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.

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.

Potter County Investigating ‘Broadband For All’ Options

July 20th, 2021 Comments off

As has been made crystal clear by the coronavirus pandemic and other changes in society, high-speed internet service is rapidly evolving from a lifestyle option to a necessity across Pennsylvania. In response, the Revitalize Potter County Steering Committee has made the expansion of broadband service one of its highest priorities. It offers opportunities for economic development, expansion of health care and education, and many other public benefits, according to Potter County Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt. He is joined on the committee by Community Development Director Ellen Russell and Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Paul Heimel and Barry Hayman.

Many Potter County households and businesses have no high-speed internet service or lack sufficient capacity to meet today’s demands. Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative’s (REC) high-speed internet project, which has already connected more than 1,000 Potter County customers, is filling many of the gaps. The steering committee is focusing on areas that are not serviced by Tri-Co Connections.

County leaders learned through extensive public surveying related to the 2020-29 Countywide Comprehensive Plan that expansion of broadband service is a high priority. “We are now taking steps to identify gaps in broadband service in and around Potter County, and to help identify potential partners and funding sources to fill the gaps,” Hunt explained. He added that the committee will be reaching out to service providers, as well as school districts, townships and boroughs, to investigate partnerships.

The committee has compiled an assessment as follows:

Opportunities

  • Improving the quality of life for Potter County residents by closing the gap of the “digital divide.”
  • Providing, through strategic partnerships, services to residents who currently do not have access to internet service of 25mb or greater speed, both download and upload;
  • Accessing funds that are being made available from the federal and state governments to support the build-out in underserved areas.

Challenges

  • Identify the homes and businesses not adequately served.
  • Investigate partnerships and/or incentives to attract service providers.
  • Development of delivery infrastructure, spearheaded by the county government with private-sector partners.

Steps Forward

  • Conduct a feasibility study for development of expanded broadband service.
  • Identify public and private partners/consultants to serve on or advise the committee.
  • Research and analyze best practices from across the U.S.

Full Agenda For County Tourist/Recreation Work Group

July 3rd, 2021 Comments off

Potter County Tourism & Recreation Work Group dealt with multiple timely topics at its June meeting. The panel is part of the Revitalize Potter County campaign, a mission to reverse the population loss and rising median age in the county. For more information or to volunteer, contact Potter County Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt at whunt@pottercountypa.net.

Members Attending: Colleen Hanson, Ben Stone, Josh Roth, John Snyder, Lori Szymanik.

County Attendees: Will Hunt, Ellen Russell, Paul Heimel, Barry Hayman.

Guests: Nicole Faraguna (DCNR Policy/Planning Director); Bob Wicker (Potter County Education Council); Jason Childs, (Potter County Conservation District).

Potter County Canoe & Kayak Launch Sites. Jason Childs detailed the development of canoe/kayak launch points in several Potter County locations. Latest is under construction along the Allegheny River at the A&W West End Grill, east of Coudersport. Other Allegheny sites are in Roulette and Burtville. Also, launch sites have been built at the Genesee Community Park and along Pine Creek on Galeton’s east end. Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has provided funding. Members discussed options for providing information for canoe/kayak enthusiasts on local attractions and history.

‘Pa. Engage’: Data from Hospitality/Tourism Industry. Bob Wicker presented a preliminary summary of findings from an intensive survey of four lodging facilities, seven restaurants and one tourist-based business. A more detailed summary and action plan will soon be released. Among the conclusions: a.) employers are unable to attract/recruit workers; b.) those in the hospitality and tourism market need to re-think how they are conducting business to adapt to changes in visitors’ expectations and to tap potential for business growth.

Denton Hill/Cherry Springs State Park Updates. Ben Stone (Bureau of State Parks) reported that three prospective partners/concessionaires to develop and operate Denton Hill State Park as a four-season attraction have toured the facilities. Deadline for proposals is July 9. He noted that state park visits to date have been lower than in 2020, and on par with trends prior to the pandemic. Ben also noted that plans are moving forward for the Cherry Springs State Park improvements and the Galeton Rotary Club Woodsmen’s Show will be held there Aug. 6-8.

Visit Potter-Tioga Overview/Update. Colleen Hanson said the agency has observed similar trends with fewer visitors than in 2020. Campgrounds have enjoyed a solid year so far, but traditional lodging facilities have not. VPT has launched its summer advertising campaign, emphasizing family fun in the outdoors and the appealing natural and peaceful experience available in Potter and Tioga counties. Click-through numbers on the VPT website are still high and requests for visitors’ guides are increasing, indicating strong interest in the two counties by prospective tourists.

Maryland Air Force National Guard Low-Level Training Flights. DCNR’s Nicole Faraguna reported on continuing research into the proposal. She said that once the air space from 100 to 8,000 feet is open, it could be used by other aircraft in addition to the Maryland Air Force National Guard A-10 Warthog. 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. Nicole suggested that those who are concerned about the impact of the flights consider options for educating the public on their potential impact.

Report on Northcentral Pa. ATV Pilot Project. Potter County Planning Director Will Hunt provided an update on the state’s regional all-terrain vehicle connector trail project. He noted that  a new video on ATV safety and legal operation is now posted online. Lori Szymanik (Susquehannock Trail Club) said STS is concerned about the impact of increased ATV traffic on forest ecosystems.

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. Josh Roth (administrator) said attendance has been excellent since the museum’s reopening. A full-time educator position will be filled; Lori Szymanik is serving on an interim basis this summer. One emphasis of the museum is to encourage guests to get outside for forest-based recreation and to observe sites that are related to the region’s lumber heritage.

County Shifting To New System For Managing Jail

June 20th, 2021 Comments off

History was made on Thursday when Potter County Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Barry Hayman and Paul Heimel voted unanimously to adopt a new system of management for the county jail. Potter is one of just two counties in the state that still require their elected sheriff to serve in a dual role as jail warden. Under the plan was approved on Thursday, a seven-member “prison board” will be seated on or about Aug. 1 to assume responsibility for jail operations. Members include the sheriff, president judge, district attorney, treasurer and commissioners. That panel will hire and supervise a warden, who is responsible for day-to-day management — to include safety, security and orderly operation — while ensuring the county’s risk of civil litigation is minimized and the rights of the detainees/inmates are protected.

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. At the same time, duties of a county sheriff have expanded in areas unrelated to operating a jail.

Commissioner Hayman pointed out that McKean will be soon be the only Pennsylvania county where the elected sheriff is also required to serve as jail warden. “These are two separate jobs and this action is no reflection on the current sheriff, Glenn Drake,” Hayman said. “History is leaning toward more accountability and having more public eyes on the operation of a county jail.”

Commissioner Heimel said the prison board model provides greater opportunities to address some of the factors that have landed people behind bars. “Providing mental health and addiction treatment, GED assistance, life skills, employability, housing assistance and other services in a jail setting have been proven to reduce the likelihood of a person ending up back in jail once he gets out. It can save the county a lot of money — the jail is the single highest expense to the taxpayers.”

“Those are our neighbors sitting in there and what kind of neighbor do you want?” Commissioner Grupp added. “Do you want a neighbor who is going to go back to the criminal activity that got them there in the first place?”

Investigation of the prison board option has been in the works for more than a year. The commissioners studied best practices from more than two dozen counties where prison boards operate and conducted other research prior to casting Thursday’s vote. (Source: Endeavor News.)

County, Local Governments To Receive ‘Impact Fee’ Checks

June 18th, 2021 Comments off

Pa. Public Utility Commission this week announced the 2021 Pa. Act 13 shale gas-drilling “impact fee” allotments to county and local governments. They are based on 2020 gas drilling and production reports from energy companies and state regulatory agencies. Potter County’s allotment is $207,015, down considerably from last year’s $317,600. Most of the township/borough payments will also be lower. Market factors and the lack of transmission infrastructure prompted firms to scale back operations beginning in 2019. There is still a glut of natural gas and prices remain low. Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted another reduction in gas production this year, followed by at least a modest rebound in 2022.

Township and borough allotments this year will be as follows: Sweden Twp., $46,613; Ulysses Twp., $43,873; West Branch Twp., $32,609; Summit Twp., $25,079; Eulalia Twp., $21,891; Clara Twp., $17,446; Pleasant Valley Twp., $16,967; Coudersport, $13,517; Pike Twp., $13,107; Keating Twp., $12,197; Harrison Twp., $12,029; Wharton Twp., $11,902; Allegany Twp., $11,149; Sharon Twp., $8,737; Sylvania Twp., $8,554; Hector Twp., $8,475; Hebron Twp., $7,788; Roulette Twp., $7,772; Bingham Twp., $7,602; Genesee Twp., $6,382; Galeton, $6,256; Abbott Twp., $5,728; Oswayo Twp., $4,752; Homer Twp., $4,444; Ulysses Borough, $3,533; Austin, $3,381; Shinglehouse, $2,885; Stewardson Twp., $1,555; Portage Twp., $1,271; and Oswayo Borough, $529.

County and local governments can use the money for preservation and reclamation of water supplies; improvements to roads and bridges; construction and repair of water and sewer systems; delivery of social services; tax reduction; housing; conservation districts; emergency preparedness, public safety and flood plain management.