Down River – Feb. 4, 2016

Think Big:

Soundings are out there that Clinton County is looking at doing something beyond just cosmetic improvements to its courthouse.

It’s understood that court big-wigs recently joined county big-wigs for a walking tour of the building at Jay and Water Streets. They can’t like what they saw: a large courtroom ceiling painted not all that long ago already into the pealing stage; Depression era-linoleum on the depressing steps leading to the large courtroom; and on-and-on. The building needs some work, inside and out, and the commissioners have stated they’re on it.

There’s even been some talk of expanding beyond the current building confines because of the need for additional space.

So here’s an idea the county might consider: how about acquiring some nearby Water Street properties and upgrading them while there is still time. All one has to do is look up Water Street and see several historic Civil War era structures in need of repair/restoration. These would be the Grafius buildings running easterly along the south side of Water Street from Jay Street to the alley and, further on up the street, the once stately Fallon Hotel.

There is a precedent for this kind of county involvement. Centre County government in historic Bellefonte is putting the finishing touches on the Temple Court building, a historically significant building dating to 1894. Centre County purchased the building in 2012 for some $400,000.

The commissioners there have renovated the structure while maintaining its historical integrity, in part due to the work of Sue Hannegan, Centre County Planning and Community Development Office Assistant Director (and sister of former Clinton County commissioner/current Mill Hall mayor Tom Bossert).

Our commissioners just might contact her for some guidance to help solve a couple problems: the need for improvements and more space relative to our county court house and the decaying state of a couple historic buildings nearby on Water Street.

Regional:

No, we’re not writing about the PIAA Northcentral AAA high school wrestling regionals Clinton County commissioner Paul Conklin will be directing in Altoona next month.

No, we’re referring to regional cooperation as in, for this area to prosper and grow we must come together and work together to provide improved services the greater Clinton County community needs.

We were reminded yet again for the need for regionalism upon reading the recent story about Mill Hall struggling with how to rid the borough of unsightly and rundown buildings blighting parts of town.

Here’s the bigger picture, one periodically enunciated in this column for the last couple decades: Pennsylvania has too many municipalities, more than 5,000 we’ve been told, second only to Illinois. That’s too many little places too small to provide basic police and code protection.

All you have to do is look around Clinton County:

Little municipalities struggle to get community members to fill vacant offices. They don’t have the resources to provide police protection, they don’t have the resources to take care of blight, they don’t have the resources to provide basic municipal services creating an environment which would encourage their residents to stay there, not move away.

So here sits Mill Hall not happy about some rundown structures within its midst but not sure how to go about addressing the problem.

And “up there” sits Renovo with one police officer for its residents, bordered by South Renovo, Noyes Township and Chapman Township with no police officers for their residents. At least “up there” these communities have begun the initial steps to at least look at the concept of a regional police force.

Why not apply the same regional concept to code enforcement in Mill Hall and surrounding communities? And why not the same concept for a regional police force in the greater Lock Haven area?

We know the track record along cooperative lines is not a good one. Building sewage lines is but one example. Some years back Mill Hall built its own lines and Bald Eagle Township grew to the point it had to provide sanitary sewage services for its residents. Instead of seeking some collaborative tie-in with neighboring Mill Hall, the township set up its own authority and built its own line.

Or how about this: Over the years there has been the occasional effort to form a regional police force in the Lock Haven area. But it’s never happened. Too often local municipal officials don’t trust their counterparts in nearby municipalities; too often this is personality driven, as was the case not all that long ago when neighboring communities were not overly fond of the Lock Haven police chief at the time.

Relative to police services, this might be an opportune time to relook a regional Lock Haven force. There’s a new chief in Lock Haven and we hear good things being said about the current membership of the city force; and we know the city has a good working relationship with officers in surrounding communities. Why not try to build on that good will now, bring the state in and restudy a regional approach?

This kind of cooperation is not all that difficult. Look to the regional council of governments in the State College area; look to the East Nittany Valley Sewer Authority which serves municipalities in both Clinton and Centre Counties.

No matter where you live in Clinton County, all it takes is a little trust and some leadership to move it forward. From building inspections to code enforcement to police protection, regional is the way to go.