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DuBois-Sandy Twp. officials hold 'historic' first joint consolidation meeting

DuBOIS — “Historic” was a word used several times by officials Wednesday night to describe the first joint consolidation meeting between the City of DuBois and Sandy Township held at the city building.

The meeting was the first step to consolidate the City of DuBois and Sandy Township into one municipality. In the Nov. 2, 2021, election, voters in Sandy Township said yes to consolidation by a vote of 1,574-1,541, while DuBois voters supported consolidation by a vote of 1,228-536. The question placed on the ballot had to pass in both municipalities in order to consolidate the two municipalities into a new third class city.

The two municipalities have been awarded a $200,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Strategic Management Planning Program to be used toward the consolidation process.

During Wednesday’s meeting, DuBois Mayor Edward Walsh and township Supervisor Kevin Salandra were appointed co-chairpersons of the City of DuBois/Sandy Township Joint Board.

Those appointed to the DuBois/Sandy consolidation committee were: Walsh, Salandra, city Engineer Chris Nasuti, township police Chief Kris Kruzelak, city Manager John “Herm” Suplizio, township Manager Shawn Arbaugh, Redevelopment Director and Assistant Public Works Superintendent Joe Mitchell, Daniel Kohlhepp and Richard Whitaker.

Also, Cafardi Ferguson Wyrick Weis and Gabriel was appointed the solicitor for the joint board and consolidation committee.

The Strategic Management Planning Program proposal was awarded to Eckert Seamans/Pennsylvania Economy League.

The joint board meeting dates were set as the first and third Mondays of each month, with the exception of July 5 and Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. at the City of DuBois Municipal Building.

The first committee meeting will be held at noon on Jan. 26 at the City of DuBois Municipal Building.

“This is long overdue,” said city Councilwoman Diane Bernardo. “The city of DuBois and Sandy Township are going to be premier, a premier consolidation that everyone around the state of Pennsylvania and the nation will be looking to us to see how we did it. And as (township Supervisor) Mark (Sullivan) just made the comment, if we think that we have business and industry now, just wait until it’s consolidated. We will attract people that we never thought we could attract.”

Township Supervisor Barry Abbott thanked the DuBois and Sandy Township voters for supporting the consolidation during the election. He also thanked the township supervisors and the city council for embracing it.

As several of the officials acknowledged, Abbott said there is an immense amount of work that needs to take place to consolidate the two municipalities.

“I think we all are going to hit the ground and running,” said Abbott. “I’m looking forward to working with everybody and the public, you made it happen. Thank you.”

“I just want to say I think I was young man around 34 years old when this (consolidation) first was voted on,” said township Supervisor Sam Mollica. “Now I’m an old man, 66. I’m just happy to see this day.”

City Councilman James Aughenbaugh said he is really looking forward to working together with the township on this.

“It is a lot of work,” said Aughenbaugh. “We’re not always going to agree on a lot of things and just need to agree that we disagree sometimes, but you know, just be respectful of each other. And I think, we all will be professional as always, and it’s going to be a good outcome.”

“I just want to say thanks to everybody that submitted their interest for the committees, we are still looking at various subcommittees,” said Arbaugh. “So if you didn’t get called tonight, don’t get discouraged. We are still, we have a lot of subcommittees that are going to be part of this and we do thank you for submitting that and appreciate your interest in everything. I look forward to working with everybody and looking forward to this process.”

“It is a long time coming,” said Suplizio. “I thank everyone in this room coming out, the transition team that has been put together, didn’t go lightly. We’ve looked at it hard and long. I think we have a great transition team. As Shawn said, there’s going to be a lot of subcommittees. There’ll be a lot more on the subcommittees and we have a lot to do in a very short period of time. I think we can do it. I think when I look around in room, obviously, as Barry said, the voters spoke, I do want to give a special thanks to Jason Gray and his lovely wife Libby. I know you guys were instrumental on this a long time ago with, as in a lot of people were. We have a job to do ... we have to come through and we have to show the (community) that we’re going to do this.”

Walsh stated that everyone who the city and the township have consulted with since consolidation was approved in November has said something this is “historic,” something that has never been done for years. He said it’s the future for the Commonwealth and “we’re going to set the blueprint.” The eyes of the Commonwealth and from what officials are hearing is that the eyes of the nation are going to be on the DuBois community as to how they move on to consolidate the city and the township.

Walsh thanked Terri Cunkle with the DCED.

“She (Cunkle) has really taken the bull by horns and has led us in this direction that we’ve gotten to today,” said Walsh. “I would really like to thank you on behalf of the board for everything you’ve done for us, really led us well, thank you.”

The two governing bodies have to enter into a consolidation agreement within one year after the election is certified, according to PA Boundary Change Law Section 737. That agreement, which must be is required to include:

  • Financial arrangements
  • Develop transition plan and schedule for elected officers.
  • Provide for common administration and uniform enforcement of ordinances.
  • Provide for uniform tax system.

The agreement must mandate full implementation of the consolidation plan within four years following the date of certification. The earliest a new governing body could take over would be Jan. 1, 2024, while the latest could happen on Jan. 1, 2026.

Punxsutawney Area School Board votes to no longer quarantine close-contact students

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area School Board did not approve the district’s Health and Safety Plan as presented to the board, but instead voted to approve new wording, removing a quarantine requirement of asymptomatic students exposed to COVID-19.

The district began discussions about changing the language of the Health and Safety Plan during the committee meeting last Thursday. Vice President Dr. David Wachob told the board he would come up with language for a motion, and send it to the board ahead of the meeting.

In his language and motion, the new Health and Safety Plan reads as follows:

“If a student or staff tests positive for COVID-19, they must: Isolate for five days. If they have no symptoms after five days, they may return to school and must wear a mask for an additional five days.

“Close contacts are individuals who are identified as being directly exposed to COVID-19 by a positive case. Close contacts may stay in school so long as they remain asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) and wear a mask for 10 days after their last date of exposure. Staff and students (and parents) in close contact situations are required to self-monitor for symptoms by and act responsibly by self-quarantining if symptoms occur. Parents and students are responsible for symptom monitoring. However, if school staff see a child exhibiting symptoms, the student will be isolated, and parents notified to pick up their student. Further, the students will not be permitted back into school until after the 10-day quarantine period is over. Parents may choose to self-quarantine their child when identified as a close contact for the 10-day quarantine period. If the self-quarantine student is asymptomatic after five days, they are encouraged to return to school, wear a mask, and continue monitoring symptoms for the remaining five-day period.”

A roll call vote was taken on the motion and was passed with 6-3 vote. The three opposing votes came from members Matt Kengersky, Cindy Depp-Hutchinson, and Bob Cardamone.

“I strongly recommend you adopt the prepared update from the administration that was planned for tonight,” Board Solicitor David Young said.

Wachob said if the state would say it didn’t meet certain requirements, the board would meet back and could vote to change it to be in compliance “if that is the case.”

Kengersky said he saw it as a “material change” to the agreement the board voted unanimously on last year, and that because they no longer like the guidelines, were deciding it “doesn’t matter.”

Board member Janey London said she did not see it that way.

“I see it as more, I’m keeping them educated, and keeping them within the guidelines they want. And I feel like that’s a compromise, and I’m OK with that because my kids can stay in my room, I can teach them, they’re not at home quarantined, unless that’s their parent’s choice, and I just feel like I’m OK with it as a teacher…” London said.

Kengersky’s other concern was that the state would not immediately tell the board it was out of compliance, but rather there would be an audit years from now where it would be found the plan didn’t meet requirements.

“...and whether it’s our board or a board in the future, is going to be dealt with having to deal with some state audit for $3, $5, $9, or $11 million dollars. I don’t want to be put in that position,” Kengersky said.

Superintendent Thomas Lesniewski said he spoke with the school physician Dr. Clark Simpson about the possible change, and that he said “he could live with this.” Young said this was a medical opinion, and had nothing to do with concerns of the law.

Depp-Hutchinson had some questions about where masked students would eat lunch, what band students would do, if students would participate in gym or athletics, and if they would alert incoming teams to any quarantining students.

Lesniewski indicated the administration has already been speaking about such possibilities. There is already a space for children to eat lunch in the elementary school who were quarantined, and the high school principals will be thinking about what to do in the cafeteria for such students. The school would also inform opposing teams about any close-contact students before playing against them, and students would be expected to wear masks during gym and sporting events.

DuBois Street Mission aims to expand its reach in Tri-County Area

DuBOIS — The DuBois Street Mission at 804 ½ DuBois St. has opened its doors to the unsheltered throughout the cold winter months. Those spearheading the effort are looking to spread the word even more about the “Operation Out of the Cold” initiative.

Gina Gray, executive director of Agape Community Services, and Amy Rosman, the Shelter Plus Care Program coordinator through the DuBois Housing Authority, as well as other local agencies, partnered last year to make the DuBois Street Mission come to life.

The overnight, cold-weather facility, which is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., opened its doors on Dec. 20, offering a warm bed, hot meal and comfort to those in need. At the time, the waiting list had an estimated nine to 12 people, said Gray.

The response hasn’t been as extreme as they had expected, she said, due to a couple possible reasons. It hasn’t been cold enough this winter for people to turn to the mission. Now, though, temperatures are beginning to drop.

And, there tends to be misconceptions and assumptions about homeless shelters, such as they aren’t clean, etc. For this reason, some people won’t go to a shelter.

Gray stressed that the newly-renovated building is kept freshly clean, with volunteers and staff following COVID-19 precautions.

Thus far, the feedback from those who have stayed has been positive, said Gray. They are typically “surprised” by the friendly, clean and safe atmosphere, as well as the comfort provided by those there.

Some of the people who have stayed at the mission have been from the DuBois area, and are on the coordinated entry list at the DHA, said Gray.

“Some are newly homeless. We are working to get people on that coordinated entry list,” she said.

People can also go to the Service Access and Management (SAM), Gray noted. If the person is from Punxsutawney, they can go to Community Action Inc. for resources.

The news of the mission just may not have reached many people yet, Gray noted.

“We are about to embark on a campaign,” she said. “We will hand flyers out to agencies, and they can hand those out.”

The plan is to also “meet people where they are,” said Gray, meaning mission volunteers will go out, talk to people and invite them in, aiming to make them more comfortable with the idea.

“People aren’t always willing to leave the comfort of a cold vehicle or a cold tent to come to a new place,” she said.

Gray said she would like to stress that the mission is not just open to people in the immediate area – those from outside and surrounding communities are welcome.

The mission is very grateful for the community support and donations received, Gray said.

“It’s been very good to start out,” she said. “We have what we need.”

But, there is always room for more volunteers and donations, said Gray, being that unexpected costs may pop up, such as the building needing a new metal roof sooner than they anticipated.

Those interested in an overnight stay need to call the mission by 4 p.m. that day, said Gray, at 814-375-7652. They can also stop in at the mission from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Those interested in volunteering can call 814-375-9120.

Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 314 DuBois, PA 15801.

'My St. Marys' app connects residents with local government

ST. MARYS — The new “My St. Marys” app gives residents the opportunity to be more connected to and engaged with local government at the touch of their fingertips.

St. Marys City Manager Joe Fleming said as technology begins to develop, this app was an ideal way to help relate information to residents.

“It is becoming more and more popular for individuals to use their mobile phones for news, information, communication, engagement and resources,” he said.

With the increase in the use of mobile phones, St. Marys decided to jump on the moving train, said Fleming.

“We decided, why not use it to provide a unique approach to improving our local government communication with our residents?” he said.

St. Marys is the second-largest Pennsylvania city in terms of land, spanning across 100 square miles, said Fleming.

“What comes with this ranking is the challenge of connecting with individual citizens,” he said. “How can 13,000 citizens feel connected to city government? How can those residents efficiently receive the information and tools they need to continually improve their community?”

The app was launched in November 2021. Through this platform, residents are able to report issues occurring throughout the city. Some examples could be street lighting, street signs, drainage, traffic signals, garbage, high grass, snow, etc., said Fleming.

Since its launch, 700 residents have downloaded the pap from the iTunes Store or Google Play.

The app also makes things easier for city staff members.

“It provides a work-order management system, allowing them to track requests and collect data on response times, locations and the types of issues being reported,” Fleming added.

Using the issue-reporting feature is “revolutionizing” the way the city collects its data and reports.

“This is influencing critical decisions about the deployment of resources,” he said.

The app offers much more than just the “Report City Issue” feature, such as the ability for residents to pay sewer bills, purchase a parking permit, job openings, facility rentals, city contact information, right-to-know requests and a live downtown camera of St. Marys, said Fleming.

“Using a push-notification feature, the city is able to put out immediate notifications in real time, such as road closures, street-lighting issues, office closures and weather emergencies.”

An example, said Fleming, would be the National Weather Service of State College issuing winter-weather advisories for St. Marys on certain days and times.

“It has been a great asset in increasing citizen engagement and streamlining internal administrative workflows,” Fleming said.