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Elk Co. Commissioners adopts budget
Elk County adopts budget with no tax increase

RIDGWAY — The Elk County Board of Commissioners adopted a budget for the county that will not raise taxes in 2018. Commissioners Matt Quesenberry and Daniel Freeburg approved the budget at a regular meeting Wednesday morning.

Commissioner Jan Kemmer was not present for the vote. The projected general fund receipts and expenses for 2018 total $12,649,429. Other fund revenues and expenditures total $5,149,321.

The final budget was slightly larger than the proposed one published earlier this month. Chief Clerk Lee Neureiter said the increase of slightly more than $5,000 was because of a clerical oversight.

Still, the budget for 2018 will be smaller than the budget for 2017.

“We are actually budgeting just a little over $51,000 less than 2017,” Neureiter said.

That decrease will not amount to a reduction of services, the commissioners noted.

As stated in the budget summary, the Elk County Jail continues to be the county’s largest expenditure. Jail expenditures are projected to total just under $3 million in 2018.

“It is important to realize that in many ways the prison operates as a small closed community running 24 hours a day,” the budget summary reads. “There are no federal or state reimbursements available to share these costs.”

Unlike previous years, Elk County won’t need to borrow tax anticipation notes during the first financial quarter of the year. Neureiter explained that tax anticipation notes are loans that cover property tax revenue that does not become available until early spring.

“We’re fortunate to not see the need for that this year,” Freeburg said. “We’ve also incorporated a wage increase into this budget as well.”

Per the budget summary, a recently ratified collective bargaining agreement will see the wages of bargaining and non-bargaining employees increase by 2.5 percent. Elected officials will receive a wage increase of 2 percent.

Sandy Township holds line on taxes
Sandy Twp. water rate increasing in 2018, but taxes remain steady

DuBOIS — The residents of Sandy Township will not see an increase in township taxes in 2018, however, residents will see an increase in their water rates.

Supervisors met first in their role as the Sandy Township Municipal Authority in the first of two special meetings Wednesday night.

The authority’s meeting was called to approve a resolution amending the water service rates and to adopt the municipal authority budget. The new rate will be $16 per thousand gallons of water with a minimum charge of monthly use of 0 to 1,000 gallons. The current rate is $15.50 for the first 1,000 gallons and $11.50 for everything over the first 1,000 gallons.

The new rate will be effective Jan. 1. A customer using 4,000 gallons of water would pay $50 under the current rate but will now pay $64 under the new rate – $14 more.

The supervisors agreed that if the rate increase was not necessary it would not have been approved.

Supervisor Dave Sylvis noted that the increase was “not made because we wanted to” but was needed to “keep in line with what the city is charging us.” In the Municipal Authority’s budget the line item for payment for DuBois treatment is $1,600,000. It also noted that treatment for Sykesville is $33,000.

The authority also approved its sewer and water budgets. The sewer budget shows $2,988,750 in both revenues and expenses. It noted that the net deficit after other cash requirements is $116,298. The water budget shows $860,500 in both revenues and expenses but also noted the net deficit after other cash requirements is $8,755. Other cash requirements for the sewage budget included PennVEST loan payments of $372,669; PNC Bank loan, $144,704; and I&I construction financing, $325,000. The other cash requirements for the water budget includes total USDA loan payments of $177,548.

The supervisors adjourned the Municipal Authority meeting and immediately called the special meeting of the Sandy Township Board of Supervisors to order. At this meeting, they once again approved amending the water rates and adopted the 2018 general fund budget, including the state fund (liquid fuels fund). They also adopted the municiapal authority’s 2018 water and sewer budget.

The township’s General Fund budget shows revenues of $5,168,800 and expenditures of $5,136.650.

The numbers are broken down as follows:

Income: Local taxes, $1,750,000; Licenses and Permits, $142,400; Fines and Forfeits, $35,100; Interest and Rents, $10,000; Intergovernmental, $422,200; Charges for Services, $10,100; Public Safety, $333,000; Library (0.5 mills), $55,000; and Miscellaneous, $25,000. Plus assets and checking, $1 million. The intergovernmental category includes items such as federal grants, liquor licenses, Marcellus rebate, payments in lieu of taxes, county liquid fuels, etc.

Expenses: Elected officials, $134,250; Executive, $122,200; Auditors, $12,300; Tax Collection, $39,700; Legal Services, $65,000; Data processing, $12,500; Engineering, $50,000; Buildings, $48,600; Police, $1,014,700; Fire Department, $368,500; Crossing Guards, $300; Planning/Zoning, $68,000; Emergency Management, $3,900; Vector Control, $2,200; On-lot Sewage, $5,500; and Recycling, $700; Road Department, $1,301,200; Public Works/Other (airports/cemeteries/memorials), $8,500; Recreation, $25,000; Library, $55,000; Economic Development, $4,600; Insurance, $992,000; Benefits, $402,000 and General Government Capital Expend, $400,000.

The township will be saving $17,000 that it had previously paid under its contract with DuFAST bus service. Since ATA took over DuFAST, that cost is no longer a part of the budget.

In the State Liquid Fuels Fund the township will see $2,275,600 in income in the coming year. This includes $1,800,000 in checking. It has budgeted $1,585,000 for expenses, including $175,000 for capital equipment and $1 million for construction.

Supervisor Andy Shenkle noted that through his time on the board he has found that “we don’t raise rates/taxes just because but only if we have to. We take our residents to heart.”

Sylvis offered his thanks to the employees who put in long hours preparing the budget and also thanked Supervisor Darell Duttry for his time on the board. Supervisor Mark Sullivan also told Duttry that it had been a pleasure serving with him for six years. Shenkle echoed that sentiment.

The special meetings were the last meetings for Duttry. His place will be taken by Kevin Salandra, who was elected to a six-year term.

'No One's' tenure cut short; New constable appointed

ST. MARYS — With the filing of a court order Wednesday, Erin Burke, of St. Marys, was appointed to the office of constable that was briefly – and literally – held by “No One.” The joke write-in candidate was originally elected to the seat by a tie-breaking marble drawing.

Burke, “No One” and four other write-in candidates tied in the most recent election with two votes each. There were no formal candidates for constable of St. Marys on the ballot.

The other candidates were told that they could petition the Elk County Court of Common Pleas for appointment after “No One” won the tie-breaker lottery.

“Which seemed a little absurd to me. But apparently that’s the way it works,” Burke said.

Burke said that a friend of his who is a constable in Centre County has for some time been encouraging him to run.

“A constable is a very old, very unique public office,” he said. “If you look up the history of it, it’s actually the oldest law enforcement establishment.”

But Burke, part owner of a hardware store in St. Marys, said he at first didn’t want to run against candidates that could have more time on their hands.

He changed his mind and wrote in his own name upon seeing the blank ballot, and asked a friend for their vote as well. The office had been vacant since 2014, when its previous holder died.

After the tie-breaker, he set about gathering the 15 signatures needed to petition the court for appointment. His petition was filed on Nov. 29.

On Dec. 22, Judge Richard Masson approved it and officially appointed him as constable of St. Marys. As constable, he will have powers of a peace officer and court agent, able to arrest individuals and serve court orders.

Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

20171228-ce-sp Snyder drive (copy)

DuBois’ Sarah Snyder (4) looks to drive past Brockway’s Leah Lindemuth (10) during second-half action Wednesday in the opening game of the Brookville Holiday Tournament. Snyder scored all eight of her points in the first quarter to get the Lady Beavers off and running in a 41-15 victory.

Hawkins stepping down after 30 years

HOUTZDALE — After 30 years as a Clearfield County Magisterial District Judge, the Honorable James L. Hawkins is stepping down from his bench.

As of Jan. 1, Hawkins will no longer be serving as the magistrate for District Court 46-03-04 in Houtzdale.

Hawkins was born and raised in Glen Hope, where he still lives currently with his wife, Lisa.

Before donning the black robe, Hawkins loaded coal at Sky Haven Coal. The career change came when someone suggested his brother, Herbert, run for a vacant judge seat. Hawkins said his brother passed on the opportunity, but his mother had an idea.

“My crazy son Jim might be interested,” Hawkins recalled his mother saying.

“It just goes to show you don’t need a degree to do the job,” he added.

Hawkins had a general idea of what he was getting into, but had to do a lot of self-teaching to learn the legal jargon. He noted the hardest part of the process was taking the test to be certified as a judge.

“There was a lot of studying,” Hawkins remarked. “You got a year’s worth of law in a four week period.”

In his last year in the coal industry, Hawkins spent time shadowing the late honorable Judge Wes Read in DuBois. Hawkins mentioned several mentors, teachers, and colleagues, such as William Shaw, Fred Ammerman, and Chris Pentz, who all helped him learn in his new role.

Over the years, Hawkins said it was the variety of cases that kept the job fresh and exciting.

“Case by case, they’re all interesting. They all have their different facts and different circumstances,” Hawkins noted. “Every day it’s something new, and it changes.”

With three decades of experience under his belt, Hawkins has pretty much seen every case imaginable. There have been many unique and memorable times during hearings, such as one man who claimed to be Jesus and rapper Wiz Khalifa. Another unforgettable moment was a man showing up intoxicated to a DUI hearing. Hawkins said he regrets not keeping a daily journal to write his memoirs.

While many cases can be sad or frustrating in the eye of the public, Hawkins believes it is incredibly important to separate your emotions from the case as a judge — no matter how appalling a crime may be.

“How do you separate yourself without coming off the bench and being upset? You just do,” Hawkins said. “You just have to have that in you.”

As a judge, Hawkins could not be active politically, but believed it was still important to be involved in the region in a public way.

“I think it’s very important to be seen in the community,” Hawkins added. “You can’t take this job and hibernate.”

Hawkins found many ways to stay in the public’s eye. He scheduled speaking engagements at area schools and was heavily involved with mock trial in the Moshannon Valley, Glendale, Harmony, and Purchase Line school districts. Hawkins also spent years as a baseball coach with Moshannon Valley. He plans to remain involved with the Knights of Columbus.

As he steps down, Hawkins said what he will miss most is interacting regularly with law enforcement and his office staff — Judy Miles and Renee Hudish. He thanks them both for their years of service and dedication.

With his newfound spare time, Hawkins plans to do some traveling to visit his sons in Indiana, Pa. and the state of Louisiana. He enjoys being a grandfather and tending to his greenhouse.

Hawkins will also be stepping into a new role as a Senior Judge within the Commonwealth, which he described as being a “substitute teacher.” Hawkins can fill in for judges to hear cases when he is needed, not just in Clearfield County, but in the entire state.

“I don’t just want to go home and get in the recliner,” Hawkins said of the new position. “I want to stay sharp mentally.”

When asked what advice he would give to his replacement, James Glass, Hawkins mentioned two items — common sense and compassion.

“You have to have those two attributes to make sound decisions,” Hawkins remarked.

In addition, Hawkins said you have to keep a sense of humor and try to be the best problem resolver you can be.

As he reflected on his career as a district judge, Hawkins extended a “thank you” to his wife and family for all of their support. He also said he appreciated his supporters and the public for sticking by him through the years.

If his mother had never suggested he run for judge, Hawkins said he would probably still be working in the coal industry. He is extremely thankful for the opportunity and privilege it has been to assist the residents of Clearfield County.

“It has been a pleasure to serve,” Hawkins declared. “It’s been some type of calling to do what I have.”

“I hope I made a difference in their lives.”