Down River – Dec. 17, 2015

Raising Questions, Seeking Answers:

Many of us saw the recent story in the Lock Haven Express that detailed a study which showed Lock Haven with the second highest rate of poverty in the entire state, trailing only Duquesne in western Pennsylvania.

The report, from the Pennsylvania State Data Center, was eye-opening. Anecdotally, there has been a sense here that Lock Haven and Clinton County are economically not what they once were, given the loss of white collar jobs with the demise of Piper Aircraft and the papermill a few decades back. Plus we’ve all seen the statistics on the vanishing middle class all across the country. But number two in the state in poverty?

Down River set out to ask some folks who pay attention to our city/county their thoughts on the state findings.

Responses, all sought as off the record, are still being gathered. But a couple of the respondents question the validity of the numbers. One went so far as to say he did not believe them and this person has experience in working in distressed communities, stating Lock Haven is “a lot better off” than those he deals with.

Another cited a couple factors which could serve to skew the poverty level numbers upward; these are the fact that Lock Haven is a college town and the fact that the city has a significant number of low income housing units.

Numbers provided Down River said about a third of the college population lives in the city and these students typically don’t have fulltime jobs as they are going to school; therefore when they fill out the census their low income is factored into the poverty statistic.

And there is a preponderance of public housing in Lock Haven, at last count 356 units of family and elderly public housing units and 350 privately owned family and elderly low income housing units, creating a total of 706 housing units for low income persons.

As noted by this respondent, add in Renovo’s public housing units and other public housing and you have better understanding of the county’s poverty rate.

Another respondent said the poverty numbers indicate a problem “easy to diagnose, tough to fix.” He said the state Careerlink program seems to be scaling back at a time more effort is needed towards job search training and on mid-career re-skilling programs.

He also said one in seven county adults are functionally illiterate, and are therefore at a considerable disadvantage in applying for and reading the instructions for, most sustaining jobs. He advocated county support for a Ross Library proposal to assist the library in developing a literacy program in conjunction with the Central Intermediate Unit.

These were community movers-and-shakers quizzed by Down River over the abysmal numbers. The bulk of them indicated a willingness to find out more and if the numbers are substantiated move to address the problem. But as noted above, “easy to diagnose, tough to fix.”

We’ll keep you posted; any suggestions, drop us a line.

On a More Positive Note:

It’s likely a little more than a year out, but Clinton County is looking at perhaps its biggest short-term economic boost ever come 2017.

We have all heard about and anxiously/hopefully await construction of the Renovo Energy Center natural gas to electricity plant. That’s to see a workforce in the 500 range during the construction period.

And while we haven’t heard a lot lately about the addition of a third paper machine at First Quality’s Lock Haven facility, that project is still very much alive. If and when it comes to fruition, look for another 500 jobs or so during the construction period.

These two projects could make for quite the positive jolt to the Clinton County economy in 2017.

Changes in the Court House:

If you checked out page 1 in the A section of this week’s print Record, you took note that Don Powers is the county’s new court administrator.

Powers moved into the administrator’s office this week as longtime occupant Miles Kessinger is stepping down and packing up his auto-related memorabilia and moving out.

Kessinger leaves with a long history of service to the community, including a stint on the Keystone Central School Board (where he got to spend quality time with now county senior judge J. Michael Williamson). Kessinger can recite almost to the day his time in the courthouse, a long time it turns out. He was a county commissioner from 1992 to April of 1998 and famously remembered for joining fellow commissioners Rusty Bottorf and Dan Vilello for motorcycle trips to county related responsibilities in the Northern Tier.

Kessinger moved to the courthouse’s second floor when then President Judge Richard Saxton selected him to replace the late John Shoemaker as court administrator.

Powers meanwhile recently got the nod as the new administrator from current President Judge Craig Miller. There is a history there: Powers served as a paralegal and office manager for Miller in his pre-judgeship days from 1986-96.

Speaking of Judge Williamson, did you know that next spring Pennsylvania voters will have the opportunity to allow state judges to remain on the bench to the age of 75, as opposed to the current imposed retirement age of 70?

What we’re wondering here is if the voters give their approval, could senior judge Williamson then be given a reprieve since he is still in that 70 to 75 year window? Would the law change allow him to return as president judge for a year or two? And would he be able to leave his third floor office in exile and return to his former office on the courthouse’s second floor?