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Archive for August, 2021

Uptick In People Buying Property, Moving To Potter Co.

August 31st, 2021 Comments off
Potter County Tourism & Recreation Work Group members had a full agenda for their August meeting. Among highlights was a report on trends in the local real estate market. Members attending were Colleen Hanson, Josh Roth, Chris Nicholas, Candace Hillyard, Steve Green and Curt Weinhold. County Attendees: Will Hunt, Ellen Russell, Paul Heimel, Barry Hayman. Guests attending: Nicole Faraguna (DCNR Policy/Planning Director); Brian Thompson (Trail’s End Realty). Here’s a summary of this month’s meeting:

Real Estate Trends in Potter County– Brian Thompson from Trail’s End Realty presented a summary of trends he has observed in Potter County. These reflect a heightened interest in both tourism and real estate acquisition in Potter County since early 2020. He said people from many states and foreign countries are “discovering” the region, causing increased demand for seasonal residences and permanent homes. One major factor is the ability of those in the workforce to telecommute, retaining their employment after relocating. The influx of new residents is gradually expanding the diversity of Potter County’s population.

Maryland Air Force National Guard Low-Level Training Flights– DCNR’s Nicole Faraguna reported on continuing research into the proposal. DCNR and others are still calling for a comprehensive environmental impact statement to be prepared prior to any decisions being reached on allowing the flights. There have also been calls for the Maryland ANG to be more transparent in its planning process. Nicole suggested that those who are concerned about the impact of the flights consider options for educating the public on their potential impact. She has available multiple background and informational documents. For details, send email to nfaraguna@pa.gov.

State Parks Update–  There were no bids from prospective partners/concessionaires to develop and operate Denton Hill State Park as a four-season attraction. Another solicitation will be scheduled by DCNR. Members held a general discussion on the long-term dormancy of what was once a major tourist attraction and agreed that there is a need for strong, concerted local advocacy for revitalization of Denton Hill State Park and implementation of the state’s “Denton Hill Adventure Center” concept.

State Forest Update– District Forester Chris Nicholas reported that the number of state forest visitors is down this year when compared to 2020, when there was a surge as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Forest use is still higher than it was in the years prior to 2020. Chris also discussed the pilot ATV trail connector project. One issue that has arisen is the lack of enforcement on township and PennDOT roads.

Visit Potter-Tioga Overview/Update– Colleen Hanson said that more visitors are making day trips to the region this year. Campgrounds have enjoyed a solid year so far, but some traditional lodging facilities have not. VPT has launched its fall advertising campaign, emphasizing family fun in the outdoors and the fall foliage viewing opportunities. The number of requests for information about the region continues to rise, indicating strong interest in the two counties by prospective tourists. A new visitors guide will be published in early October. VPT has grants available to members to assist with certain marketing/advertising activities. Colleen can be reached at colleen@visitpottertioga.com for details.

Potter County Planning/GIS Department– Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt reported that there is growing concern about lack of compliance by lodging facilities – Airbnbs and residential short-term rentals – with the “room tax” ordinance. Work group members are interested in hearing from county treasurers on steps they are taking to ensure compliance. Will noted that camps that are converted to short-term rentals might no longer qualify for building code exemptions. He also shared that DCNR and Penn State University are partnering on a study of the ATV trail connector project underway in Potter County and a section of western Tioga County. Also, Will presented an update on the Potter County Commissioners’ broadband expansion initiative.

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum– Josh Roth (administrator) said attendance has been excellent since the museum’s reopening. A full-time educator position will be filled. Plans are coming together for the popular annual Antique/Collectible Show Oct. 9-10. The year’s one and only run of the museum’s steam-powered sawmill will take place on Oct. 9.

Commissioners Meet One-On-One With Sen. Casey

August 27th, 2021 Comments off

Potter County Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Barry Hayman and Paul Heimel hosted a one-on-one meeting with United States Senator Bob Casey this week. Casey was enroute from an engagement in Wellsboro to a gathering in Warren County, continuing an  outreach swing through northern Pennsylvania while the Senate is in recess.

He began the session by pointing out to the commissioners that rural counties will have opportunities to benefit from pending federal legislation that will provide funding for infrastructure projects in local townships and boroughs, including expansion of high-speed internet service to areas that have been left behind.

Other topics covered during the 90-minute session included federal support for criminal justice reform, including programs geared toward reducing jail populations and repeat offenders; public/private partnerships to support economic developments; issues affecting local agriculture and tourism; federal tax reform, and the senator’s “Five Freedoms for America’s Children” initiative.

County Takes Steps To Tighten ‘Cybersecurity’

August 24th, 2021 Comments off

Potter County Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Barry Hayman and Paul Heimel have launched a county employees’ training initiative on “cybersecurity.” Bill Solomon and Dan Baker from the county’s Information Technology Department were charged with implementing the plan in conjunction with the County Commissioners Assn. of Pa. The county has also taken multiple steps to enhance the security of its technological resources.

“We have been advised of an increase in cybersecurity risks as malicious actors — both domestic and abroad — seek to exploit local governments’ vulnerability,” the commissioners said in a communication to employees. “Given the sensitive and confidential nature of many aspects of county business and the potential for malware, identity theft and/or other intrusions, the county’s IT Department has been working with consultants to assess our technology infrastructure and address any vulnerabilities.”

Employees will be able to access a fully automated selection of online instructional courses beginning in early September.

Regional College Town Hall Spotlights Academic/Vocational Options

August 21st, 2021 Comments off

Another semester has kicked off at Northern Pennsylvania Regional College (NPRC), which is delivering on its promise to provide low-cost, quality courses in Potter, Cameron and several other counties. During a “town hall” session held this week at the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport, the focus was on the future. Administrators from NCPR gathered input on how NPRC can support ongoing efforts to reverse the population loss and youth migration while improving the quality of life. One message came through loud and clear – the need for expanded technical and vocational training to complement NCPR’s broad array of academic offerings. Susie Snelick, who was appointed NPRC president earlier this year, led the discussion. She emphasized that the college can be an “economic driver” and make the county more attractive to younger adults and recent high school graduates. Many area residents, from high school students to older residents, have already tapped into NPRC to earn two-year degrees, earn credits toward more advanced educational levels and/or acquire specific skills. Among NPRC’s remote campus settings are the Coudersport and Port Allegany offices of the Potter County Education Council, Austin Area School and Cameron County High School.

Of particular interest locally is the college’s interest in establishing a vocational and technical training facility in Potter County to support local employers and provide options for local job-seekers who might otherwise leave the area to find gainful employment. NCPR currently offers vocational training in commercial truck driving, powdered metal manufacturing, emergency response and communication linework. How those services might be expanded in Potter County was a primary topic during Wednesday’s town hall.

NPRC representatives Regina Russell (left, instructional support coordinator), and Abigail Petrosky (marketing and public relations), gave an overview of the college’s offerings and its hands-on approach to serving its students. “Student success specialists” are available to work with enrollees one-on-one to meet their educational and/or training objectives. NPRC was launched in 2017 to bring higher education to rural, underserved populations and to help revitalize the workforce and the economy of the region. It’s geared toward recent high school graduates, mid-career adults seeking to advance in their career or begin a new one, and high school students who want to earn college credits. For the traditional college courses, residents with a high school diploma or GED pay $185 per credit. Current high school students pay $60 per credit. Financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available. More information is available at regionalcollegepa.org or by calling 814-603-1229.

Troubling Census Results; Is There A Ray Of Hope?

August 19th, 2021 Comments off

Long-awaited results from the 2020 U.S. Census were released last week, documenting a troubling trend that has challenged elected officials, community leaders, employers and educators for some time. Entering the new decade, Potter County was losing population while its median age continued to rise. Population fell by more than six percent between 2010 (17,457) and 2020 (16,396). The 65-and-older population grew by 33 percent, while the proportion of those under 18 fell by nine percent. Average Potter County resident was 47.3 years old in 2020; the figure was 45.0 in 2010. Pennsylvania’s statewide median age is 40.6. Outmigration by younger segments of the population, coupled with death rates surpassing birth rates, are driving the numbers. About five people die for every four babies born in the county.

Population loss has a ripple effect on the economy. Not only do the tax base and local spending decline, the Census Bureau estimates that for every person who’s lost, a county receives $10,000 less in federal and state funds through more than 50 grant programs, including support for education, transportation, health and human services, housing, criminal justice, employment services and environmental protection.

There are signs of a potential turnaround, according to reports presented at recent meetings of the Potter County Tourism and Recreation Work Group. The housing market in Potter County came to life in 2020, due at least in part to people leaving more populated areas in the early stages of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Another notable trend is the increased number of “telecommuters” who have moved to Potter County, where they can work at home through a high-speed internet connection. Documentation will not be available until the U.S. Census Bureau and Pennsylvania State Data Center issue their next population estimates

History Made: First Jail Board, First Female Warden

August 7th, 2021 Comments off

History was made on Friday in two ways. Not only did the Potter County Jail Board of Inspectors hold its inaugural meeting, the board installed the first female jail warden in county history. Angela Milford, who has served as a corrections officer and deputy warden for 28 years, was unanimously appointed by Jail Board members (from left) Glenn Drake, Andy Watson, Paul Heimel, Nancy Grupp, Barry Hayman and Stephen Minor. Also during the organizational meeting, members unanimously elected Commissioner Heimel as chair, Sheriff Drake as vice chair, Commissioner Grupp as secretary, and Commissioner Hayman as controller. A separate unanimous vote established the chief clerk of Potter County, currently Jessica Giebel, as administrator, a non-voting position that is subject to concurrence by the Board of Commissioners. Jail Board meetings will be held at noon on the first Friday of each month in the Gunzburger Building and are open to the public. County Solicitor Tom Shaffer has been advising the commissioners on legal and procedural matters.

Potter had been one of just two counties in the state that still required its elected sheriff to serve in a dual role as jail warden. In changing to a Jail Board system the commissioners said, “The sheriff-as-warden system harkens back to an era when operating a jail was geared toward punishment, confinement and removing menaces from society. That system was not designed to administer state-mandated services such as mental health/addiction treatment and other changes in the corrections field.” McKean is now the only other Pennsylvania county in which the sheriff is also required to serve as jail warden.