Farmland Preservation Program Adds Another

January 14th, 2019 Comments off

Farmers across Pennsylvania face mounting pressure to sell their acreage for real estate development or other non-agricultural uses. The loss of a farm often creates a ripple effect with economic, environmental and social consequences. More than 1,300 acres in Potter County have been permanently preserved for agriculture under a state-sponsored program — with a county partnership — to purchase conservation easements, or “development rights.”

Most recent addition is the 169-acre Wayne R. Baumann farm in Sweden Township. The development rights were purchased for $169,060. Potter County’s Farmland Preservation Program has now paid landowners more than $990,000 for easements on 1,305 acres spread out over eight farms. State funding for the program has been significantly cut in recent years, with the vast majority being committed to counties in the southeastern part of the state where development demands are strongest. Despite the state cuts, the Potter County Commissioners have maintained the county’s yearly contribution to the program.

There remains a waiting list for the program in Potter County. More than five years passed after the seventh acquisition, which encompassed 152 acres on the Harold and Delia McCutcheon farm in Harrison Township. Guidelines require that easements be at least 50 acres, although counties can elect to lower the requirement to 35 acres. The program is administered by the Potter County Conservation District and directed by a board appointed by the commissioners. Farms are chosen on the basis of quality as well as stewardship – use of conservation practices and best management practices of nutrient management, as well as erosion and sedimentation control, proximity to water, and extent and type of non-agricultural development nearby. Payments are determined by assessing the market value and agricultural value of the land. The difference between those two figures is the maximum value of the easement.

Other easements have been purchased from Galen and Helen Snowman in Sweden and Homer Townships; Albert and Erma Mitchell and Frank and Shirley Mitchell, both in West Branch Township; Charles and Bernita Douglass in Hector Township; Allen and Ruth Ann Long in Pleasant Valley and Roulette townships; and John and Karlene Peet in Hector Township. For more information, contact Potter County Conservation District office at 814-274-8411. Farmland Preservation Board members are Sara Gilliland (chair), Eugene Supplee, Bill Grandin, Bart Ianson and Jim Lane.

Still Time To Be Heard On ‘Potter County 2020-30’

January 9th, 2019 Comments off

Hundreds of people have weighed in with their views and concerns about Potter County’s future as part of the first-ever Northern Pennsylvania Tri-County Comprehensive Plan. Organizers emphasize that additional input is welcome. A project of commissioners and planning boards from Potter, Cameron and McKean counties, the document 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, agriculture, community facilities and other areas.

Focus groups have been meeting, with the assistance of a professional planner, to provide the framework. Dozens of people from many walks of life and areas of interest have been engaged. The public can now assist by identifying priorities, areas of need, and other issues of interest or concern. All citizens are encouraged to complete the online community survey, open until Jan. 16, at surveymonkey.com/r/NorthernPA. Copies of the survey form are also available by contacting Joe Passmore at joseph.passmore@mbakerintl.com or 717-221-2061. Citizens will also be able to learn more and share their views during an open house on the comprehensive plan, to be held from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Jan. 23 at Port Allegany High School.

“It’s very clear that the people of our county care about their future and want to be engaged in the decision-making that will affect them over the next decade,” said Potter County Planning Director Will Hunt. “The consultants said the promising suggestions they have received so far through the survey are very encouraging. About 1,400 people — nearly 500 from Potter County — have already shared their input, which the consultants say is unprecedented in their past projects.”

The plan is mandated by the state and must be updated every 10 years. An initial report based on the consulting firm’s research was recently released. Profiles of the three counties were created to identify trends, assets, strengths, challenges and opportunities. Among the concerns are the impact of a declining population, combined with steady increases in median age. While the master document covers a three-county region, the plan will include sections that are exclusive to each particular county. The plan, funded in part through Northcentral Pa. Regional Planning and Development Commission, began in August and will be completed next summer. Further information is available at each county’s planning office.

New Protections In Place For Public Water Sources

January 9th, 2019 Comments off

New state regulations to protect public drinking water supplies from contamination were discussed at this month’s meeting of the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition (TDWC). Boroughs, townships and other system operators are now required to conduct annual assessments of potential risks to water quality, including earth disturbance activities within their sourcewater zones. Mark Stephens, right, groundwater geologist with the regional Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection office in Williamsport, shared details and offered assistance to TDWC members. The coalition is comprised of representatives from the nine public water systems in Potter County who were pulled together in 2011 – a first for a Pennsylvania county. Stephens said the Safe Drinking Water Act updates included the mandatory assessment so that operators stay on top of developments that could degrade drinking water supplies. He said each system in Potter County already has in place a state-certified sourcewater protection plan, so the new regulations should not place much of a burden on TDWC members.

On a related note, Stephens reported that DEP is being asked to consider potential impacts on identified sourcewater protection zones any time the agency is reviewing a permit application for activities such as shale gas drilling. He said the provision has support from water system operators, as well as industry representatives who see it a safeguard for public drinking water sources. Stephens offers a summary of the importance of sourcewater protection in this video: https://vimeo.com/15991797

Also at this month’s meeting:

  • Potter County Planning Director Will Hunt presented an update on the Northern Pennsylvania Tri-County Comprehensive Plan. He said the planning team is interested in soliciting input from system operators and the public on water quality protection issues that could be incorporated in the plan, which is expected to be completed by August.
  • TDWC chair Charlie Tuttle reported that plans are moving forward for the coalition to host a drinking water and waste water system operator training course in Coudersport. There will outreach to local governments, schools and employment agencies to apprise them of the classes. Tuttle also updated members on issues related to the 24/7 monitors installed at most of the public drinking water supplies in Potter County through a TDWC initiative.
  • Andrew Mickey, dirt, gravel and low-volume road specialist with the Potter County Conservation District, reported that several roads are slated to be stabilized this year, which will reduce contamination from run-off.
  • Next TDWC meeting has tentatively been scheduled for 10 am on March 13 in Genesee.

Potter County Signs On To Top 2019 Legislative Priorities

December 28th, 2018 Comments off

Potter County Commissioners Doug Morley, Susan Kefover and Paul Heimel have signed on to the county government priorities that will be strongly supported in the state capital in 2019. They emerged following considerable research, debate and a final vote by the County Commissioners Assn. of Pa. (CCAP). Registered lobbyists from CCAP will be advocating for the priorities with legislators and the governor. County commissioners across Pennsylvania will provide grassroots support.

These are the six top priorities from among dozens that were proposed by CCAP members:

  • Election equipment and voting systems. Settlement of federal litigation requires that all voting machines have voter-verified paper trail systems in place by April 2020. CCAP calls for full state funding for voting systems, since counties are wholly responsible for selection and purchase of voting equipment. Also, the state and federal governments must work closely to assure there is a marketplace of voting equipment that is compliant with certification requirements.
  • Forensic and community services for seriously mentally ill prisoners, as well as an examination of the needs of the mental health system as a whole. A high proportion of county jail inmates have been diagnosed with mental illness. Many do not have access to the level of care they require, either while incarcerated and after they have returned to society. The result is a high proportion of repeat offenders who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system. The resolution calls for state policy-makers to address the mental health system as a whole, not just for those who are involved with the criminal justice system, including funding for expanded services, beds and diversion.
  • Human services funding and system reform. The resolution also calls for a stronger role for counties in the decision-making process regarding service delivery. County taxpayers continue to bear an increasing burden due to flat and declining state funding, combined with increased mandates and caseloads for critical programs such as children and youth, mental health, developmental disabilities, drug and alcohol, aging, and housing.
  • High-speed internet (broadband) expansion to assure Pennsylvania communities have the infrastructure that is critical to economic vitality, advancement of education and medical services, and quality of life.
  • Real estate tax assessment reform, including implementation of new tools and best practices for counties to maintain fair and uniform assessment systems.
  • Preventing substance abuse in a comprehensive way that involves local and state stakeholders, improves data collection, and offers additional resources to expand capacity for education, prevention and treatment. While Pennsylvania continues to face high rates of overdose and death due to the opioid epidemic, other forms of substance abuse also remain a serious public health concern.

State Still Lags In Paying Share Of DA Salary

December 28th, 2018 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 will increase 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. 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. As the funds continue to accumulate in the account, the state will make a partial payment for the overdue 2018 reimbursement.

County Gearing Up For Census; Jobs Available

December 26th, 2018 Comments off

With the U.S. Census Bureau moving closer to launching its 2020 count, the agency is beginning to add staff all across the country. Census liaisons for Potter County are Commissioner Paul Heimel and Will Hunt and Deb Ostrom from the Planning Department. They report that 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.

As the county’s population continues to fall, local officials say it is important that everyone complete the census survey when it is received. Census numbers have a direct effect on grants as well as government representation. Data are used to distribute more than 50 programs, including support for education, transportation, health and human services, housing, criminal justice, employment services, farming and environmental protection. For each uncounted citizen, a county will lose an estimated $10,000 in federal benefits during the decade.

“Our county’s population began falling from a modern-day high in 2002 and the mid-term census reports confirm additional declines,” said the local liaisons. “The economic impact of an undercount in 2020 would hit us even harder. The best we can do is to try to cut our losses by getting everyone counted. Residents need to realize that there’s no ulterior motive or hidden agenda by the federal government. By law, the census is just a population count and demographic analysis.”

The Planning Department is working with township and borough officials to support an accurate result from the census. Planning staff has also drawn in the county Emergency Management and Assessment offices to identify new homes and verify mailing addresses. Questionnaires have been reduced from 10 pages to 10 questions. Forms will be mailed to area residents in early 2020. Census-takers’ non-response follow-ups begin in May 2020.