Township and borough officials in Potter County will have an opportunity to receive training in community planning, subdivision and land development regulation, and related topics. Potter County Commissioners Doug Morley, Susan Kefover and Paul Heimel have approved a plan to bring the courses to the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport. They’ll be provided in two sessions, scheduled for May 24-25 and June 7-8. Planning Director Will Hunt approached the commissioners after attending similar training himself and engaging with instructors from the Pa. State Assn. of Boroughs (PSAB). He suggested that township and borough officials could benefit from the instruction, but it would difficult for many of them to travel to a PSBA training site. Cost to the county will be $1,650 for each of the two sessions. More information is available from the Potter County Planning Department at 274-8254.
Potter County’s Water Quality Work Group held its first meeting of the new year this week with a crowded agenda. One priority is the ongoing attack against invasive species which continue to flourish along many of the county’s cherished waterways, choking out native vegetation and destroying habitat. Upper Allegheny Watershed Assn. volunteers are gearing up for round two of an aggressive battle plan against Japanese knotweed along Mill Creek, an Allegheny tributary. UAWA spokesman Frank Weeks said chemical treatment with herbicides and cutting are planned, as part of a Coldwater Heritage Partnership Grant, which is a collaborative of Pa. Fish & Boat Commission, the Pa. Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Trout Unlimited.
Meanwhile, the Genesee Headwaters Watershed Association will be applying herbicides to kill Japanese knotweed patches that have been rapidly growing near the Genesee Community Park and other sections in that district. GHWA spokesman Darrel Davis reported that Nikki Ryan, invasive plant project coordinator from the Bucktail Watershed Assn. in Cameron County, has been assisting the Genesee group.
Another invader is also bearing in on Potter County. Jared Dickerson, watershed technician with the Potter County Conservation District, informed work group members that the hemlock woolly adelgid is working its way upstream in the Pine Creek Valley and will eventually reach the upper branches in Potter County. Hemlock trees provide important environmental benefits — from shading of waterways to wildlife habitat — but they are no match for the insect once it gains a foothold, Dickerson said. He added that strategic plantings of hemlock seedlings are starting in some sections of the Pine Creek Valley to establish a new generation for future decades.
Jason Childs, manager of the Potter County Conservation District, summarized more than a half-dozen ongoing projects geared toward protecting water quality and enhancing public education. Among them are improvements being made to Ludington Run, a Genesee River tributary, to improve fish habitat; assistance to farms, including streamside fencing, mostly in the Cowanesque River headwaters where Chesapeake Bay protection regulations are being implemented; numerous streambank stabilization projects across the county; culvert replacement to improve fish migration in Gravel Lick Run; and others.
Triple Divide Watershed Coalition chair Charlie Tuttle reported that a contractor will soon be chosen to install 24/7 water quality monitors on many of the 16 springs, wells and surface water sources feeding 10 public water systems in Potter County.
Commissioner Doug Morley announced that county officials are beginning compilation of a new comprehensive plan, as required by Pa. Act 247, and will be seeking input from the Water Quality Work Group.
Potter County Planning Director Will Hunt reported on the plan for a detailed feasibility study to determine the future of the dam on the West Branch of Pine Creek in Galeton Borough and related issues.
Members heard that multiple organizations are working on plans to build large woody debris structures on Kettle Creek to improve trout habitat.
Childs briefed the group on proposals before the state legislature to impose a per-gallon fee on withdrawals from public water sources to establish a dedicated funding source for water protection activities in Pennsylvania.
Members also expressed their appreciation to Jim Clark of McKean County for his involvement with the work group and other organizations. Clark is retiring this month after many years of service as an educator and water specialist with Penn State Extension.
Attendees were Frank Weeks, Will Hunt, Earl Brown, Jason Childs, Charlie Tuttle, Jared Dickerson, Darrell Davis, Pete Ryan, John McLaughlin and Commissioners Doug Morley and Paul Heimel.
Next Water Quality Work Group meeting will be held at 8 am on April 17 at the commissioners office in the Gunzburger Building.
A Potter County native who now heads the Pa. Board of Probation and Parole is impressed with criminal justice reforms that have been put into place back home. “Potter County is a great example of what can be accomplished when you take the initiative,” according to Leo Dunn, appointed executive director of the board last March. He’s referring to the county’s “specialty courts” for criminal defendants with addiction to alcohol or other drugs, as well as a new pre-trial diversion program designed to reduce the number of criminal defendants who end up in jail. “There are a lot of new treatment resources available that counties such as Potter have elected to take advantage of, and with a great degree of success,” Dunn said. “Specialty courts, job training, housing options and substance abuse counseling are some of the tools that work . . . They’re having a very positive impact on reducing recidivism.” Number of inmates in the state prison system has fallen from 51,757 in 2012 to 49,900 today. Similar reductions have taken hold in a number of county jails.
Primary goal of the specialty courts and diversion program is to address individuals’ needs with a customized treatment plan and intensive supervision by the Potter County Probation Department. Senior Judge John Leete presides over both of the specialty courts. Overarching goal of the initiatives is to improve public safety by reducing the number of repeat offenders.
Dunn said one consequence of lowering the recidivism rate has been a marked increase in the number of people being monitored on probation and parole, which requires additional staff and caseloads at both the statewide and county levels. Since 2012, the ranks of state parolees grew by almost 6,500, to nearly 32,000. Dunn said the state has responded by hiring more staff, bringing the average parole agent caseload from 80 clients to 50. At the same time, Potter County has also added to its staff in the Probation Department.
“The more time officers have to spend with each individual on probation or parole, the better the outcomes will be,” Dunn explained. “We’re focusing on safely managing people in the community and getting them reintegrated.” Dunn said he’s aware that many smaller counties don’t have the financial resources to cover additional staffing. The Board of Probation and Parole is pushing to have $16.2 million in federal funds it currently administers to the Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency, so it can be distributed to counties. “I’m very supportive of counties having more autonomy and being allowed to guide their own ship,” the director said. “We’ll continue to support local initiatives that keep people out of jail and on a path to success.”
State Representative Martin Causer spent most of Thursday morning discussing a wide variety of timely issues with the Potter County Board of Commissioners. He pledged his support for continuation of the shale gas drilling “impact fee,” which has provided townships, boroughs and the county government with significant revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by the real estate tax. Rep. Causer also said he is eager to be involved in any efforts being pursued locally to prevent two major mergers in the telecommunications industry from causing job losses at two Coudersport employers. Additionally, he reiterated his support for the Rural Regional College of Northern Pennsylvania.
Much of the discussion focused on Governor Tom Wolf’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget proposal and the significant issues lawmakers will have to address to achieve upwards of $3 billion in spending cuts or revenue generation the governor has called for to balance the $32.3 billion plan. The commissioners urged Rep. Causer to push for adequate state funding for the myriad of human services that county governments are mandated to provide. An indiscriminate 10-percent cut in state funds several years ago has continued to burden county taxpayers and all signs point to an increasing demand for services in the coming years.
Potter County Commissioners have joined their colleagues across Pennsylvania in calling on the state government to address four issues of major concern to counties and the citizens they serve. Through an affiliation with the County Commissioners Assn. of Pa. (CCAP), Commissioners Doug Morley, Susan Kefover and Paul Heimel are asking county residents to contact legislators and Gov. Tom Wolf in support of:
- Sufficient funding for critical human services which counties provide on behalf of the state for residents and communities.
- Maintaining the shale gas impact fee.
- Flexibility to reduce the reliance on the real estate by diversifying the county tax base.
- A state/county joint strategy to overcome the devastating effects of substance abuse and drug overdoses.
Adequate state funding for human service programs is the top priority because state underfunding has resulted in county taxpayers covering the shortfall. The situation worsened in 2013 when the state indiscriminately cut funding by 10 percent, at the same time demand for services was rising. CCAP points out that counties have statutory – and moral – obligations to meet those service needs, whether it is children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, or those with addictions.
A new strategic plan was adopted during this month’s meeting of the Potter County Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB). It’s a detailed document that identifies the issues, challenges, priorities and steps that will be taken as the many elements of the county’s criminal justice system work together to improve outcomes. CJAB officers are Judge Stephen Minor, chairman; Commissioner Paul Heimel, vice chairman; and Colleen Wilber, Potter County Human Services, secretary. Overall goals in the CJAB action plan for the new year include:
- Implementation of a Pretrial Diversion Program for Potter County.
- Continued partnership with the National Data-Driven Justice Initiative.
- Expanded early education programs to identify and address the rise in juvenile anti-social behavior/mental health and criminal activity.
- Transitional/half-way housing for offenders along with an increased focus on skills training and employment needs.
- Training on understanding, cooperation and communication among all the criminal justice agencies and offices in the county.
To reduce the number of criminals who re-offend (recidivism), the board has identified the following gaps: need for more vocational training; enhancing and creating more youth services; lack of family support services; need for data collection; need for more correctional alternatives; lack of service system addressing behavioral health issues, lack of support from the community and funding.
To address these issues, the board has proposed: addressing the stigma; educating employers; developing a community center; an increase in Children & Youth Services involvement; community ownership; enhancing efforts to prepare inmates for re-entering society; providing education for offenders and their families; providing behavioral health treatment; enhancing mentoring programs; working with different age groups; and pursuing alternative sentencing options.
For alcohol and drug abuse-related crimes, the board has identified the following gaps: lack of education; lack of disposal of old medication; lack of drug-related education for licensed doctors; lack of communication between doctors and pharmacists; lack of doctor accountability; identity theft for acquisition of drugs; and a lack of general data.
To address these issues, the board has proposed the following strategies: pursuing goals of the National Data-Driven Justice Initiative; continuing Medication Take-Back Days and Collection Boxes; enhancing communication between the criminal justice system and the physical health/behavioral health fields; continuing doctor education; and increasing alcohol, tobacco and other drugs education through evidenced-based programs within the school districts.
For mental health-related crimes, the board has identified the following gaps: lack of training for personnel; a gap between Substance Abuse and Mental Health programs; lack of funding; lack of available treatment; and lack of county in-patient facilities.
To address these issues, the board has proposed: training for probation officers, jail personnel, and others; secure funding for alternatives; examine resources and how they are used in the system; examine the creation of a Mental Health Court, increasing co-occurring (mental health/drug abuse) options.