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.

Timely Reminder: Help Available For Renters

August 1st, 2021 Comments off

Today’s lifting of a federal eviction ban has prompted Potter County Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Paul Heimel and Barry Hayman to remind renters that they may be eligible for financial assistance. The commissioners have designated the county’s Human Services agency to administer a federal grant to help those who have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic pay for rent and utilities. Applications can be downloaded from a website here. Once an application is complete, a Potter County Human Services case manager will be in touch to offer assistance. To be eligible, a renter household must have one or more individuals who meet the following criteria:

  • Qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19;
  • Demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and
  • Has a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median.

Full eligibility guidelines may be found here. Those seeking more information can contact Jim Kockler or Kara Amidon at 814-544-7315.

Potter County In National Spotlight (x2!)

July 27th, 2021 Comments off

Potter County was recently in the national spotlight for two of its ongoing initiatives. During the annual convention of the National Assn. of Counties in Prince George’s County, Md., Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt and Commissioner Paul Heimel shared details on activities that had been identified by NACo as best practices. Hunt’s topic was the migration of geographic information systems (GIS) to a centralized database. His department’s skills with GIS have resulted in numerous improvements to county mapping services, with enhanced security and multiple benefits to the recorder of deeds office, tax assessment department, planning office and other county services, as well as agencies, businesses and individuals seeking access to public records. Heimel detailed Potter County’s “broadband for all” initiative to bring high-speed internet to unserved or underserved areas of the county. He also discussed the benefits of the Tri-Co Connections broadband project, including bringing connectivity to seasonal residents and telecommuters, as well as introducing senior citizens to internet-based services.