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Archive for December, 2018

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.

Potter County Veterans Affairs Director Retires

December 26th, 2018 Comments off

Potter County Director of Veterans Affairs Bill Simpson has retired from service. Simpson said he intends to spend more time with his family and pursue his many hobbies. He will also continue to serve military veterans through his affiliation with American Legion Post 530 in Shinglehouse. During his service to Potter County, he helped hundreds of veterans as both an advocate and a liaison with agencies that provide benefits and services. He also was engaged with multiple special projects, notably the Potter County Veterans Gravestone Restoration Project and the visit of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall.

A resident of Oswayo Borough and a graduate of Oswayo Valley High School, Simpson served with the U.S Navy for more than 23 years. He retired after 30-plus years as a communications technician with Frontier Communications and joined the county in 2016, succeeding Will Worthington. Simpson earned certification as a veterans service officer from the Pa. Dept. of Military and Veterans Affairs. Potter County Office of Veterans Affairs is located in the Gunzburger Building. For more information, call Mike Pepper at 814-274-8290, extension 210.

Groundwork Continues For New 911 System

December 26th, 2018 Comments off

Groundwork continues to be laid for the new 911 emergency communications network that will service Potter County’s fire, ambulance, medical services and police agencies. At a recent meeting, Commissioners Doug Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover approved an installment payment toward the system, which carries an estimated price tag of $4 million and has a life expectancy of approximately 15 years. Rather than incurring a major up-front expense that would create an immediate burden on taxpayers, the commissioners negotiated a low-interest loan from a local lending institution with a payback period of 10 years. A portion of the 2019 loan repayment obligation will be provided by a one-mill increase in the real estate tax, which will cost about $1.65 monthly for the average residential property owner. The county also qualified for a $580,000 state grant to help ease the local tax burden.

Consultant Mitch Smith, a former Pa. Emergency Management Agency employee who has been advising Potter County for more than 15 years, explained that through 14 towers, microwave relay technology and other infrastructure, communications coverage will be enhanced and response times by emergency agencies will be shortened.

“Speed of response can be a life-or-death situation,” Smith explained. “The new system will be able to reach some sections of the county that have been underserved. It will also bring you new technology to replace equipment that has become obsolete.” Smith said he is working closely with Glenn Dunn, the county’s emergency management coordinator, and the two have reached out to emergency responders across Potter County to seek input on their communications needs and respond to concerns.

Potter’s County’s current system was installed in 2002. Its life expectancy at the time was 10 to 12 years. Dispatching will continue to be provided from the Tioga County 911 Center, although the equipment is also compatible with other dispatch centers.

‘Leadership Potter County’ Lesson Like No Other

December 16th, 2018 Comments off

Students in the Leadership Potter County (LPC) class had a rare opportunity to walk in the shoes of nearly two dozen people who are actively engaged in the county’s award-winning criminal justice reform mission. They spent all day Friday engaged in an exercise that demonstrated the complexities, the challenges and the accomplishments of changing decades-old systems of administering justice, all played out against a backdrop of fiscal limitations and differing philosophies and beliefs.

This year, rather than touring county offices for a general lesson in local government, the future leaders participated in a real-life exercise involving the offer of a $500,000 federal grant that could be used for any number of criminal justice initiatives. The day began with a mock meeting of the Potter County Commissioners during which there was a spirited debate focused on whether to accept the grant — and somehow come up with a required $250,000 in matching funds from the county — or forego the opportunity. LPC members then met with a broad variety of county officials whose jobs would be affected. One of the panels, shown above, consisted of (from left) Derick Morey, Probation Department; Colleen Wilber, administrator of drug and alcohol treatment programs and the Potter County Criminal Justice Advisory Board; President Judge Stephen Minor, and District Attorney Andy Watson.

They also heard insights from a panel consisting of (l. to r.) Mike Delp, Pa. State Police, and Magisterial District Judges Kari McCleaft and Chris Kalacinski. Potter County Jail Deputy Warden Angela Milford conducted a tour of the facility. Among other participants were Dave Hyde, A Way Out; Andrea Lehman, Domestic Relations; Jim Kockler and Bryonna Swede, Human Services; Brian Abel and Gabrielle Milford, Probation. All of the speakers discussed the latest trends in criminal justice, focusing on the county’s DUI and Drug Treatment Courts and related alternatives; Pre-Trial Diversion options for qualifying offenders who suffer from addiction and/or mental illness; re-entry services that could be implemented at the jail to help inmates successfully transition back to society, and others. County historian David Castano spoke to the group on the history of the courthouse, complete with interesting anecdotes from the past. To close out the exercise, Commissioners Doug Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover — joined by Chief Clerk Kathleen Majot for a budget review — held a follow-up mock meeting to receive recommendations from the LPC students and answer questions about the county’s fiscal operations.

Potter County Education Council sponsors the LPC program, which is geared toward developing leaders in area communities and/or local government while educating them on local issues and institutions, and preparing them for public service and career advancement. Bob Wicker, business and education liaison with the Education Council and an advisor for LPC, expressed appreciation to Friday’s presenters. “As the students could clearly see, Potter County is fortunate to have a team of dedicated leaders who are committed to working as a team to improve the outcomes of the criminal justice system.” Wicker said. “They set an excellent example of finding common ground and working together for some significant accomplishments.”