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Everyone knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time. That time arrived last week and the Susquehanna County Commissioners increased the real estate tax for 2004 by one-half mill.
But dont be too quick to blame the present commissioners. They had no choice if the county departments were to run on all eight cylinders this year. The cutbacks made by the outgoing administration could have cut the effectiveness of some departments to three or four cylinders and, in a few short months, could have completely stalled some of them.
Recognizing the problems that could develop if the budget adopted in December by a lame duck administration would have remained intact, the commissioners wasted little time in deciding there would have to be changes in a few departments. One of their priority moves after taking oaths of office was the unanimous approval of a motion to reopen the budget.
Some 23 days later, a revised budget was ready for adoption with a minimal tax increase and department heads - that shuddered at the thoughts of the reduced appropriations they had to work with - could finally relax.
The one-half mill increase is expected to generate about $350,000 in added revenue. The tax rate in the budget approved by the outgoing administration was: total mills for real estate, 9.75, which includes general fund, 8.50; funded debt, .95; and, library fund, .30 mills. The tax rate set by the new commissioners is: total mills for real estate, 10.255, which includes general fund, 9.00; funded debt, .925; and, library fund, .330.
"We reinserted most of the cuts," Commissioner Jeff Loomis said. "We pretty much put everything in line." He said additional funding was allocated for maintenance, a line item that the outgoing commissioners cut by $200,000. There is money now to repair the leaky courthouse roof and perhaps to repair an emergency generator that has been out of order for almost a year. Funding for seminars that had been cut was put back in departments where required state certification of some employees can only be attained at educational seminars.
"I think this is a pretty good budget," said Roberta Kelly, chair of the Board of Commissioners. "It worked out great."
The revised budget lists anticipated revenues in the general fund of $11,162,094 and anticipated expenses of $11,162,094. Final adoption of the new spending plan is expected to take place at the next commissioners meeting on February 14.
Former Commissioner Lee Smith, who was a member of the lame duck administration voted against the original 2004 budget in December. But Smith did not base his opposition on the cuts that were made in the budget. He said he opposed the budget on his belief that the funded debt account had a sizable surplus and therefore the tax for funded debt could have been reduced.
Loomis picked up on Smiths suggestion and the new administration did cut the funded debt tax from .950 mills to .925 mills. At last weeks meeting, Loomis thanked Smith for the idea.
In another matter, the commissioners approved a resolution relinquishing any county rights to a parcel of land in Montrose known as the Fair Grounds. The move paves the way for transferring the land from the Susquehanna County Agricultural Society to the Lions Club of Montrose. In 1952, the Agricultural Society and the Lions Club entered into an agreement that gave the Lions Club a 99-year lease on the site.
A portion of the land that now has two communications towers and a shed on it could be restored to the county tax rolls since the Lions Club collects a monthly fee from owners of the towers.
Motions passed by the commissioners included:
- Accepting the resignation of Paula Mattes, a specialist in the Conservation District Office.
- Accepting the resignation of Eric P. Brush, a deputy sheriff, who left to accept a position with the Montrose Police Department.
- Reappointed Jack Ord to the Susquehanna County Economic Development Board.
In Salary Board matters, the following motions were approved:
- Eliminating the position of Economic Development Assistant Director and recreating the position of Economic Development Secretary at an hourly salary of $8.84 plus benefits.
- Creating the part time position of conflict counsel for adult and juvenile criminal matters at an annual salary of $20,000 plus benefits.
At a press conference after their meeting, the commissioners again refused to offer any reason for dismissing Economic Development Director Justin Taylor.
"We cannot comment," Kelly said. She said her decision was based on some information that she received but would not reveal. She added that she is "comfortable" with her decision to dismiss Taylor.
Regarding Liz Janoski who was promoted from assistant director to DED director, Kelly said she has "full confidence in Liz."
Minority Commissioner Mary Ann Warren said she opposed Janoskis appointment because she believed the county should have advertised the position to "see what was out there."
Blue Ridge School Board members gathered for a workshop on January 26 heard a brief presentation by Henry Sallusti of RBC Dain Rauscher, an investment firm, proposing to refinance $7.5 million in bonds. This is a 1999 series of bonds, issued in support of the campus renovation. Now 5 years old, the bonds are callable, meaning that they can be paid off, in this case through the issue of a new series of bonds, but at a lower rate of interest. According to Mr. Sallusti, the transaction would save the district over $281,000, most of it in the first year.
The interest rate on the old bonds averaged over 4.5%. The new bonds will carry a rate of less than 3.5%. For such a large amount of money, a drop of 1% can mean substantial savings over the life of the bond issue, which will extend out to 2017. Refinancing the bonds will cost almost a quarter million dollars, but the difference in interest rates will more than cover the expense, leaving a net savings for the district's taxpayers.
The workshop actually began with a tour of the new fitness facility installed in the old wrestling room (the wrestlers have been given their own new building). The equipment in the facility, all shiny new and with a new-car smell, was financed by a $220,000 loan, which will be paid back through an arrangement with the National Schools Fitness Foundation. Students using the facility will be required to monitor their fitness using computerized equipment provided as part of the program. Collected data is forwarded monthly to Leadership In Fitness Training (L.I.F.T.), which then certifies compliance and releases funds. The equipment is clearly first-rate. Teachers working with students in the program will be trained in the use of the equipment, as well as in CPR and other safety requirements. Activities Director James Corse, and High School Principal Michael Thornton hope to open the facility for student use within a week or two.
Committees appointed by Board President Alan Hall last month have not yet completely coalesced, but the Activities Committee met before the general workshop under Mr. Hall's leadership. The committee, with information from Mr. Corse, identified at least three open coaching positions. The head varsity wrestling coach has announced his intention to resign the position at the end of the current season. There are also open positions in baseball and softball. Mr. Corse hopes to have the positions filled within a few weeks. Mr. Hall also requested that current lists of Schedule B positions be e-mailed to committee members each week. Schedule B is the list of paid extracurricular positions that are part of the teachers' union contract and cover things like coaching, academic department heads, and activity advisors. Mr. Hall said that the committee need not be directly involved in the selection of people to fill the "academic" Schedule B positions, such as department heads. He also asked that committee members receive another list weekly of all activities, including fund-raising, currently scheduled by booster clubs and other school- sponsored organizations. Mr. Hall has been concerned about the proliferation of fund-raising activities by organizations not properly registered for the purpose.
Mr. Hall reminded his colleagues that they would soon be starting the budget process for the fiscal year that will begin July 1. Joel Whitehead, the Board's representative at the Intermediate Unit, reported that the IU will soon issue its own budget, which will be somewhat higher than last year, and will mean an increase of some $760 for Blue Ridge's contribution. The IU provides special education services for member school districts, as well as seminars and workshops for staff and faculty, including issues related to standards and state testing, like the PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment), and the Federal "No Child Left Behind Act." Mr. Thornton gave high praise to the IU for helping him and his faculty understand the legislation and the testing, although he also said that he was "committed to avoiding overdoing" the tendency to "teach to the test."
The Blue Ridge School Board usually meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month in the cafeteria in the Elementary School.
It was a dark and stormy night on January 27, but all three Harford Township Supervisors, two of the road crew, and three stalwart spectators braved cold and snow to attend a routine session that concluded with - what else? - more on the Odd Fellows Hall. It started, however, with a series of items that come up annually, beginning with wages for the township's workers.
George Sansky was promoted to Assistant Roadmaster, and got his own raise. All township employees got an additional 3% increase. And on top of that, everyone got yet another 3% for 2004 only. For some years the township has paid $2,000 annually into a pension fund for each employee. The Supervisors decided to switch to a plan under which the township and the employees each contribute 3% of an employee's pay to the fund. To help out during the transition, the Supervisors agreed that the township will cover both sides during the first year. Norm Button of the Smith Barney Group was supposed to make a presentation to the meeting on pension programs, but was unable to attend because of the weather.
In addition to wages (Rick Pisasik said that the employees had requested that wage rates not be announced at a public meeting, although, as government employees, their wages are public information; Mr. Pisasik said that the information will be made available on request), the Supervisors worked out the holiday schedule for 2004, and set mileage reimbursement at 37.5 cents.
The Supervisors moved on to solicit bids for road materials for the new year in amounts similar to last year; they passed a resolution allowing themselves to sign for some 11 bank accounts (including a new one, for payroll); they approved a group of recommendations from the Fire Company for Fire Police; and they accepted a list of recommended exonerations from the local per-capita tax. They also rejected an opportunity to add terrorism coverage (that would have cost over $300 per year) to the township insurance policy.
Routine business completed, the Supervisors heard a proposal offered by Scott Muller concerning the Odd Fellows Hall and adjoining property in the middle of the village of Harford. Mr. Muller lives in the village, in fact, right across the street from the old building. Mr. Pisasik had recently outlined a plan for ultimately deciding what might be done with the property; part of the plan involved the collection of input from the community. Taking a first step, Mr. Muller suggested that the building be razed, and the lot transformed into "Harford Village Commons," a park- like space landscaped for the benefit of the community. He recalled a meeting of a year ago at which he claims a "majority (eighty to ninety percent) of the people present were in favor of having the building removed." Mr. Pisasik has consistently held the position that the building can and should be saved. Responding to Mr. Muller (a trifle defensively, it seemed), he reminded listeners that demolishing the building would require a referendum, and that the most difficult issue for him has always been how such a ballot question could be put that, in the end, would satisfy everyone.
An observer noted that the primary election this year is scheduled for April 27, which also happens to be a meeting night for the Supervisors. Mr. Pisasik said, "when the time comes, we'll do whatever is appropriate."
The next time for appropriate doings in Harford will be on Tuesday, February 10, beginning at 7:30 p.m., at the township building on Route 547.
In the County Transcripts report of the January 21 report of the Susquehanna Community School District board meeting, it was erroneously reported that home economics teacher Mrs. Escandel had retired. In fact, Superintendent Stone had thanked her and her class for baking cakes for the board in honor of School Board Recognition Month. We apologize for the error.
RECOVERED STOLEN VEHICLE
Trooper Timothy Jones discovered a stolen disabled vehicle, on Interstate 81, Harford Township, on Jan. 26, at 1:15 a.m. It was a 2004 red Nissan Xterra SUV. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 570-465-3154.
Someone damaged the garage windows and the windows on two vehicles in the A & S Auto Parts parking lot, State Route 706, Bridgewater Township between Jan. 24-26. Call 570-465-3154 with any information.
Ricky Hall, 50, Hallstead, is accused of harassing Lisa Capriotti, 38, Great Bend, in the Pump & Pantry parking lot, Great Bend, on Jan. 25 at 3:30 p.m. An investigation continues.
Someone damaged the windshield of Peggy Lynne Merwin (Vestal, NY)'s 1995 Plymouth Acclaim while it was parked at the rear of the lot at the American Legion, Great Bend Township, between 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 25 and 11:30 p.m. the next day. Call 570-465-3154 with any information.
PA State Police were called to the Bazewick residence, Friendsville, on Jan. 25 at 6:38 p.m., to investigate a domestic dispute involving Betty Bazewick and Bill Bostock.
Allen C. Schell, Susquehanna, received minor injuries when he lost control of his 1999 Mercury Cougar on Jan. 14 at 10:20 a.m., on slippery State Route 171, Great Bend Township. The vehicle overturned and came to rest on the northbound lane on its wheels.
PURCHASE, CONSUMPTION, POSSESSION, TRANSPORTATION, OF BREWED BEVERAGES
John R. Bidgood III, Uniondale, was found to be in possession of an alcoholic beverage while being under the age of 21. The incident occurred on Jan. 25 at 12:01 a.m. and charges were filed with District Justice Gene Franklin.
Between Oct. 28-30 Patricia Brown, Harford, a cleaning lady for Helen B. Foster, Susquehanna, removed a check from Foster's checkbook and forged a signature on the check and cashed it at Penn Star Bank. The check was written for $300.
On Jan. 16 at 3:00 p.m., Reed Burman, 87, Thompson, received minor injuries when his 2002 Chevy 1500 pickup veered off of State Route 2046, Fiddle Lake Rd., Gibson Township, and rode an embankment before flipping onto its left side.
Someone accessed an Ebay account belonging to Chris and Dori Chervanka, Jackson Township, at various times between Jan. 10-16 and used the account to sell items on Ebay.
A 13-year old male is accused by a 5-year old female of having touched her vaginal area. The incident occurred in Dimock Township, between Nov. 4-23. The 13-year old is being housed in a juvenile detention facility.
On Jan. 22 at 10:54 a.m., a white male in a full size, two-tone tan, conversion van pumped gasoline at the Exxon Station, Great Bend, and left without paying.
Lisa Schaffer, 36, New Milford, sustained minor injuries, due to vehicle failure, after her 1996 Chevy Tahoe rear wheel broke off the right axle. The vehicle left the roadway, colliding with a utility pole, closing State Route 492, New Milford Township, for about 2 hours on Jan. 22.
William Irwin, Bernalillo, 52, NM, had moderate injuries after he collided into the rear of another vehicle that was stopped in the left lane due to a previous accident that was blocking the roadway. Others involved were not injured in this Jan. 14 accident on Interstate 81, Lenox Township.
Kristen Reed, 20, Taylor, was traveling on State Route 11, Hop Bottom, and lost control of a 2000 Volkswagen Jetta which then spun clockwise. The vehicle flipped onto its roof at this Jan. 12 accident.
A 13-year old male is accused of sexually assaulting two males, 9 and 10-year olds, at a vacant trailer at the Oakland Trailer Park. The accused has been detained in a secure facility by the Susquehanna County Juvenile Probation Department pending an adjudication hearing. He's been charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.
Someone damaged a mailbox belonging to Karin Dorman, Hunsinger Rd., Dimock Township, on Jan. 10 and put a "For Sale" sign in her front yard. Call 570-465-3154 with any information.
Pump & Pantry, New Milford Borough, reported that on Jan. 20 at 3:45 p.m., $10 worth of kerosene was pumped without being paid for, by a white male, with white hair and in his 60's, driving a red Cavalier.
Someone removed two truck tires located on the front porch of Brian Vanluvanee (Weido Court Rd., Lenox Township)'s residence. Call 570-465-3154 with any information.
A 16-year old female subjected another 16-year old female to physical contact by striking her on Jan. 20 at 2:00 p.m. The assault was stopped by high school staff at the Elk Lake High School, Dimock Township.
THEFT BY DECEPTION
On Dec. 30, someone used a counterfeit $20 to purchase items at the Pump & Pantry, Lenox Township. An investigation continues.
Francis Pinkowski, Montrose, was walking along Maple Street, Montrose, and turned right onto Chestnut St. John Puzo, Montrose, approached him in a truck, driving within a foot of Pinkowski, and a verbal altercation ensued. Puzo has been charged with recklessly endangering another person and harassment while Pinkowski has been charged with disorderly conduct in this Jan. 7 incident at 3:05 p.m.
Mary Lee Tyler, Springville, sustained minor injuries when she lost control of her 2002 Suzuki Esteem which rolled over several times on State Route 3004, Springville Township, on Jan. 20.
MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT
Dorothy Stewart, 83, Montrose, received minor injuries on Jan. 9 when she was traveling north on State Route 267, Forest Lake Township, and a tree fell on top of her vehicle, crushing the roof. The tree was being cut down by individuals off the side of the roadway and accidentally fell into the road. Stewart was removed from her vehicle by the Forest Lake Fire and Rescue and flown to Robert Packard Hospital by Guthrie Helicopter for her injuries. Stewart was released shortly thereafter.
A driver of a 19-foot Penske truck with a tow dolly trailer carrying a red Dodge Ram 1500 pickup pumped $47 of gasoline at the Liberty Truck Stop, Harford Township, on Jan. 20 at 11:25 p.m., and left without paying.
Ronnie Dolin, 51, Huntington, WV, reported that his truck was broken into at the Gibson Truck Stop parking lot, New Milford Township, and his laptop computer was taken on Jan. 13 between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.
Lisa Iyoob, 40, Lathrop Township, has accused Deborah Prebola, 46, Springville, of harassing her due to Iyoob's involvement with Prebola's former boyfiend, using foul language. According to the police report, Prebola faces a charge of harassment regarding this Jan. 18 incident.
Sara Resseguie, 17, Hallstead, lost control of her vehicle on a slippery Old Route 11, New Milford Township, and went down an embankment into a creek. Resseguie was cited for traffic offenses. She received minor injuries in this Jan. 12 incident.
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