, research tools, available resources and other factors to consider. Cost is $20 and registration is required. To learn more or sign up, call 1-877-292-1843.
A historic bell that hangs in the tower of the Potter County Courthouse will ring once again. The Potter County Commissioners approved a $7,600 contract with Verdin Company to install automatic ringing equipment on the bell. It can be programmed to chime on the hour or for special occasions. Funds for the work were raised by Coudersport Mayor Brenda Whitman, who is being assisted in the public service project by machinist Bill Daly. Precautions will be taken to assure that the new equipment will not damage the bell or its housing in the clock tower. The bell was donated to Potter County by Timothy Ives. One of Coudersport’s earliest inhabitants, Ives built a general merchandise store, was elected county treasurer and later served as judge. (Photo by Curt Weinhold)
As negotiations continue on the 2016-17 state budget, the Pa. State Land Tax Fairness Coalition has been busy building support for its cause. Steering Committee members are meeting with leaders of the Pa. School Boards Assn. and the Pa. State Assn. of Township Supervisors. They’ve also recently made their case with the Pa. Assn. of Realtors and are awaiting word on PAR’s support. Other statewide organizations supporting the cause include the Pa. State Grange, Pa. Assn. for Rural and Small School, County Commissioners Assn. of Pa., Pa. Landowners Assn. and the Pa. Forest Products Assn. Meanwhile, the coalition has continued a media blitz that recently included an interview on WESA 90.5, the National Public Radio affiliate in Pittsburgh. The interview can be heard at this link: WESA. Additionally, editorials have been published in newspapers across the state, from Philadelphia, Scranton and Harrisburg, to Pittsburgh and Erie.
All of the recent activity is geared toward persuading the state legislature to address the injustice of the current payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) system for affected school districts, counties and municipalities. State-owned forest, game and park lands are tax-exempt. In counties with a high volume of state land — Potter, Cameron and Clinton as prime examples — private property owners are carrying a disproportional share of the tax burden to support school district, county and local governments. Pennsylvania’s current law calls for an annual $1.20 per acre to each of the taxing bodies. The coalition is calling for a minimum of $2.40 per acre to be approved as part of the state’s 2016-17 budget/tax code negotiations which are now underway in Harrisburg.
Coalition leaders include Commissioners Paul Heimel (Potter), Pete Smeltz (Clinton), Phil Jones (Cameron) and Tony Mussare (Lycoming), as well as Austin Area School Superintendent Jerry Sasala and Potter County Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt. Under Hunt’s guidance, a map gallery posted on the coalition’s website graphically depicts the inequity of the current state land/PILT system in many counties through compelling maps and charts. Those exhibits and much more information about the coalition’s activities can be found on the website, pastatelandtaxfairness.com.
A mass mailing to voters that contains misinformation is generating confusion in Potter County and elsewhere across the state. Sender is a private, non-profit organization known as Voter Participation Center and its message, which is designed to resemble an official government notification, suggests to recipients that they are no longer registered to vote. In response, Sandy Lewis, director of the Potter County Voter Registration/Elections Office, has issued a news release specifying that her office is not affiliated with the Voter Participation Center or its mailings. Anyone with questions about his or her voter registration records should contact Director Lewis at 814-274-8467.
Bridging the gap between local schools and employers in the region who are seeking certain skills is one of the top priorities for the Potter County Education Council (PCEC). Area school administrators and other collaborative members who are involved in local education and job training meet regularly at the Potter County Education Center to continue work on a number of initiatives. Bob Wicker, former Oswayo Valley School District superintendent, has been spearheading the program. Among partners with PCEC are local school districts, Seneca Highlands Career and Technical Center (formerly vo-tech school) and local employers seeking to benefit from an influx of trained job applicants. Wicker serves as business education liaison, developing relationships between businesses/industries and local schools.
An economic/employment profile of Potter and six other counties in the region reinforced the need for improvements. North Central Workforce Investment Board conducted the study, which showed that employers prefer to hire locally, but have been frustrated by the lack of qualified job applicants. It calls for improvements in the use of government resources to address the opportunities for job growth locally in the oil and gas industries, finance, administrative support, waste management, real estate, tourism, health care and social assistance sectors.
Projects that have been implemented so far include career fairs in local schools, “educator in the workplace” programs, job shadowing, training, field trips and outreach to other potential partners. Wicker welcomes input from the public, particularly local employers and educators. He can be reached at the Potter County Education Center on Water Street in Coudersport, telephone 274-4877.
A separate program is geared toward helping students in their quest to find a career path. This unique partnership between PCEC and Potter County Human Services has been implemented in cooperation with the county’s five public school districts as well as Port Allegany. Six part-time mentors hired by the high schools connect students with job shadowing, internship possibilities, summer employment opportunities, and structured site visits. 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 assistance to students.
A Potter County employee has received statewide honors for excellence. Will Hunt, Potter County Planning/GIS director, was chosen among his peers from the Pennsylvania GIS Professionals Association for this year’s Excellence in GIS Award. It was presented by association president Stacey Sekkes of Chester County. Geospatial Information Services is a technological specialty that has become an essential service for not only government agencies, but a growing number of businesses and service providers. It combines geography and map creation with aerial photography and other sources of information, data and images.
As one professional organization defines it, “GIS has unleashed the power of mapping. It allows users to visualize, question, analyze, and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends. GIS benefits organizations of all sizes and in almost every industry. There is a growing interest in and awareness of the economic and strategic value of GIS.” Title searchers/abstractors, real estate professionals, surveyors and other private-sector users have benefitted from Potter County’s GIS Department. Fees paid by those served by the department help to offset county expenses. GIS services are also critical to federal, state and local governments, and to county departments such as Emergency Services/911, Tax Assessment, Planning and others.
Hunt previously served as a GIS assistant in Tioga County. He succeeded Rudin Emborsky as director of GIS for Potter County. When long-time Planning Director Charlotte Dietrich retired earlier this year, Potter County Commissioners Doug Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover named Hunt to the dual role of planning/GIS director. Potter County Chief Assessor Jake Ostrom doubles as GIS/mapping coordinator. Also on staff is Deb Ostrom as administrative aide for planning/GIS. A separate position of GIS technician was established and the commissioners this week hired Coudersport native Charlie Tuttle, a recent graduate of Mansfield University, to fill it.
Hunt has distinguished himself in the GIS field. His leadership in assisting the Pennsylvania State Land Tax Fairness Coalition to create visual exhibits demonstrating the impact of state land ownership on local real estate tax bases earned Potter County an international award from the Environmental Systems Research Institute.