Franklin County leaders compare notes at Summit

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Paul Schemel, Wade Burkholder (center) and Brad Graham discussed Franklin County issues during a break at the Municipal Summit.

Franklin County's own Municipal Summit received rave reviews by local government officials. The 2013 event was held Feb. 13 at St. Thomas Fire Hall, and approximately 60 municipal leaders attended to learn about everything from handling waste to the power of buying in bulk. The Franklin County Commissioners sponsored the meeting, continuing a practice which began in the late 1990s.

"This is a good thing," said Commissioner Bob Thomas. "There's a lot going on, and a lot more we could talk about."

He actually ran for commissioner in 1995 with the goal of bringing entities together for joint intergovernmental cooperation, he said.

Commissioner David Keller said the intent of the summit was to explore two themes, planning and partnership.

Solid waste plan

The county had a solid waste management plan which expired in 2001. It was back on the table as the commissioners sought to create another plan to carry through the next decade. Tim Cormany from Martin and Martin presented the results of a study, followed by recommendations. In Franklin County, each resident generated .65 tons of waste in 2011. Of the 98,000 tons of municipal refuse, 23 percent was recycled. The state wanted that increased to 35 percent.

An advisory committee chose municipal waste as its primary focus, but other sources were residuals from industries and agriculture, construction and demolition, medical facilities, and more. They created nearly 149,000 tons of waste in one year. Sixty-five percent of it ended up in the Blue Ridge Landfill, 24 percent at Mountain View Reclamation, and the rest at other sites.

Cormany had already advertised for hauling services, and received 12 responses from all over the state. One item on the proposed plan was a partnership with schools, "a huge generator of waste." Other goals were to adopt a procurement policy to save money, educate the public and in general, to improve the quality of life in Franklin County.

He concluded, "We hope this plan doesn't sit on a shelf. It has some good ideas."

The public comment period ends March 1, and municipalities needed to adopt the plan by November.

Transportation plan

Transportation is one component of Franklin County's long range comprehensive plan. Steve Deck from Parsons Brinkerhoff reported, to no one's surprise, that the busiest roads were I-81, with 25,000 trips per day, including 11,000 trucks; and routes 11, 16, and 30.

The county had 54 structurally deficient state and local bridges, including four in Antrim Township, Deck said. While the bridges were not dangerous, they did require weight or speed limits.

He identified a need to improve timing at signal lights, for motorist safety and air quality. Thomas appreciated that goal. "A side benefit is saving on gas mileage. When we talk about saving money, gas is very important."

Municipalities had submitted transportation needs to the county. At the Antrim Township level, the list included concerns about sight distance on Williamsport Pike at Hykes Road, the lack of an access to I-81 south from northbound U.S. 11, improvements to Hykes Road and Route 16, and visibility at the exit 5 intersection.

Susan Armstrong, Greencastle borough manager, was interested in the transportation plan, which would be a guide through 2035. "I'm extremely interested because of the Norfolk Southern terminal and trucks passing through town. I want the flow to keep moving on Route 16, yet remain pedestrian-friendly."

Purchasing power

Bruce Beardsley, COSTARS manager of marketing and constituent relations, explained the benefits of the eight-year-old cooperative purchasing program, run through the Pennsylvania Department of General Services. Municipalities could participate to get competitive pricing on a wide variety of goods and services, and at times avoid the bidding process.

"As you painfully know, municipalities are creatures of the state," he said. "It created you and tells you what you can and cannot do."

He advocated COSTARS because going out for bids was time-consuming and expensive. Prices from COSTARS vendors across the state were already negotiated, and the municipality could try to get the cost down even more. "But don't use a nice guy from your office. Send the meanest. Your objective is to get the best value for your taxpayers, not to be nice to suppliers. They want your business."

Antrim administrator Brad Graham compared learning about COSTARS at a seminar to reading the Bible. "I always pick up something different about the program."

County projects

Chief probation officer Dan Hoover notified the municipalities that he always had low risk offenders available to provide manual and skilled labor. The people had court-assigned community service hours to fulfill.

Pat Evans, Franklin Advisory, reminded the borough and township leaders that he was still working on the Council of Governments initiative, to inventory the equipment and employee skills. Once he had the information from all of the municipalities, he would create a matrix and they could determine if sharing was ever beneficial financially.

Chris Gulotta from The Gulotta Group shared how municipalities could redevelop blighted properties. They could rewrite ordinances, work through the courts and banks, partner with taxing authorities, and exercise eminent domain. "That is the ultimate hammer," he said.

The process could take up to 24 months, but had successfully been done in Shippensburg. Several new state laws gave municipalities power in improving derelict properties. Franklin County created a Blighted Property Review Committee in 2011, charged with determining which properties fall into that category. The Franklin County Redevelopment Authority can act on its recommendations.

Worthwhile session

Keller was pleased with the agenda, and roster of speakers.

"I compliment the Planning Department staff for putting this together. It was a lot to digest. I hope everyone got some good nuggets of information out of it."

Armstrong was impressed with the day. "I loved the diversity of subjects. I took something away from every topic."

Graham said the same thing. "This was valuable for information sharing and touching base with local officials on issues."

Borough council member Wade Burkholder and Greencastle resident Paul Schemel, a member of the Blighted Property Review Committee, also attended.