Potter County Tax Claim Bureau (TCB) held its annual “upset sale” earlier this month, a last-resort auction to sell those properties on which taxes for 2013 or earlier have not been paid. Fifteen properties from across Potter County, most of them with marginal value at best, were put up for sale and just four of them were sold. Only one of the delinquent properties elicited competitive bidding before selling for $7,000. Next step in the lengthy process of restoring properties to the active tax rolls is a continuance sale that offers the remaining 15 properties. It’s scheduled for 10 am Monday, Sept. 26, at the Gunzburger Building. A list of the properties that are subject to continuance sale is posted on the Potter County website, pottercountypa.net (click on Departments/Tax Claim). TCB officials caution that is no guarantee of clear title for any of the properties brought up for sale. Liens, judgments or attachments may apply. Here, volunteer auctioneer Todd Brown was joined by TCB staffers (from left) Karin Karr, Deanna Johnston and Linda Gambino in conducting Monday’s sale.
TCB has implemented a series of changes to make things easier for those who have fallen behind on their taxes, including a monthly installment option (owner-occupied properties only) and a credit card payment system. Those payments are accepted online only, through the Tax Claim Bureau website at pottercountypa.net. The credit card payment option is limited to overdue taxes (2014 and earlier). All of the changes have had positive results, according to TCB Director Deanna Johnston. “The number of delinquent properties has been tracking downward in recent years,” she said. “Selling someone’s property due to unpaid taxes is always a last resort and we work with anyone who has fallen behind to try to avoid that outcome.” Tax Claim Bureau office is located in Suite 111 of the Gunzburger Building, 1 North Main Street, Coudersport PA 16915; telephone (814) 274-0488, Option 1.
Fatal heroin overdoses, families ripped apart, decaying communities and a rising financial toll for taxpayers – these are among the devastating consequences of a drug epidemic that has swept across northern Pennsylvania and shown its ugly face in Potter County. Three public officials in the forefront of trying to stem the tide reported on their progress and offered some advice to families and community members during a public presentation at the Oswayo Valley Memorial Library in Shinglehouse. Speakers were Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson, Shinglehouse Borough Police Chief Brad Buchholz and Potter County Drug and Alcohol Programs Administrator Colleen Wilber.
Watson explained that the law enforcement community has seen a meteoric rise in serious drug cases since 2010. He has been a central figure in the establishment and operation of a regional law enforcement strike force that has intercepted some drug trafficking through undercover officers and confidential informants. Buchholz has also played a role on the strike force, which is part of a statewide initiative controlled by the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General. They showed samples of heroin packets that are commonly available in Potter County, inexpensive and often adulterated or “cut” with other substances.
The D.A. cited more than 100 arrests since the strike force began its work, some of which involved major dealers linked to distribution networks centered in Williamsport and other more populated areas. Watson encouraged citizens to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior that could be related to drug trafficking. He also discussed a new initiative that encourages those who are addicted to illicit substances to contact law enforcement officials for referral to treatment options as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Buchholz suggested that parents monitor their children’s internet or mobile device use, since those electronic tools are used for 90 percent or more of drug transactions.
Wilber’s spoke of services available through the county. Her agency assesses drug and alcohol offenders for addiction and connects them with treatment options. Services are available to all county residents – not just those involved the criminal justice system. She and Watson serve on a team that administers two “treatment courts” that provide alternatives to traditional criminal justice disposition in some cases.
Potter County has received national and state accolades for some of its early forays into innovative programs that are geared toward reducing jail populations and more effectively addressing issues and circumstances that can lead an individual to criminal activity. Senior Judge John Leete presides over the DUI and Drug Treatment Courts, while President Judge Stephen Minor has been a driving force behind their establishment. Potter County Commissioners Doug Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover have also been supportive, providing increased staffing in the county’s Probation Department and establishment of a Women’s Residential Recovery Center in Harrison Valley.
Potter County’s close partnership with its neighbor to provide reliable 24/7 communications for emergency responders will continue through 2020. Boards of Commissioners from Potter and Tioga counties approved a contract to continue dispatching services from the Tioga County 911 Center in Wellsboro through 2020. By joining forces, the two counties have been able to deliver speedy dispatching to fire, ambulance and police agencies. They’ve also cushioned the economic impact of the state-mandated service through shared infrastructure and other resources. The two-county system covering a region as large as the state of Delaware has been used as a model for other rural counties. Potter County pays Tioga County an annual fee covering a share of expenses at the dispatch center. Potter’s cost is $72,100 for 2016, rising annually to $81,149 for 2020. Each county is responsible for the network of coordinated towers and other infrastructure.
Counties are required by state law to provide 911 communications. Tioga County Emergency Services Director David Cohick worked closely with his counterpart in Potter County, John Hetrick, to forge the partnership and install the compatible technology across two counties. Since Hetrick’s retirement, the collaboration continues between Cohick; Potter County Commissioner Doug Morley, who doubles as emergency services director; and Glenn Dunn, Potter County emergency management coordinator. Some 23 towers are in place to service Potter and Tioga counties as well as parts of McKean, Bradford and Lycoming counties, across a 2,500-mile coverage area. The 911 dispatch center serves 26 fire companies, 26 police stations, and 20 ambulance agencies. Seventeen dispatchers are on staff, with three on the job during each shift.
Potter County Commissioner Susan Kefover is serving on the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Downtown Center. The Harrisburg-based organization offers technical and educational assistance to help community leaders keep their downtowns vibrant, which is a stiff challenge in an era of online shopping and other competitors for retail dollars. “A thriving community is a long-term asset that must be constantly nurtured, maintained, and promoted. It is a revitalization effort that continues on and on.” This quote from the membership brochure epitomizes the philosophy of the organization. PDC cites design, organization, “place making,” and economic restructuring as the four cornerstones of strength that can work together or at different times in creating a vibrant downtown. Kefover said she accepted appointment to the board to pursue technical assistance, training and educational tools that would help to identify funding, strengthen local boards, and help communities to measure what works and what doesn’t. “When the commissioners hired John Bry as a Circuit Rider for downtown community development, he began empowering local leaders to adapt these principles to fit each community,” she explained. “Part of the goal was to develop a new focus, a united revitalization effort in each community, and begin to build — little by little — on successes.”
During a recent PDC meeting, board members learned of experiences in the small York County community of Delta, where the center’s staff was retained to build community assets to fight against a serious drug epidemic. “It became obvious that providing places to meaningfully connect with youth is important in sustaining a strong barrier against this life-threatening epidemic,” Kefover noted. “At first glance, it would not seem important that our downtowns can be partners in drug prevention. However, places that provide vibrancy, interest, commerce, and interaction meet a core need in all of us that we belong to community, that we are not alone. It was another realization that we are on the right path in all these initiatives; none is too insignificant an effort.”
Challenges and opportunities are spelled out in a report on the future of Denton Hill State Park, part of a multi-year process to have the park revitalized and its ski resort resurrected. From a long-range perspective, the park’s future appears to be bright as long as the state is willing to invest in it. Officials this week posted initial results of an incremental planning process geared toward developing improved skiing and new off-season activities at the park. The preliminary Denton Hill State Park Master Plan is available on a section of the Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources website, available here. Later this month, DCNR will select a consulting firm to guide the master planning process. A public meeting to discuss the scope of work is expected to be held before year’s end.
Initial studies found that the state would need to invest about $13 million to repair ski lifts, add lights, replace the snowmaking system, renovate the lodge, add parking and create a snow-tubing park. Additional investments may be required for development of spring, summer and autumn activities. Among options are lift-serviced mountain biking, zip lines, festivals, adventure races, geocaching and destination dining. The plan cautions that the skiing business will need to attract at least 12,500 visits per season to be profitable. Denton Hill has experienced sharp declines in visitation over the past 10 years, much of it due to warm weather but some attributed to skiers going elsewhere.
A local stakeholders committee headed by the Potter County Board of Commissioners is serving as the liaison with DCNR. One of the committee’s partners, the Potter County Visitors Assn. (PCVA), has launched a Save Denton Hill State Park site on the Facebook social media platform and signed up more than 2,000 supporters, with tens of thousands of “hits.” Among other coalition members are the Chambers of Commerce in Coudersport, Galeton and Wellsboro and the Pennsylvania Route 6 Alliance. They’re conferring frequently with elected officials and representatives of the Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (both the State Parks and Forestry bureaus).
There is a lot at stake. A study of the ski resort’s impact found that visitors spent more than $2.74 million on their trips in a single year. Stakeholders see the park in bigger terms, suggesting that it be a hub for tourists that could complement local hiking trails, Cherry Springs and Lyman Run state parks, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum and other local attractions. The partners would like to see not only restoration of ski operations, but development of the park as a year-round asset. DCNR engaged Moshier Studio, a Pittsburgh firm, to study Denton Hill State Park and prepare the initial report that was released this week. There will be no skiing at the park for the 2016-17 season and signs point to the closure extending through the 2017-18 season and beyond.