2011-08-04 / Front Page

Eich’s Warfordsburg Town Meeting Draws Large Crowd

Almost 70 gather at Warfordsburg Senior Center
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

Marcellus shale, healthcare and taxes remain high priorities on the agendas of local constituents meeting with state Sen. John Eichelberger Jr. last Thursday night as part of his ongoing town meetings in the 30th Senatorial District.

Currently in his fifth year in office, the senator shared with residents a redistricting process is under way as a follow-up to the U.S. Census Bureau findings. His current district oversees Fulton, Bedford, Huntingdon and Blair counties as well as a small section of Mifflin County.

“We’re falling behind other states in terms of population growth, but we’re still growing as a state,” said Eichelberger, who was accompanied by Fulton County legislative aide Sharon Turkovich.

Happy to report that a balanced state budget was approved within the required guidelines for the first time in the last nine years, Eichelberger said approximately $1.2 billion was trimmed from the bottom line. One of the major hits in the budget was education, however, the senator noted the primary loss in funding for schools was lost federal stimulus money that had been previously available for a two-year time frame.

Hearing Eichelberger’s budget talk, the crowd on hand comprised predominantly of retired individuals was quick to broach the topic of eliminating school or even property taxes for the retired on fixed incomes. Eichelberger stated Pennsylvania is a “friendly state” in regard to taxes, but property taxes do remain an issue.

He stated within the last 30 days the Legislature changed the exceptions to Act 1, which mandates school districts are only able to raise real estate taxes at the rate of inflation. Exemptions can be applied for through the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) though.

Given the large number of exceptions that have been requested and granted in recent years, Eichelberger said, the Legislature deleted seven of the 10 existing exemptions and two additional exemptions were made more restrictive. As a result, schools will now find themselves going to the public to ask for input on proposed tax increases.

According to Eichelberger, the pension problem was also an issue that needed addressed. Due to the lowering of benefits for future teachers, the pension payments are now spread over a period of 21 years to counter the anticipated spike that was to occur in 2012.

“I think we should have just put the money aside and paid for it,” Eichelberger added.

Mary Hagerty, wife of former county commissioner candidate Joseph Hagerty, asked the senator if he is seeing a shift in public opinion on a need for less government involvement or a “let me be” attitude. Eichelberger told her he has seen a trend, and it’s a topic he hears a lot from his constituents. However, constituent wants and needs can differ according to location. In some areas, officials are hearing from constituents that they want more services regardless of the cost involved, Eichelberger stated.

Marty Hann broached fair and adequate healthcare for all of Pennsylvania’s citizens. Hann also urged the Legislature to refrain from political games to push a healthcare bill to the forefront.

The senator said the current proposed plan is designed for a certain income bracket and is limited to hospital visits only. Hann countered the bill or plan could be expanded and should not be mandatory but still available for anyone who is interested regardless of an income bracket.

“There are poor children dying from lack of healthcare. That’s an honest crime,” stated Hann.

Fellow resident Dick Hockensmith stated preventative care remains a big issue in the area of healthcare and health insurance. “Most people do not have a basic knowledge on gaining or retaining good health,” he said. “ ... Part of the puzzle is yourself ... it’s already in you!”

Eichelberger spent most of the healthcare debate elaborating on a plan created by Altoonabased physician Dr. Zane Gates. The doctor has established a free clinic with links to a local hospital that serves the lower working class through any form of treatment ranging from dental and psychological to specialty services. Some federal funding has been generated to help clinics such as these, which operate as a primary care physician.

Drawing the conversation toward Marcellus shale, Licking Creek Township resident Jerry Gregory told the senator agreements have been signed locally and suggested that a tax would not scare away big drilling companies. Eichelberger stated even though it’s not a “perfect industry” a lot of horror stories have arisen about the subject that are not true.

In ongoing conversations with government officials from the northern tier of Pennsylvania, Eichelberger said he has learned in spite of concerns about more kids coming into schools, more trucking arising and lack of housing rentals, officials are happy about what they are seeing in their area.

“Why shouldn’t Pennsylvania get some of the profit,” questioned Gregory.

According to the senator, he would not vote in favor of a specialized additional tax levied against the companies, referring to such practices as “unAmerican.” “It’s unAmerican to tax any specialty industry,” he said. “Capitalism is where we hope everyone makes a lot of money.”

In turn, he suggested the creation of a local impact fee to help communities where “fracking” for Marcellus shale is under way.

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