Progress On Potter/Cameron/McKean Comprehensive Plan

October 2nd, 2018 Comments off

Potter, McKean and Cameron counties are joining forces to develop a joint “comprehensive plan,” the document that guides decision-making on topics as varied as land use planning, transportation, economic development, protection of natural resources, education, public safety, housing and quality of life. The plan is mandated by the state and must be updated every 10 years. Each county will have a separate section that reflects local priorities. Commissioners from the three counties signed on to the project in an effort to save costs through shared resources. Total cost is $115,000, with $80,000 covered by federal funding and the remaining $34,500 shared equally among Cameron, Potter and McKean counties.

Input will be solicited from townships and boroughs, school districts, community organizations and the general public. A steering committee meeting was held Tuesday at the Gunzburger Building. Brian Funkhauser (shown) from the consulting firm, Michael Baker International, spoke to more than 30 representatives from the three counties about objectives, timelines, public engagement, anticipated outcomes and roles and responsibilities. Planning Directors Will Hunt (Potter), Cliff Clark (Cameron) and Jeremy Morey (McKean) are the point people. Focus groups are being developed to provide input. Public meetings will be scheduled.

Funkhouser summarized some of the early results from his firm’s research, aimed toward creating profiles of the three counties while identifying trends, assets, strengths, challenges and opportunities. He advised steering committee members that a declining population, combined with steady increases in median age, pose “tremendous implications” that will impact the comprehensive planning process, in terms of needed services, changes in the job market, economics and other areas.

Counties Must Replace Outdated Voting Machines

September 26th, 2018 Comments off

County commissioners from across Pennsylvania are investigating their options in response to a state mandate that they replace their voting machines with certified models that create a paper trail. The state legislature has not provided funding and the costs – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for most counties – will be borne by county taxpayers. Potter County Director of Elections Sandy Lewis has been investigating options. This week, she hosted a demonstration by four representatives of Election Systems & Software (ESS), one of the vendors whose equipment has been certified by the Pa. Dept. of State. Joseph Passarella (shown) provided an overview of the new state mandates, the options for county officials, and the equipment that ESS is offering. Earlier this month, Director Lewis hosted a demonstration from another certified supplier, Dominion Voting Systems.

Work Continues On Coudersport Trail Project

September 17th, 2018 Comments off

A consultant continues work on a plan to establish the Tom Leete Nature Trail on the former railroad grade stretching from Coudersport’s swimming pool on the west to county-owned property on the east. Last week, members of a committee working to make the vision a reality met with an engineering consultant to keep the ball rolling. Jeff Ream of Emporium has been contracted to Coudersport Borough through a $12,500 state grant to create a master plan for the trail. Ream recently designed the popular West Creek Recreation Trail on an abandoned railroad grade in Cameron County.

The two-mile passageway has been open to public use for decades, but it has rarely been maintained. Motorized vehicles have created deep ruts and mud pits. Committee members discussed the challenges of creating a trail on a strip of property with multiple owners and rights-of-way holders. Coudersport Borough, UGI Utilities, the Potter County Commissioners, Potter County Housing Authority and multiple individuals have ownership stakes. Committee members decided that determining ownership and surface improvements are among the top priorities. The county was represented by Commissioner Paul Heimel and Community Development Director Jennifer Rossman. Also attending were consultant Jeff Ream, Borough Manager Beverly Morris, committee members Bill Franklin and Natalie Stenhach, and property owner Todd Brown.

Potter County Part Of National Agriculture Study

September 14th, 2018 Comments off

Potter and Tioga counties are part of a national “Water for Agriculture” study. It holds the potential to not only help farmers with water management issues – both quantity and quality — but also break down some of the barriers that have isolated agriculturalists from government regulators and communities. Dr. Weston M. Eaton, a Penn State University professor who’s one of the leaders of the four-year research project, shared details during Wednesday’s meeting of the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition. Potter, Tioga and Mifflin counties in Pennsylvania have been chosen for the study, as have counties in Nebraska and Arizona. Funding comes from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Eaton said the study’s formal title is, “Securing Water For and From Agriculture Through Effective Community and Stakeholder Engagement.” His team’s mission to develop local models that can be rolled out across the nation. Dr. Eaton shared some of his early observations based on interviews with farmers in northeastern Potter County:

  • they have varied, and sometimes conflicting, opinions on the threats to the future of local agriculture and on water management issues;
  • they feel left out from the deliberations on regulations that affect their livelihood;
  • they believe they are misunderstood, mischaracterized and unappreciated;
  • they lament the demise of local events (Farm/City Day, Progress Through Communications Agriculture Tours, etc.) that spotlighted farming;
  • they see value in the collaborations that the research team is proposing, but only if the leadership is strong and diverse interests are engaged.

Potential stakeholders identified in the early stages of the project include farmers, producers and related businesses; agricultural organizations; local governments; water authorities; environmental organizations; community and interest organizations; regulatory agencies; service and information providers; researchers; landowners and other residents. Nicole Santangelo, agronomy educator with Penn State Extension, is serving as a local liaison for the study.

Leadership Potter County Focus On Emergency Responders

September 7th, 2018 Comments off

An addition to the Leadership Potter County curriculum focusing on emergency responders and public safety was a success. LPC alumnus Will Hunt, who also serves as Potter County planning director, organized a First Responder Day. He laid the groundwork for class members to travel to multiple sites for demonstrations and an opportunity to meet informally with responders. Personnel from the Pa. State Police, Coudersport Volunteer Fire Dept., Coudersport Ambulance and Advanced Life Support, Mercy Flight and Coudersport Borough police responded to the LPC planning team’s invitation to participate.

“Students learned about basic safety measures as well as potential career and volunteer opportunities, and they gained a deeper appreciation for some of the people who selflessly serve the community,” Hunt said. “The committee hopes to have participation from some of the county’s other emergency responders for the 2019 program.” Leadership Potter County supports the development of future leaders with a focus on developing leadership potential and a greater awareness of local assets, opportunities and issues. More information is available at 274-4877.

Action Plan To Implement ‘Data-Driven Justice’

August 25th, 2018 Comments off

Potter County has made a commitment to implement “Data-Driven Justice.” The process began with the Board of Commissioners enrolling in the national initiative. That was followed by the Potter County Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB) adopting DDJ as part of its 2018 strategic plan. Most recently, the national DDJ organization has taken a particular interest in the county’s efforts, raising the prospects of Potter County becoming a rural pilot project to implement DDJ. County officials are now developing a strategic plan to implement DDJ.

As CJAB has recognized, the effective collection and analysis of data can guide decision-making for both the implementation of criminal justice, and the wise use of the county’s limited financial resources. The plan will require consistent communication and collaboration to meet the DDJ objectives. The process will follow this sequence:

  • Phase 1: Research other counties’ experiences in successfully implementing data collection and analysis.
  • Phase 2: Determine how this data could benefit Potter County through: (a.) a review of current practices; (b.) an assessment of needs and potential applications through close engagement with the county’s criminal justice system — judiciary, district attorney/law enforcement, public defender, jail administration, human services and others.
  • Phase 3: Investigate DDJ support systems now operating in other counties, focusing on software and administration; operational and information-sharing/privacy issues; logistical challenges, and other considerations
  • Phase 4: Review goals of DDJ implementation – i.e., the options as identified through Phases 1, 2 and 3 — for consensus support among all affected parties.
  • Phase 5: Present recommendation to Potter County Board of Commissioners for acquisition and implementation of the data collection and analysis plan.

What is Data-Driven Justice?

Every year, more than 11 million people move through America’s 3,100 local jails, many on low-level, non-violent misdemeanors. The average length of stay is 23 days and 95 percent of the cases are resolved at the local level without a prison sentence. On any given day, more than 450,000 people are held in jail before trial, even though they have not been convicted of a crime. Research shows that even a short stay in jail can impact a person’s health, job and family stability, and can also increase the likelihood that he or she will commit future crimes. The costs of administering local criminal justice systems are significant, both in terms of actual dollars to taxpayers and in the disruptive impact of incarceration on children, families and communities.

Counties, cities and states that have joined the DDJ initiative are developing strategies to address two key populations that drive jail populations:

  • “Frequent utilizers” who are often individuals with mental illness, substance abuse and health problems who repeatedly cycle through multiple systems, including jails, hospital emergency rooms, shelters and other services; and
  • People held in jail before trial because they cannot afford to bond out, not because they are a risk to the community or a risk of flight.

These populations represent an opportunity for targeted, resource-saving interventions since they comprise a significant percentage of many jail populations. New innovations demonstrate that finding better alternatives to jail for individuals in these categories can not only save resources, but also help stabilize families and better serve communities. There are multiple resources available online for those who want to learn more. One of the most informative websites is http://www.naco.org/resources/signature-projects/data-driven-justice