2011-05-26 / Local & State

Governor’s Rep Hears Local Concerns

Future of EARN program debated; WIN fundraising for new domestic shelter
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Whether the county’s concerns involve environmental issues or infrastructure, an official from Gov. Tom Corbett’s southwestern office was ready and on-hand Tuesday to hear and address what issues are pressing here in Fulton County.

In sitting down with commissioners Bonnie Mellott Keefer, David Hoover II and Craig Cutchall, Robert Johnson of Corbett’s Pittsburgh office announced he is making his rounds through the 16 counties falling under his jurisdiction between the Ohio border and Fulton County.

Keefer told Johnson the most pressing concerns at the local level are the economy and jobs. “Fulton County is consistently among the counties across the state with the highest unemployment rate,” she said. “It’s a real problem.”

In response to questions regarding economic development, county Chief Clerk Dan Swain said that without the presence of office space, a spec building or the money to construct a facility, there is little that can be done in a quick turnaround time to attract business.

“It’s tough to sell a property when you don’t have a building to put them in,” said Swain, who noted only half of the property in the Industrial Park has been sold to date. Keefer added even though there is “not a big hub here,” the county is not totally isolated with its proximity to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 70.

Commissioner Cutchall touched on the budget cuts at a state level, that have had a devastating effect on the county’s three school districts. Possible revenue could be made available down the road, Cutchall and Hoover indicated, if the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s access land and plazas could be taxed. The commissioners are slated to meet with Somerset Commissioner James Marker pertaining to the turnpike taxation issue on August 15.

Keefer asked Johnson to pass along the county’s disapproval of unfunded mandates, which put “undue burden on everyone,” and to aid in strengthening the local economy. Other topics addressed during the May 24 meeting were Marcellus shale, recreation opportunities and tourism.

Terry Sheffield and Barbara Covert of the Huntingdon County CareerLink were joined by Joyce Lynch of the Fulton County Employment and Training Office, county human services director Jean Snyder and Fulton County Partnership Director Julia Dovey regarding the future of the Employment Advancement and Retention Network (EARN) program. The program’s mission is to help individuals become self-sufficient without government assistance and move them back into the workforce.

According to Sheffield, Career- Link has spearheaded the program locally over the past five years and in prior years was overseen by Employment and Training. Typically between five and 10 county residents participate in EARN on average at one time.

Sheffield expressed concern that a recent decision to award a three-year EARN contract to the Center for Community Action will bring about a lapse in service to local participants. It was pointed out to the commissioners by those in attendance that Center for Community Action may not follow through with establishing a local office and instead would have one EARN employee float between the three-county region.

Both Snyder and Dovey shared their dismay over Center for Com- munity Action taking over the EARN program, and Dovey stated that through her organization’s Welfare To Work program many of the same clientele are serviced. She added that CareerLink has worked well with the Partnership in the past, and this change would be a huge setback for clients and the community overall.

The commissioners agreed to send out letters supporting CareerLink’s ongoing involvement with EARN to various officials within the Southern Alleghenies region.

Eric Williams, a victim services director for Women in Need (WIN), announced a capital campaign is under way to raise approximately $3.5 million for a domestic violence shelter/ advocacy center and endowment fund to service Fulton and Franklin counties. With nearly one-half million raised to date, Williams and fellow WIN officials are hopeful their campaign will enable them to operate only one facility instead of three different buildings in Franklin County. Their office located in McConnellsburg in the Antietem Iron Works building would remain unchanged.

Williams pointed out several flaws with their current shelter, which is only capable of offering housing for up to 12 individuals at one time and does not provide adequate privacy, security or handicapped accessibility.

The plans for the new domestic violence shelter in Chambersburg Borough call for enhanced security with a garage, bullet proof glass and an enclosed courtyard. In addition, the capacity for domestic abuse victims will at least double.

Williams concluded a capital campaign kick off has been scheduled here for June 8 starting at noon at Fulton Theatre. As a followup to his announcement, the director asked the commissioners to consider donating the $100,000 the county is slated to receive in the Ricky Hann- bail bondsman case. The money, he said, could be earmarked for the building fund in memory of murder victim Tina Souders.

Commissioner Keefer responded that before making any promises they would first need to consult with their solicitor on what restrictions may be in place.

Seleen Shives of the Fulton County Conservation District provided the commissioners with a routine update on ongoing activities in her office. Shives stated April is typically a busy month in terms of environmental education, and office staff have assisted local school districts with various activities including Earth Week, the annual Envirothon and an overview of employment opportunities in the field of conservation.

Shives went on to elaborate on an upcoming Grazing Field Day scheduled for June 17 between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at the Lance and Carri Younker dairy farm along Barnetts Run Road, Warfordsburg. The event will teach participants about the benefits of rotational grazing, direct marking and business planning.

Chief tax assessor Michelle Sowers presented the commissioners with the calendar to discuss the completion of field work. Sowers stated she is hopeful to have the work completed by June 15 in order to begin printing tax bills the following week.

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