‘Revitalize Potter County’ Hits Ground Running

June 25th, 2020 Comments off

Revitalize Potter County (RPC) has kicked off with a focus on helping small businesses cope with the coronavirus pandemic. The work group will also focus on other elements of the economy – boosting agriculture, tourism, local manufacturing, job training and community development among them. RPC was launched in May by Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Barry Hayman and Paul Heimel as “a collaborative strategy to emerge from the pandemic with our economic foundation still in place and a blueprint for community and economic development.” They’ve assigned Planning Director Will Hunt and Community Development Director Ellen Russell to spearhead the initiative.

“We’re going through an unusual time and there’s a lot at stake when it comes to the future of Potter County,” Hunt explained during a meeting of the county commissioners. “We are identifying partners and we plan to make the ‘Revitalize’ project a high priority.”

Team members have already begun research, outreach and strategic planning to promote local farm products and advocate for local growers and producers. They’ve been conferring with multiple farm operators, including organic growers, to broaden their knowledge and sharpen their focus. The RPC team is also pulling together partners to work on a blueprint to boost tourism in Potter County, working with Visit Potter/Tioga, local business owners and community leaders. Of more immediate focus is the use of federal block grant funds the county expects to receive to help businesses adversely affected by the pandemic.

Anyone interested in sharing suggestions or comments can send an email to revitalize@pottercountypa.net or call 814-274-8290, extension 229.

Bigger Tax Base For Schools, Municipalities, County

February 23rd, 2020 Comments off

Potter County Tax Assessment Office added nearly $4 million to the county’s tax base in 2019, due in large part to field work taking place across the county to locate new construction and property improvements, Chief Assessor Jacob Ostrom reported that the county’s real estate tax base increased by $3,900,000 in assessed value, translating to about $12.5 million in added market value. Real estate taxes levied by school districts, boroughs, townships and the county government are applied to a property’s assessed value. As a result of the tax base additions, the county government will receive an additional $71,500 in taxes this year. School districts and municipalities will also see higher tax revenue.

Ostrom’s job grew harder several years ago when the state legislature eliminated the position of township and borough tax collector. In prior years, these elected officials were responsible for finding and reporting new construction and improvements. Today, the Assessment Office relies primarily on building permit records and visual inspections to update tax records.

County’s ‘Project 2025’ Charges Out Of Starting Gate

February 23rd, 2020 Comments off

A strategy to address two of the most serious challenges facing Potter County has moved quickly into the implementation stage. “Project 2025” was unveiled last month by Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Paul Heimel and Barry Hayman. It’s a blueprint to reverse the steady descent of the county’s population, coupled with the growing outmigration of young adults. These trends have serious implications for the future vitality and quality of life in Potter County. Most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures reflect another 5-percent drop in population, from 17,462 in 2010 to 16,622 as of June 2019. At the same time, the county’s median age has gradually risen to 47 years, far above the statewide median of 41. The commissioners have assigned two of their department heads, Planning Director Will Hunt and Community Development Director Ellen Russell, to develop and implement Project 2025. Its lofty goal is to assemble stakeholders, conduct intensive research, and implement a strategy to reverse the population loss and median age growth by the end of 2025. Some of the options are spelled out in the 2020-29 Countywide Comprehensive Plan. That document reflects input provided by hundreds of community leaders, business owners, conservation advocates, education and tourism officials, and others with an interest in the county’s future. A website will be developed to serve as a clearinghouse for Project 2025. It will include progress reports, links to helpful resources and other features.

Director Russell shared some details as guest speaker at the Feb. 17 Coudersport Rotary Club meeting.  “Project 2025 is going to require a real team approach and some changes in culture,” she explained. “Too often we hear the words, ‘because we’ve always done it this way,’ and that is a mindset that will have to change if we are going to succeed.”

Among the initial objectives that have been identified are:

  • more effectively seeking input from teens and young adults on the future of their communities;
  • encouraging a complete count in the 2020 U.S. Census (each resident equates to about $21,000 in federal and state funding coming to the county during the new decade);
  • capitalizing on the emergence of high-speed internet service in marketing Potter County as a place to live and start or expand a business;
  • enhancing promotion of state parks, attractions, and natural resources for tourism and relocation to the county;
  • implementing business and economic development strategies (on March 12, the Project 2025 team is hosting a Small Business/Entrepreneur Workshop at the Gunzburger Building)
  • developing innovative strategies to enhance career exploration for both high school students and adults.

(Here, Coudersport Rotary Club President Ruth Sallade, left, welcomes Ellen Russell to the Feb. 17 meeting.)

County Officials Host VA Visit To Discuss Veterans’ Services

February 21st, 2020 Comments off

Potter County hosted a visit by two executives of the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs on Friday as part of an ongoing partnership for the delivery of VA health care to hundreds of the county’s military veterans. Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Paul Heimel and Barry Hayman were joined by Veterans Affairs Director Michael Pepper and Maintenance Director Joe Kurtz in welcoming Bruce Tucker, executive director, and Marie Kervan, associate chief nurse for medicine, from the VA Finger Lakes Health Care System. Their focus was on the Potter County Veterans Clinic, operated by the Bath (N.Y.) VA Medical Center at a county-owned building in Coudersport.

Director Tucker discussed challenges that the VA and other providers have experienced in recruiting certain health care professionals to rural areas. The VA has adjusted by introducing “telehealth” to supplement veterans’ services at many of its medical clinics, including the Potter County facility. Many medical diagnoses can be made through the fiber optic technology. The group toured the local clinic and discussed building modifications that Director Kurtz and the county maintenance crew will be making later this year to meet the VA’s needs. About 300 veterans are regularly seen at the clinic. Director Pepper pointed out that he and the county’s Veterans Service Committee are working on an outreach campaign to apprise veterans of the benefits and services to which they may be entitled. (Shown from left at the local clinic are Michael Pepper, Marie Kervan, Bruce Tucker, Paul Heimel, Barry Hayman and Nancy Grupp.)

TDWC Focuses On 24/7 Drinking Water Monitors

January 27th, 2020 Comments off

An organization dedicated to protecting Potter County’s public drinking water held its first meeting of the year last week at the Gunzburger Building. Triple Divide Watershed Coalition (TDWC) welcomed Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) representatives Mark Stephens (left) and Mark Accettulla, who shared timely information. TDWC was formed in 2011, pulling together all nine public water systems in Potter County – a first for a Pennsylvania county. Members are the municipal systems in Shinglehouse, Austin, Galeton, Coudersport, Genesee, Roulette, Ulysses and Port Allegany, as well as the Northern Tier Children’s Home and UPMC Cole.

Much of Wednesday’s discussion focused on the 24/7 monitors that have been installed at many public drinking water sources in Potter County to document flow, temperature and conductivity. This creates a database while alerting water system operators to any potential contamination or other aberration. TDWC used a $100,000 grant stemming from a fine levied against JKLM Energy to help townships and boroughs acquire the equipment. However, just 16 of the county’s 19 public water sources are being monitored. A monitor in Coudersport Borough was recently disconnected due to false readings. Stephens emphasized the importance of keeping the equipment functional to provide a database that might to used in the event of contamination and resultant enforcement action or litigation. He also stressed the need for water system operators to update their sourcewater protection plans. Among other items on Wednesday’s meeting agenda were reports on potential internships, grants for municipal water systems,  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency educational resources, water system operator career training opportunities, and a report on the Potter County Commissioners’ “Project 2025,” an initiative to reverse the county’s population decline and steady rise in median age.

TDWC was formed by the Potter County Commissioners and the county’s Planning Department. The organization won the Pa. Governor’s Award for Local Government Excellence, but its work had only begun at that point. TDWC spearheaded the historic Potter County groundwater characterization study that was completed with the assistance of the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners. This was the first-ever detailed analysis of groundwater resources in Potter County that charted the water’s location and components, as well as migration patterns and other characteristics. It’s important information to have when assessing the potential impact of shale gas drilling and other industrial activities. Mission of TDWC is “to protect public drinking water sources within the headwaters region of the Allegheny, Genesee and Susquehanna River systems from any degradation of source water quantity or quality.” This is accomplished by proactively evaluating susceptibility to contamination, working to minimize or eliminate potential threats, creating long-range protection strategies, supporting local planning and inter-governmental cooperation, encouraging public education initiatives, and any other activity to benefit present and future generations.

Criminal Justice Panel Hears ‘Specialty Court’ Update

January 22nd, 2020 Comments off

Potter County Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB) members heard the latest results from the county’s treatment courts and discussed a proposal to establish a “reporting center” for men who are involved in the criminal justice system during their quarterly meeting last week. In 2013, county officials established a DUI Treatment Court for qualifying offenders whose crimes were related to alcohol abuse. That was followed by a Drug Treatment Court in 2015. Under the specialty court model, defendants who are diagnosed with addiction issues and meet other criteria can avoid further criminal sanctions if they commit to an intensive treatment regimen and other conditions.

It’s part of a broader strategy to reduce the number of repeat offenders in the criminal justice system by addressing factors that affect their behavior and decision-making. Senior Judge John Leete presides over both courts. Participation declined over the second half of 2019 and currently stands at three for DUI Court and eight for Drug Court. County officials are investigating options for combining the courts by 2023, depending on caseloads and other factors. DUI Court has earned state accreditation through December 2022. Drug Court has not been accredited.

CJAB chairman President Judge Stephen Minor presented a statistical summary for 2019 reflecting that none of the nearly 400 urine tests taken for alcohol or other drug use by DUI Court participants came back positive. The Drug Court was another story. Although there were 1,427 negative drug tests, another 85 came back positive – 37 for methamphetamine, 36 for amphetamines, nine for marijuana and one each for cocaine, benzodiazepines and alcohol.

A men’s reporting center was proposed as a complement to the Women’s Recovery Center operated by Northern Tier Children’s Home for court-referred offenders. There, they receive mental health and addiction recovery services, as well as other assistance to help them successfully return to society. Some CJAB members, including District Attorney Andy Watson, expressed support for the “restrictive intermediate punishment” concept as an alternative to incarceration. The center could also serve as a site for offenders who are clients of re-entry services specialist Patrick Harris. Potter County Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Paul Heimel and Barry Hayman may be approached with a request to investigate establishing the center.

Also at last week’s meeting, CJAB members discussed new security standards that will be required at district judge offices and reviewed the findings of the Sequential Intercept Mapping Workshop held last summer in an effort to improve the criminal justice system’s handling of offenders with mental illness.