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Laura Watts, voter registrar for the past seven months, submitted her resignation to the Susquehanna County Board of Commissioners last week in a letter that alleged the county is not in compliance with all election laws. And, in a surprise move shortly after the commissioners received her letter, Mrs. Watts announced her candidacy for county commissioner.
In her letter of resignation, Mrs. Watts said the county lacks the proper resources and support necessary for her to “learn and perform her duties within the guidelines of the law.”
“In the past seven months,” she wrote, “I have put in countless hours of research on my own at home. The more research I conducted, the more I realized the county was out of compliance in many areas.”
She said she relied upon the Department of State for guidance and instituted changes based upon their recommendations. However, she said while she was focusing attention on bringing the county into compliance with the election laws, she received negative feedback from the public, the press and from within the courthouse.
Mrs. Watts said her letter was not a “blanket condemnation.” She said she received support from people in and out of the courthouse.
“The underlying problem,” she concluded, “is that the position of voter registrar and the education and requirements that go along with that position, have to be taught by an experienced professional trained or already serving in that capacity. It is not a position that can be learned on your own or by trial and error.”
Mrs. Watts did not elaborate on her decision to enter the Republican Primary Election as a candidate for county commissioner.
And in a related development, after the Board of Commissioners accepted Mrs. Watts’ resignation, Commissioner Roberta Kelly made a motion to appoint Gary Wilder to the position. Mr. Wilder has filed a lawsuit against the county claiming his experience and his time in military service should have earned him the position.
Mrs. Kelly said she saw an opportunity for the county to end the lawsuit and get the services of a qualified applicant. Commissioners Jeff Loomis and MaryAnn Warren apparently disagreed with Mrs. Kelly. Her motion failed for the lack of a second.
The commissioners did not meet on February 14 as scheduled because of the Valentine’s Day blizzard. As a result there was a heavy agenda and the following motions were approved:
Adapco Vector Control Services of Saylorsburg was awarded a contract to manage the county’s 2007 West Nile Virus Surveillance and Control Program. The contract, which is paid for by grant money, is worth $27,589.
Resolution 2007-3 authorizing Trehab to file an application for funds with the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Resolution 2007-04 revised/updated the county’s emergency operations plan and brings it in compliance with the Commonwealth.
Resolution 2007-5 authorizes the filing of an application for Community Development Block Grant funds for the 2007 fiscal year.
Resolution 2007-6 agreeing to promote fair housing practices.
2007-7, approving the Statement of Goals for the Minority Business Enterprise Plan.
And in an annual event, Harry Phillips of Clifford was on hand to speak briefly about colon cancer and to help the county proclaim March 28, 2007 as Helen Phillips CASUAL Day in conjunction with colon cancer awareness. Helen Phillips is the late wife of Mr. Phillips.
Adopted Proclamation 2007-02 proclaiming the week of March 11 as Girl Scouts Make the World a Better Place Week.
Terminated the employment of Kara Flatness who was hired as a caseworker in Children and Youth but never appeared for work.
Elevated Laura Watson from part-time to full-time deputy sheriff.
Ratified the hiring of Marissa Smith to the full-time position of clerk-typist in the office of Magisterial District Judge Jeffery Hollister.
Hired Michael Galinsky to the open part-time position of county detective in the Susquehanna County Law Enforcement Task Force.
Accepted with regret the resignation of Rains Hilgner, domestic relations conference officer.
Reappointed the following individuals to the Susquehanna County Emergency Services Advisory Committee: Chairman, Jerry Fives; Fire/Rescue, Jay Klein, Dick Hennessey, Charlie Daly, Trent Turner; EMS: Jim Krupinski; Police, Sheriff Lance Benedict.
Allowed the Farmers Market access to the Green along Maple Street from June 15 through October.
Approved using a portion of the Records Improvement Fund to purchase four new computers for the treasurer’s office and the Tax Claim Bureau.
Accepted the Planning Commission’s annual report as presented by County Planner Bob Templeton.
And, meeting as the Salary Board, the commissioners and the county treasurer passed a motion changing the part-time status of the voter registration clerk to full-time and to change the title to voter registration clerk/clerk typist.
Barnes Kasson County Hospital has been providing health care services to Susquehanna County and portions of Wayne and Wyoming Counties for over 102 years. It is a non-profit corporation.
From a very small hospital, it has grown to provide 85 patient beds for acute and skilled nursing care. It operates an extensive Home Health department, provides county transportation services and meals on wheels. Outpatient services include: laboratory, x-ray, cat-scan, electrocardiogram, MRI testing, as well as physical and occupational therapy and cardiac rehabilitation. Other services are provided in conjunction with its sister corporation, Barnes Kasson Health Center, such as doctor’s office visits, dental services and eye care.
As the hospital grew it split off the health center as a separate corporation to realize a greater reimbursement from state and federal medical programs. Employees total approximately 400. It is our understanding that Barnes Kasson is the largest employer in Susquehanna County. The payroll for the Hospital and the Health Center totals $11,289,108 yearly. Nearly all of that is paid to people who live locally.
The Board of Trustees is comprised of local people who give of their time and effort without any pay. Mrs. Sara C. Iveson is the Executive Director. She began working at Barnes Kasson in 1969 as an accountant. She took her present position in 1982.
Over the decades, although there has been growth, the hospital has been walking on a financial tightrope in recent years. The local economy has evolved to result in a patient population that is approximately 55% Medicare recipients, and approximately 25% Medicaid recipients, with another 5% being individuals with no coverage whatsoever, neither through private insurance or public assistance. The hospital has had to accept approximately 75% of its cost as full payment for Medicare and Medicaid patients. (If a patient’s bill is $200 our cost is approximately $100). The additional 5% of patients with no coverage have no money whatsoever to pay any portion of the bill.
Because we are a small rural hospital, and because of the local economy, the hospital does not have enough volume in patients with insurance coverage to make up for the large losses experienced providing medical services to Medicare and Medicaid patients. This has been going on for decades. From experience, the hospital would realize an upswing periodically to make financial operations easier. However, in recent years there have not been any significant upswings to offset the losses. Consequently, the financial situation has become worse. The hospital faces a large amount of payables because of the lack of cash flow.
Recently, the hospital has taken measures to meet the financial reality of this situation. For Example:
In late 2005 the hospital made a change of designation to “Critical Access Hospital” in order to receive 101% of cost for the treatment of Medicare patients.
Some months ago charges were increased. Although this has no effect on our payments from Medicare and Medicaid, it does help with patients with private insurance.
There have been employee cuts, lay-offs and a recent pension freeze.
The OB department was closed in January of 2004. It was re-opened in October of 2004 after grant funding of $400,000 per year had been awarded to underwrite most of the losses.
Our accountants were prepared to do an analysis of our operations, but we had an analysis performed recently by a firm that had some experience with rural Pennsylvania hospitals our size; along with some experience with our hospital operations also.
The hospital has had to subsidize the Health Center each year in an amount of approximately $250,000. A federal pharmacy program should eliminate this.
We continue to pursue governmental grant funding.
We are constantly searching for ways to increase our reimbursement on private insurance contracts.
We have always been concerned with growing our patient base.
Mrs. Iveson felt we had made great progress in holding expenses, and cutting expenses where possible. She also reported that revenue was improving because of decisions that were made months earlier. However, no one has their head in the sand. There is still a long road ahead before the financial situation is more stable.
The Board and the Administration were of the opinion that it would have been counter-productive, to say the least, to attempt to answer, correct, explain, disagree with, or otherwise debate those letters appearing in the newspapers about our hospital.
At the loan closing on the Bond, 12 months worth of payments were put into a Reserve Fund. This was and is hospital money. It was put there because everyone knew that the hospital may not be able to make some payments because of cash flow problems. Yes, 3 payments were made from the Reserve Fund. No payments were missed. The Reserve Fund is nearly all replenished. This has been done faster than obligated in the bond documents.
The 2004 and 2005 audits were late because of our accountants. After the 2004 was completed the hospital changed accounting firms. The 2005 audit was completed shortly thereafter. The 2006 audit is underway.
Prior to changing accounting firms, we were prepared to have an analysis of our operations done by them. We wanted to see if we were doing everything we could to rectify our financial situation; and that we were not doing anything to worsen it. The County and the bank wanted us to utilize a different firm because of our problems with our then-current accountants. Since all we wanted was a thorough report, we chose Stroudwater Associates to do the work. We recently have received an interim report from them. As the County appointed member of the hospital board, Commissioner Roberta Kelly, while being an advocate for all the people of Susquehanna County, has worked for a positive outcome at Barnes Kasson Hospital.
The report is titled, “Strategic, Financial, and Operational Assessment.” Although it is only an interim report, some comment is appropriate. It is not our intent to analyze and comment on each and every aspect of the report. However, that is not to say we are hiding from, or refuse to address or recognize any part of it. We will try to mention the highlights, and go into some explanation in certain areas. The report covers fiscal years 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Some areas for comment:
Net operating revenue has been increasing at a steady pace through the 3-year period.
Expenses decreased $400,000 in 2006.
During 2006 revenue began to outpace expenses. By the end of 2006, revenue was $1.25 million in excess of expenses.
Once the service is rendered we wait an average of 77 days to get paid. Receivables are high. This is an area to improve cash flow.
Although Stroudwater analyzed the balance sheet to indicate insolvency, a large piece of positive cash flow lies in patient receivables which can be turned into cash. Furthermore, the steady increase in revenue over 3 years with decreasing expenses indicates significant movement in the right direction.
Stroudwater’s recommendations relating to contracted adjustments, monitoring CAH cost reimbursement, completing audits, and financial plan are all reasonable and will receive Board priority. Stroudwater’s statement that “management” does not believe a turnaround plan is needed, is believed to be the interviewer’s misunderstanding and lack of appreciation of Mrs. Iveson’s answers to some of his questions.
Stroudwater used what they called a Benchmark Analysis, comparing Barnes Kasson to small, rural hospital percentiles. Some comments are:
This analysis helps us recognize where we are good, poor or average. There are areas of each.
Our expenses are low, but our revenue and related areas are average or poor. Some things can improve, other areas may be impossible to improve.
Stroudwater states that the Benchmark analysis is helpful for general guidance, but results are not definitive in identifying performance improvement opportunities.
There is discussion of certain services being transferred to another provider; and to review expenditures to the health center. These services will be reviewed in light of the recommendation. Our dealings with the Health Center have been a topic of discussion and negotiation for the last 12 months. Finalization on this issue is expected soon.
Mention is made of lobbying costs. At this point the hospital has incurred bills of $54,000 on a yearly basis, while these costs have generated $400,000 per year. There is an additional $200,000 we anticipate in 2007. Prior to the election in November 2006, an additional $500,000 had been earmarked for the hospital.
Increasing our charges and increasing the percentage of charges received from insurance companies are things that are done and will continue to be done.
A plan to reduce liabilities is reasonable and will be implemented.
From their analysis of the Revenue Cycle, Stroudwater recommends establishing a strategy to turn bills into cash faster. We are confident that our billing department is up to the challenge. Outsourcing our billing is an answer. Maybe. If we do it, it could get worse. If we do it we lay off 30 people. We will give our existing staff every chance to succeed.
Stroudwater next lays out various irregularities and questions identified as variances in comparison with other rural hospitals. At the outset our general comment agrees with Stroudwater’s comment on benchmark analysis, that is, such analysis, “… is helpful for general guidance in indicating where performance varies from the norm, but results are not definitive in identifying performance improvement opportunities.” Some of these irregularities and questions are:
CAH grant funded projects and swing bed program, as explained in the report, lead us to believe that Stroudwater may be misinformed in these areas.
Commingling Health Center revenue and expense has been discussed for the last 12 months with finalization in near future.
The report claims a lack of feedback/communication with managers. It is our observation and experience that Mrs. Iveson’s door is always open.
Supervisory and management positions are held by members of Mrs. Iveson’s immediate family. First, they are holding necessary jobs. Positions were not created for them. Secondly, it is difficult to attract good employees. After training them, it is hard to keep them. With members of her family we find good employees, who are loyal to the hospital for the long term. Lastly, our administrator feels confident and comfortable dealing with family members in these positions.
Their questions on personnel policies and wage/benefit procedure will be investigated.
Our in-house attorney was hired after Mrs. Iveson and Fred Jackson agreed that he could make a contribution. Although he handles the legal work, he has been involved in assisting Mrs. Iveson. He was involved in the Critical Access Hospital change of designation; with the paper work, the Medicare intermediary and the State legislature to finalize the change. In working with our lobbying firm he has been instrumental in securing $1.2 million in grant funds from the state. An additional $200,000 is expected this year, and $500,000 had been earmarked to the hospital in Washington prior to the election. The Health Center/ federal drug program has taken a lot of his time. He has served on the Board for 25 + years, has medical training from the U.S. Air Force and has run businesses in addition to his 30 years’ experience as a lawyer. We are satisfied that he is making a considerable contribution to the hospital.
Tuition reimbursement program will be discussed.
The Board takes this report seriously and intends to do what is needed to insure that every reasonable approach to all pertinent issues is explored and, if appropriate, implemented for the benefit of the hospital.
We choose, as does Mrs. Iveson, to look at this as a time for optimism. The corner has been turned. Our revenue has been going up steadily over the past 3 years. Our revenue is greater than our expenses by a large amount. Many decisions were made prior to this report that made that possible.
Our employees have not had any meaningful salary increases in the past 5 years. They have watched as some were laid off, some positions were reduced and pensions were frozen. The continued loyalty and perseverance of our employees is necessary for the hospital’s existence.
We ask that our community: you, your friends and your family support your hospital. Utilize our services. Tell us what may be wrong, so that we may be able to fix it. Tell everyone what good care you received, so that they may use our services also.
Yes, we believe our community should be optimistic about the continued existence of Barnes Kasson Hospital. We believe that our community should support the hospital, because without sincere support the hospital will eventually fail.
And, our community should be confident that this Board and the Administration are doing everything possible to make Barnes Kasson Hospital a part of your life for generations to come.
Our gratitude goes out to Peoples National Bank and the Susquehanna County Commissioners for their years of believing in, and supporting our hospital; and especially for their understanding and help during these recently trying times.
The Board of Trustees
of Barnes Kasson Hospital
At their meeting on February 27, the Harford Township Supervisors signed papers for a loan of $500,000 from Peoples National Bank. The note has a term of five years and carries a fixed interest rate of 4.25%.
The loan commitment says the money is to be used for "road construction and maintenance." However, the primary purpose is to make funds available for two major projects: the sluice under Stearns Road at the outlet of Tingley Lake, and to replace a bridge on Pennay Hill Road. The latter project should ultimately be reimbursable from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA). The Stearns Road project will probably be carried entirely by the township.
The township will keep the funds on deposit at interest until needed, taking advantage of what Supervisor Rick Pisasik called "arbitrage," which will allow the township to earn on the difference between the loan rate and the deposit rate.
Although the loan was not defined to be used for the two projects alone, in order to maintain flexibility, Mr. Pisasik said, "the intent of the loan is for those two projects."
Supervisor Sue Furney reported that engineers had visited both sites to begin survey work. Engineering studies alone on the two projects could cost more than $30,000. The township will probably have to file for an extension with FEMA on the Pennay Hill bridge project; the preliminary FEMA proposal allowed barely a year to replace the bridge, which was swept away in the flooding in late June, 2006.
In other business, the Supervisors discussed a letter from county District Attorney Jason Legg, who is urging a group of municipalities in the Interstate 81 corridor to consider developing a regional police force. The county Council of Governments (COG) is offering to produce a study for free.
Mr. Pisasik was reluctant at first to sign on to the idea, since there didn't seem to be much likelihood that Harford would ever want to – or have the resources to – help create a local police force. Ms. Furney and Terry VanGorden, however, figured that, since it wasn't going to cost anything but perhaps a little time to meet with whoever conducts the study, why not participate? So they all decided to sign on to see what comes of it. According to Ms. Furney, the cost of the study will be underwritten by the state Center for Local Government Services.
The Harford Township Supervisors meet on the second Saturday of each month, beginning at 10:00 a.m.; and on the fourth Tuesday of each month, beginning at 7:30 p.m. All meetings are held at the township office, on Route 547, half a mile south of Interstate 81.
Jason Clancy to Eliseo Garbolino, Dunmore, Theresa Garbolino (aka) Therisa Garbolino, in Clifford Township for one dollar (Corrective Deed).
Eliseo Garbalino (aka) Eliseo Garbolino, Teresa Garbolino (aka) Teresa Garbolino (aka) Therisa Garbolino (aka) Theresa Garbolino to Kenneth F. Hannon, Washington, DC, in Clifford Township for $100,000.
Tobin A. Crawford to Shawn R. Burns, RR2, Susquehanna, Julie D. Burns, in Oakland Borough for $24,000.
Edward J. Kozlowski, Melanie R. Kozlowski to Brian C. Hinkley, RR2, Hallstead, Teresa Hinkley, in Hallstead Borough for $61,000.
Jesse A. Compton to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, Mendota Heights, MN (fka) Bankers Trust Company, in Great Bend Township for $5,087.
Terry Wescott, Karin Mason (nbm) Karin Wescott to Terry Wescott, RR4, Montrose, Karin Wescott, in Rush Township for one dollar.
Priscilla C. Ellis (fka) Priscilla D. Callaway, Charles W. Ellis, Jr., to Ellis Family Trust, RR2, Brackney, in Choconut Township for one dollar.
Timothy M. Smith (TADBA) Thomas J. Bolles (TADBA) TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania to TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania, RR3, Montrose, TNT 1 Limited Partnership, in Silver Lake Township for one dollar.
Timothy M. Smith (TADBA), Thomas J. Bolles (TADBA), TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania to TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania RR3, Montrose, TNT1 Limited Partnership, in Silver Lake Township for one dollar.
Timothy M. Smith (TADBA) Thomas J . Bolles (TADBA), TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania to TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania, RR3, Montrose, TNT1 Limited Partnership, in Franklin Township for one dollar.
Timothy M. Smith (TADBA) Thomas J. Bolles (TADBA), TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania to TNT Partnership, RR3, Montrose, TNT1 Limited Partnership, in Silver Lake Township for one dollar.
TNT Partnership to TNT Partnership, RR3, Montrose, TNT1 Limited Partnership, in New Milford Township for one dollar.
TNT Partnership to TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania, RR3, Montrose, TNT1 Limited Partnership , in New Milford Township for one dollar.
TNT Partnership to TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania, RR3, Montrose, TNT1 Limited Partnership, in New Milford Township for one dollar.
TNT Partnership to TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania, RR3, Montrose, TNT1 Limited Partnership, in New Milford Township for one dollar.
Timothy M. Smith (TADBA) Thomas J. Bolles (TADBA) TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania to TNT Partnership of Pennsylvania (nbm) TNT1 Limited Partnership, RR3, Montrose, in Lanesboro Borough and Harmony Township for one dollar.
Letitia E. Schroeder to Virginia Louise Schroeder, Jackson, in Jackson Township for one dollar.
Letitia E. Schroeder to Virginia Louise Schroeder, Jackson, in Jackson Township for one dollar.
Letitia E. Schroeder to Virginia Louise Schroeder, Jackson, in Jackson Township for one dollar.
Fred A. Kropa to John R. Barr, Maple Glen, Mildred A. Barr, in Lathrop Township for $102,000.
Anthony A. Kromko (estate) to Kromko Family Trust, Moscow, PA, in Lathrop Township for one dollar.
Eleanor Govelitz, John D. Govelitz (estate), Jo Ann Ehrgott to Richard Lewis, RR2, Montrose, Mary Lewis, in Bridgewater Township for $60,000.
James E. Shultz, Eleanor Shultz to Scott Freeman, RR2, Montrose, Melinda Freeman, in Forest Lake Township for $190,000.
John F. Burt, Amy L. Burt to Michele L. Kenopensky, RR1, Kingsley, in Lenox Township for $156,250.
George Dale Howell to Daniel Francis Vinsko, Jr., Susquehanna, Dale Wirkus, in Oakland Borough for $19,000.
John L. Tucker, Donna M. Tucker to Joseph M. Sodano, Churchill, PA, Kerrie M. Sodano, in Silver Lake Township for $45,000.
Donald W. Ascheman, Bessie C. Ascheman to Kenneth P. Ely, Brooklyn, PA, Deborah L. Ely, in Brooklyn Township for $55,000.
Evelyn Keeney (estate) to David W. Fisher (trust agreement), Hilson, NY, Kay J. Britt (trust agreement), Harold W. Fisher (trust agreement), in Thompson Township for $200,000.
James E. Jones, Joan C. Jones to Harold Houghton, RD 3, Susquehanna, Carol Houghton, in Jackson Township for $10,000.
Springville Volunteer Fire Company (aka) Springville Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 to Springville Volunteer Fire Company (aka) Springville Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, in Springville Township for one dollar.
James E. Jones, Joan C. Jones to Victor Giambrone, Scranton, Susan Giambrone, in Jackson Township for $65,000.
Trehab Center Inc. to Frederick T. Pittack, Sr., Susquehanna, in Susquehanna for $73,000.
Daniel J. Glitz, Lucina J. Glitz to Joseph Newman, Croyden, Victor Straiton, in Gibson Township for $110,000.
Irene M. Cerra to Irene M. Cerra, Endwell, NY, Michael A. Cerra, in Herrick Township for one dollar.
Rag Apple LLC to Edward C. Arnold, RR4, Montrose, Cheryl A. Arnold, in Jessup Township for $275,622.
Joan M. Scott (estate) to Ronda Shoemaker, RR1, Hop Bottom, in Lathrop Township for $126,140.
Richard Ruh, Laura A. Ruh to Richard Ruh, RR1, Herrick Township, in Herrick Township for one dollar.
Laddie Allen Gribick to Laddie Allen Gribick, RR2, Thompson, Margot Schueler, in Thompson Township for one dollar.
Norma Conrad to Lynn Conrad, New Milford, in New Milford Borough for one dollar.
Norma Conrad to Lynn H. Conrad, New Milford, in New Milford Township for one dollar.
Norma Conrad to Lynn H. Conrad, New Milford, in New Milford Township and New Milford Borough for one dollar.
Eric R. Blachek to Kimberly S. Needels, Great Bend, in Franklin Township for one dollar.
Burhan Memisvski, (aka) Burhan Memisovski, Emina Memisovski to Rosianie Felix, Brooklyn, PA, in Susquehanna for $28,000.
John N. Murray, Miriam E. Murray to Mark D. Zychal, RR1, Jackson, in Jackson Township for $65,000.
Daniel Albert, Janet Albert to Daniel Albert, Jr., RR1, Kingsley, Cindy S. Albert, in Brooklyn Township for one dollar.
US Bank (by POA) to Timothy A. Brewer, Susquehanna, Samantha J. Beckner, in New Milford Township for $41,000.
Scott W. Fuhrey, Eliza L. Fuhrey to Wendy L. Fisher, RR1, Springville, Coleen S. Warholic, in Springville Township for $138,000.
Dale R. Herb, Kathleen E. Herb to William W. Schmidt, Patti A. Schmidt, Kattskill, NY, in Jackson Township for $106,000.
Donna Fekette, Thomas J. Lopatofsky to Gerard Miscavage, Mount Carmell, Karen Miscavage, in Ararat Township for $54,900.
Lina Reed (estate by tax claim), Susquehanna County Tax Claim Bureau to David J. Pitti, Amityville, NY, Joseph Alongis, in Borough of Lanesboro for $2,600.
Richard Clark (by tax claim), Susquehanna County Tax Claim Bureau to David J. Pittis, Amityville, NY, Joseph Alongis, in Susquehanna for $900.
David W. Campbell (by tax claim) Lori A. Campbell (by tax claim), Ralph Ellis (by tax claim), Beverly Ellis (by tax claim), Susquehanna County Tax Claim Bureau to David J. Pitti, Amityville, NY, Joseph Alongis, in Susquehanna for $100.
Robert Hornish (by tax claim), Lillian Hornish (by tax claim), Susquehanna County Tax Claim Bureau to David J. Pitti, Amityville, NY, Joseph Alongis, in Susquehanna for $1,500.
Jason M. Dunkailo and Jessica L. Donnelly, both of Windsor, NY.
James Arthur Welch III and Dana Marie Black, both of Montrose.
David J. Fisher and Judith Ann Stugus, both of New Milford.
David M. Jones and Pamela L. Peltz, both of Thompson.
Roberta Kelly, chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, announced that the county will join Pennsylvania's 67 county emergency management agencies, along with many area schools, hospitals, nursing homes and day care centers, in a statewide exercise to test severe weather emergency response plans.
Governor Edward G. Rendell proclaimed March 11-17 as “Weather Emergency Preparedness Week” in Pennsylvania. Part of the observance will include a statewide, severe weather exercise and a series of local public education programs.
According to James R. Joseph, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), this exercise will allow county and municipal governments, as well as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers and other special care facilities across the state, to test their disaster preparedness and response programs.
During the exercise, the NWS will issue exercise-based severe weather reports over normal reporting channels, such as the NWS Weather Radio stations.
On Friday, March 16 at 10:10 a.m., a statewide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), formerly known as the Emergency Broadcast System, will be conducted, originating in the state's emergency operations center in Harrisburg. EAS, a voluntary network of local radio and television stations, is the primary public alert and notification system for emergency information.
According to Joseph, the state contacted all schools, hospitals, nursing homes and day care centers in the state, encouraging them to participate in the exercise. The state provided planning guides to assist these facilities in emergency preparedness and supplied schools with teaching materials about floods and other weather emergencies.
“Historically, the most violent storms occur during the spring and summer months,” Joseph said. “This ranges from floods to hurricanes to tornadoes.
“To be prepared for what happens in the future and recognize the weather emergencies past, it is imperative that those responsible for the well-being of others understand the potential for weather-related disasters, and take those steps necessary to ensure a timely and effective response,” said Joseph.
According to Joseph, 1996 stands as an example of just how dangerous and unpredictable severe weather conditions can be. Pennsylvania experienced six presidentially declared major disasters in 1996 – a new national record. Five major floods and record-breaking snow storms impacted every county in the state.
On February 25, Eleanor McKeage had her purse stolen from a shopping cart while in the produce aisle of the ABC Sure Save Grocery Store in Montrose, PA. The theft is reported to have happened between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. The billfold is black with tan trim, and contains Ms. McKeage's checkbook.
On February 28, at around 2:55 a.m., two troopers from the Gibson Barracks were conducting a traffic stop on I-81 when a tractor trailer struck the side of their patrol vehicle. The tractor trailer was driven by Volodymyr Zolozhkov of Ontario, Canada. Nobody was injured, but this incident demonstrates the dangers faced by law enforcement every day. Motorists are reminded to use care when approaching emergency vehicles; state law requires that motorists slow down and move to the outside lane.
Sometime between the 23rd and 26th of February, unknown actor(s) broke into the New Milford Borough Water Treatment Facility, located in New Milford Township. They entered the building by means of kicking open the entrance door. Nothing was reported to be stolen or damaged, other than the entrance door jamb.
On February 26, between 10:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., unknown perpetrators entered the property of Walter Konsur in Gibson, PA without permission. A stainless steel baulk tank top and three Surge brand stainless steel milkers were removed.
On February 25, Sharief Hassan of the Bath, NY area discovered several ATM related transactions had been completed using his credit card, without his authorization. Hassan had left the card within an ATM machine.
A crash occurred on February 11 on Elk Lake Rd. in Dimock Township. The crash transpired as Joseph Ward of Meshoppen, PA and a passenger were traveling south on SR 3001, while Brenda Pytlik of Montrose was traveling North. Ms. Pytlik had two juvenile passengers in the car with her. Ward lost control of his vehicle, which then entered Pytlik's lane of travel, resulting in a head-on collision All in Ms. Pytlik's vehicle were wearing seat belts, and were not injured. Ward and his passenger were not wearing seat belts, and suffered moderate injuries. Ward faces a Vehicle Code charge of Driving Vehicle At Safe Speed.
Gibson Barracks is investigating a burglary that took place at Ross Feeds Store, located on Mill St. in the village of Kingsley, Brooklyn Twp. The burglary occurred sometime during evening hours on February 25, and resulted in $123.00 being taken.
A collision occurred on February 21, on SR 706 in Jessup Township. The incident happened as Cheryl Gramlich of Laceyville and Joseph Homan of Friendsville were both traveling Eastbound toward Montrose Borough. Gramlich attempted to pass Homan on the left side of the roadway. Homan, in turn, attempted to turn left into a parking lot in front of Gramlich, resulting in his vehicle being struck on the rear left side. Gramlich was not wearing her seatbelt, and was injured. Homan and his passenger were both buckled up and sustained no injury.
Between the 14th and the 23rd of February, Ronald Hall of Oakland reports that several PayPal transactions, involving his bank account, occurred without his authorization.
On February 24, Christopher Bosland of Malvern, PA and two passengers were traveling Eastbound on SR 374 in Herrick Twp. Bosland's truck lost traction due to snowy conditions, and exited the travel lanes before rolling over completely and coming to rest right-side up. All occupants refused medical treatment from the Pleasant Mount Ambulance company, after parental contact was made.
On February 24, on Franklin Avenue in Hallstead Borough, the 1988 Ford Truck driven by Cindy Prentice caught fire. No injuries were reported surrounding this incident.
On February 25, Christoph Agria of Clifton, NJ was traveling Southbound on Interstate 81 in New Milford Twp when he lost control of his vehicle while attempting to negotiate a curve. He exited the roadway and entered the median. The vehicle overturned and came to a final rest on its roof. At the time of the collision the roadway was snow/slush. No injuries were reported.
On February 18, Karl Humphrey of Binghamton, NY was traveling North on SR 81 when he lost control of his vehicle. The 2005 TrailBlazer traveled off the roadway and struck a rock cut, then rolled onto its roof. Humphrey was wearing his seatbelt and sustained only minor injuries.
HIT AND RUN
On February 16, Sadat Mahammad of Maple, ON was awakened by someone hitting the truck in which he was sleeping. This occurred in the Flying J parking lot in New Milford Twp. By the time Mahammad got up, the other vehicle had fled the scene. Mahammad's vehicle had green paint on the bumper area.
THEFT OF SERVICES
On February 15 an incident occurred at the Elk Mountain Ski Resort in Herrick Twp. The accused, Kelly Michael of Peckville, PA failed to purchase a lift ticket, and then utilized the lift services provided. He proceeded to resist arrest. He was charged with the following: PACC 5104 Resisting Arrest, PACC 3926 Theft of Services, and PACC 5502 Disorderly Conduct. The charges were filed at District Court 34-3-03.
If you have information regarding any of these incidents, please call the Gibson Barracks at (570) 465-3154.
Water: can't live with it, can't live without it. At least since last June's major flood, many communities in Susquehanna County (and nearby Broome County, New York) pay close attention to precipitation. When it rains, and when the snow melts, residents want to make sure the extra water goes away.
That was one of the many issues covered by the Great Bend Borough Council at their meeting on March 1. The discussion began with a Franklin Street resident who complained of the paving done by the water company last year that seemed to be causing his yard to flood. He claimed that the surface of the street was raised some four inches by the new pavement. That, and the new curbing, are keeping water that before would run off his property into the storm drains along the street, in his yard instead. And he wants something done about it.
The Borough's attorney, Frank O'Connor, suggested he contact the water company. He said he did, and that the water company referred him back to the Borough as the owner of the street.
The only clear remedy to the problem would be to mill the street down to its base, and then repave it to the prior level. Council asked Secretary Sheila Guinan to contact the water company to begin seeking a resolution.
Excess water also tends to appear on Washington Street, coming from a sluice under the interstate. The Borough has been pursuing this problem with PennDOT for some time, and recently Council member Jerry MacConnell attended a meeting of state officials – including Representative Sandra Major and a member of State Senator Madigan's office – to discuss the issue.
Mr. MacConnell said that PennDOT at first was reluctant to admit any responsibility for the water problem on Washington Street. One suggested that the Borough work through the PennDOT "Agility" program to get assistance. The Agility program trades services between municipalities and PennDOT. Mr. MacConnell reminded the group how poor Great Bend Borough is. With only one part-time worker, what services could the Borough trade?
In the end, said Mr. MacConnell, state officials agreed to review the problem further.
When they aren't dealing with water, Borough Council members are struggling with the streets, and how to keep them paved. Ron Cranage has recently been pressing for repairs to Spring Street. Some, like Mike Wasko, are reluctant to put much money on that roadway since it's in the river flood plain and expensive improvements could be washed away at any time (there's that water again). But Mr. Cranage said that residents in the area pay taxes, too, and are entitled to some service. Moreover, said he, "I'm tired of talking about things." (This, while the customary 3-4 separate conversations are continuing around the table.)
So they talked about it some more. Mayor Jim Riecke suggested they form a committee to discuss all of the town's streets, perhaps develop a plan. Rick Franks said there had been a plan, but that the plan's papers disappeared during an office housecleaning some time ago. And they talked about it more yet. And maybe they'll form a committee to talk even more about it.
The Borough has repeatedly asked PennDOT to provide some kind of access to the Welcome Center area from U.S. Route 11. During last summer's flood, a temporary ramp was bulldozed over the curbing so that trapped residents and emergency equipment could come and go through the only access to the outside world. The state has just as repeatedly rebuffed these requests for a permanent solution, and now Jerry MacConnell declared to his colleagues PennDOT's final decision: "It ain't gonna happen."
Council is currently deliberating over three proposed new ordinances.
One of them, drawn up by Attorney O'Connor, would try to prohibit the construction of utility lines through the Borough without Council's approval, and to impose fees on utilities passing through that do not provide a direct service to Borough residents. The impetus behind this measure is the New York Regional Interconnect controversy in New York State, in which a power company wants to build a high-voltage power line from upstate to the New York City suburbs. Opposition in New York State threatened to have the line re-routed through Pennsylvania, and such an ordinance is Great Bend's way of showing solidarity with its neighbors to the north. Council is still reviewing the language in the ordinance.
Ms. Guinan has offered some sample ordinances that would try to gain some control over rental properties in the Borough. Montrose Borough recently adopted an ordinance that would require landlords to report periodically on their tenants. Some such ordinances also attempt to ensure that rental properties meet building code requirements. Council will review the sample ordinances for future discussion.
Attorney O'Connor presented a proposed ordinance on behalf of the Fire Company. This one would allow the Fire Company to assess the cost of materials and some equipment expenses to the insurers of some beneficiaries of their rescue services. Mr. O'Connor said that the intent of the measure was to help cover the expenses of major vehicle accidents on Interstate 81.
Several Council members saw the proposed language as too general. To some it seemed that, perhaps in future – regardless of current intent – it could be used to assess fees against insurers and residents for just about any Fire Company service. Since Borough residents already pay taxes to support the Fire Company, they asked that the ordinance be reworded in some way that would exempt residents of the Fire Company's coverage area (the Borough, Great Bend Township, and some parts of Windsor, New York).
Ms. Guinan read from the Fire Company's latest annual report that they took in some $177,849, but expended more than $308,108. A large part of that difference was for the purchase of a new truck. After deducting the amount of that purchased covered by a grant, the Fire Company ended the year $30,000 in the hole. They say they need to assess these charges to help offset the steadily increasing costs of responding to major emergencies on the highway. Since the Fire Company itself hasn't yet seen the proposed ordinance, Mr. O'Connor reluctantly agreed to work on it some more. Great Bend is not the first to consider this approach. Susquehanna Borough already allows their Fire Company to assess such charges – even in Great Bend, when they are called for mutual aid.
As local Code Enforcement Officer, Mr. Cranage has complained of frustration with decisions of District Justice Peter Janicelli. It seems that Mr. Janicelli has been reluctant to impose fines defined in Borough ordinances for accumulations of trash and other nuisances. The disappointment with Justice Janicelli was echoed by Rick Franks, who said, "We have a District Justice who doesn't give a damn." Other municipalities that have considered taking action in higher courts have been similarly frustrated. It is not clear what can be done to ensure that the Borough's ordinances are respected and enforced. Ms. Guinan was asked to request Mr. Janicelli to attend a Council meeting to hear members' grievances.
And finally, first but not least, Borough Tax Collector Laura Conarton attended to continue her advocacy of an Earned Income Tax of one-half to one percent. She broached the issue last month, saying that she would prefer that the tax imposed in Montrose on her husband's salary as the County Coroner come back to Great Bend where they live, rather than stay in Montrose.
This time she brought some more detail about the EIT that would yield up to $300 per person for an average income of $30,000 per year. Collection of the tax through an outfit such as Berkheimer Associates would cost a flat amount per taxpayer, plus about 2.25% of the collected sums.
Ms. Conarton claims that for someone who, for example, works in Scranton (where the tax is about 3%) but lives in Great Bend, unless Great Bend enacts a similar tax, all of the receipts would go to Scranton. If Great Bend imposes the tax as well, at least some of that money would come back to the Borough.
Some Council members are reluctant to burden the few wage-earning young families in the Borough with additional taxes. Mr. Wasko, retired but still employed, said that his taxes would increase from about $92 (the current occupation tax, which would have to be repealed) to about $250. Since the EIT does not include pensions or Social Security, the incentive for younger workers would be to leave the Borough, perhaps for New York State, where many already work. Mr. MacConnell said that he was concerned to "look out for the working families."
In the end, Council decided to keep the idea on the agenda and, in Council President Bea Alesky's words, "wait and watch and see what happens" in neighboring communities.
The Great Bend Borough Council meets on the first Thursday of each month, beginning at 7:00 p.m., in the Borough Building at Franklin and Elizabeth Streets.
The Blue Ridge School Board meeting on February 26 was in three parts.
The first part was a brief business meeting whose sole purpose was to appoint Matthew Button of New Milford as the new Principal in the Elementary School at a salary of $62,000. Mr. Button is a graduate of Blue Ridge, and has recently been teaching at Lackawanna Trail. He will start on May 14, 2007, which will give him time to learn from his predecessor, Robert Dietz, who will retire at the end of the school year.
The second part of the meeting was a public hearing required under Act 1 of 2006 to lay before the public a question proposed for the May 15 ballot. The measure, if approved by voters, would impose a "personal income tax" (PIT) of one percent on district residents in exchange for some property tax relief under the homestead/farmstead provisions of earlier legislation.
Only two or three persons who do not customarily attend Blue Ridge board meetings showed up to hear about the issue, and there were few questions. One concerned what qualifies as "personal income?" Personal income for purposes of a local PIT under Act 1 is defined in the Tax Reform Code of 1971, which excludes Social Security and most retirement payments. According to Board President Alan Hall, the same income that is taxed on the annual PA-40 form would be covered here as well.
Asked how the tax would be collected, Mr. Hall said he understood that it could be handled by local tax collectors, or by an outfit like Berkheimer Tax Administrator, Inc. (Berkheimer Associates), a Bangor, PA firm that specializes in collecting local taxes. Appointed by the school board, a tax administrator would have access to state tax returns for all residents of the district.
Who would benefit from the PIT in the Blue Ridge District? According to Superintendent Robert McNamara – in general – anyone earning more than $45,000 per year would probably end up paying more in taxes under the PIT. Senior citizens who live in their own homes and receive a pension would see the greatest benefit from the shift to income taxes. However, each situation may be different; those retired from a self-employed business may end up paying more, for example. Mr. Hall said he himself would probably end up paying three times as much in local taxes as he does now.
Mr. Hall said that so much of the issue is unclear that the legislature has been tempted to revisit it, but that legislators are "afraid to open it back up" for fear it would just get worse.
The Blue Ridge Tax Study Commission last Fall recommended no change in the current tax structure for the district. Proximity to New York State, where so many local residents are employed, could end up having an adverse impact on younger families that might end up paying more in taxes. There is also some confusion about what taxes would have to be paid, for example, if someone who lives in the Blue Ridge district works, say, in Scranton. Would the tax have to be paid in both places? Are there credits available for taxes paid elsewhere?
The board will take formal action on the referendum question at its next business meeting, on March 12.
The third part of the meeting was a workshop that resumed the interrogation of the school principals on their budget requests for the next fiscal year. Mr. Dietz was grilled a month ago for an hour and a half, and Mr. Hall this time asked for some minor additional clarifications . before he put the Middle and High School Principals on the hot seat, each of whom got 45 minutes under the microscope.
Middle School Principal Matthew Nebzydoski tried to slip by with the argument that the bottom line won't change; only allocations within the budget could be adjusted. But Mr. Hall is looking for cuts, cuts, and more cuts. He didn't get much out of Mr. Nebzydoski, however, who had prepared a version two budget after he saw what Mr. Dietz had to go through. Mr. Hall made a stab at cutting professional development for teachers, for example, but Mr. Nebzydoski deftly turned that aside, at least for now.
Mr. Hall asked about last year's budget that called for the purchase of a new piano or two. Mr. Nebzydoski said that it turned out they didn't need a new piano. A new piano technician hired by the school to maintain the instruments reported that the pianos they have are okay, and problems could be repaired. One music teacher actually provided her own piano, which she prefers to use.
Mr. Nebzydoski told board members that he had asked teachers to be "more conservative" in ordering supplies. General supplies budget lines come in for close scrutiny as a potential "slush fund."
The Middle School budget includes only $500 for the "gifted" program. Asked Board member Joel Whitehead, "What can you do with $500?" Priscinda Gaughan told him that this was the highest it has ever been.
Next up, the taciturn High School Principal John Manchester, who got into a little warm water over a category labeled "Other objects" in many lines of his budget, which he pledged to explain in more detail at the next meeting. He was also asked to prepare an inventory of all useable musical instruments, which are considered depreciable assets by the district's auditors.
In a slight turnaround, Mr. Hall suggested that the High School budget for professional development might have been cut too much. These funds are used mostly to send teachers to conferences. Mr. Manchester said he tried to fit in as much as he could for nearby conferences; national conferences tend to be much more expensive.
Mr. Manchester was also encouraged to solicit book contributions from Penguin-Putnam publishers in Kirkwood. The publisher sometimes makes available whole pallets of overstocks and seconds, some of which might be useful in the schools.
There will be more budget deliberations before formal adoption. The Board has already passed a resolution declaring its intention to keep any tax increases within indexed limits defined by the state. And Mr. Hall has declared that there will be no increase in property tax rates; he is even hoping to be able to cut taxes in several years, as debt service on outstanding bond issues begins to decline.
District residents still have a chance to learn more about the possible imposition of a personal income tax in the Blue Ridge district at the next meeting, on Monday, March 12, beginning at 7:30 p.m., in the cafeteria in the Elementary School.
Susquehanna Community School District Superintendent Bronson Stone addressed the Susquehanna Boro Council at their February 27 meeting to discuss the ballot question that the district will be placing on the May 15 primary ballot, in accordance with Act 1.
Mr. Stone explained that out of 501 school districts in the state, only 48 of those do not have an EIT (earned income tax), and of the districts that do impose an income tax, 98% of those have an EIT, not a PIT (personal income tax), which taxes all income. The Susquehanna district is one of those that do not impose an income tax of either kind.
Voters will be faced with the decision of whether or not to impose an EIT, to reduce property taxes by a estimated $287. The exact amount of reduction district residents could see is not known, as there are several variables to consider.
To qualify for a reduction in property tax, a homestead or farmstead exclusion must be approved. Qualified homesteads are properties that are owner-occupied 51% or more of the year; additional (non-resident) properties would not be qualified. Farmsteads qualify if they are more than ten contiguous acres that are used for commercial agriculture operations. A single property can qualify for both, if the criteria is met. Approximately 48% of the properties within the district have out-of-state owners, which would not qualify them for the homestead/farmstead exclusions. The owners of those properties would be subject to real estate taxes.
Another variable is that the district does not have a history of collection rate for an EIT. With no history to base figures on, it is estimated that the district will see an 80% collection rate. The $287 figure is based on that estimate, but the actual amount of reduction could be higher or lower, especially as the number of qualified exemptions is also estimated.
There are also a number of residents who work outside of Pennsylvania; New York State, for example, does not require employers to collect the tax. Communities throughout PA that border other states are facing the same situation.
Mr. Stone summed up that “new” money would not be generated for the district by this tax. The possibility of tax reduction by implementing an income tax is a decision for the district’s voters to make, not the school board. If the question is enacted, there is no guarantee that there will be a $287 reduction in property taxes each year. If the tax is not passed, the district is still eligible for property tax reduction through gaming funds. And, to determine if an EIT would benefit you, you must compare 1% of your household income to the potential property tax reduction.
The district will be sending out a newsletter to its residents, most likely at the end of April, explaining Act 1 and the ballot question, and there will be a plain English statement available at the voting polls so that voters can have a clear understanding of just what they are voting for.
In other business, Margaret Biegert asked for follow-up information on several questions she had posed to council regarding the Elm St. grant project. Shane Lewis agreed to be the contact person
It was noted that a number of vehicles whose owners had not complied with the winter snow ordinance had since been towed or moved.
Three estimates for an engineering study for the water problems on Franklin Ave. were received, all of which were quite high, with the average being $15,000. As Franklin Ave. is a state road, PennDOT requires that an engineering study be submitted before any work is done. Although drain pipes were put in by PennDOT about seven years ago, there was no information available on whether or not PennDOT had had a study done at that time. Information indicates that PennDOT’s engineers feel that a larger pipe should have been used. After discussion, it was agreed to contact the county to see if the area qualifies for the (county’s) disaster recovery consultant to look at it.
Mayor Reddon has been contacted by an Erie Ave. resident, concerned about the number of trees that are still in Drinker Creek as a result of flooding last spring and fall. It was agreed that this too should be discussed with the county. The creek has been included in a federally-funded cleanup project, but there is no guarantee that cleanup crew will get to it, as they have an extensive list of designated areas to see to, and are working on a time limit.
A boro-wide spring cleanup is slated for the end of April. By that time, all streets should be swept of winter debris and potholes will be filled in in May. A scrap drive will be held again this year, and volunteers, as always, are welcome. A newsletter will be sent out beforehand to ensure that residents know the details.
An ordinance to repeal the amusement tax ordinance has been advertised and will be voted on at the next meeting.
A motion carried to authorize having an electrician wire the new copier to the computer network. The copier will be placed in a central location and will replace all other copiers and printers.
The streetlight on the Veterans Memorial Bridge that was not working has been repaired. Another one is not operating, but it was determined that this one is Oakland Boro’s responsibility.
Shane Lewis was “grandfathered” in to conduct building inspections under the UCC, but his certification expires in April. He did some research, and recommended that council approve using Code Inspections, Inc., in Dushore for building inspections. After discussion, a motion carried to appoint them as the boro’s building inspectors, and to approve a resolution to adopt their fee schedule.
Correspondence included a letter from District Attorney Jason Legg, urging participation in a regional police feasibility study, which is being done through COG, and will require no cost on the boro’s part. A motion carried to do so.
The meeting adjourned to an executive session to discuss personnel issues. After reconvening, motions carried to hire Bruce Moorehead to the streets department at 20 hours per week, and to hire Glenn Collier as the boro’s codes enforcement officer for property maintenance.
The next meeting will be on Tuesday, March 13, 6 p.m. in the boro building.
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