Commissioners Seek Members for Tax Appeals Board – Concerns About Decreases in Dairy Farming and Changes to Flood Maps Discussed

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Photo and Story by Rick Hiduk

Participating in the Jan. 14 meeting of the Wyoming County Commissioners were (from left) Solicitor James Davis, Commissioners Judy Mead, Tom Henry, and Ron Williams, and Chief Clerk Bill Gaylord.

The Wyoming County Commissioners agreed on Jan. 14 that they would need to move swiftly to put together an appeals board for the upcoming tax season.

According to County Solicitor James Davis, the commissioners had previously acted as the appeals board but absolved themselves of the responsibility in 2013.

We have the resolution,” Davis said in reference to the changes made last year.

The Board needs to be put together quickly, Chief Clerk Bill Gaylord noted, to ensure that there is time for training of the members.

Commissioners Tom Henry and Judy Mead indicated that the appeals board would likely be comprised of professionals familiar with real estate and the county as a whole.

A planning ordinance amendment to be advertised this week will call for a 700-foot setback from roadways and existing structures for natural gas compressor stations constructed in the future. That and other gas-related infrastructure issues were to be discussed at the Jan. 15 meeting of the Wyoming County Planning Commission.

This will make people happy,” Henry said of the increased set back, adding that he did not expect much resistance to the amendment.

The commissioners to additional steps in cementing their business relationship with SafeGuard Security and Communications, the company installing the county’s new CAD EMS system.

After another trial run of the system, which will synchronize communication efforts for emergency responders and dispatchers, the software will be installed during the first and second week of February. Training and testing will begin in March, and the commissioners are hopeful that the system will “go live” in June.

The dispatchers are extremely excited about this,” said Mead.

Commissioner Ron Williams related that he had participated in the Keystone Energy Forum during the Pennsylvania Farm Show held in Harrisburg the previous week. Of particular importance to him is the effects that the natural gas industry has had on agriculture in the area.

There are very few dairy farms left,” Williams lamented. In some cases, farmers bought new equipment with gas money they had received and enhanced their agricultural enterprises. In other cases, however, the sign-on bonuses and subsequent royalties have allowed farmers who were struggling to shut down their operations or switch to beef farming and crop production.

It’s a hard life,” Williams said of dairy farming. “It’s the only business that the product costs more to make than it’s worth.”

Citing the value of a diverse agricultural community to the county, Williams asked, “How are we going to get young people back into dairy farming?”

Williams followed up his meeting in Harrisburg by meeting with the Conservation District and the Farmland Preservation Trust. Both agencies, he noted are looking for ways to help existing farmers and encourage new ones. A list of farms that can be assisted by upgrading their ratings has also been proposed.

Henry updated those in attendance on his efforts to bring more meetings of the Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Mental Health and Luzerne/Wyoming Counties Drug and Alcohol Program to Wyoming County.

At a previous meeting, Henry had suggested that the newly appointed leaders of each organizations have been in favor of lending more assistance to Wyoming County and that one quarter of the meetings will now be held here as opposed to just one per year previously.

The commissioners briefly noted the growing controversy over federally mandated flood insurance that will be based on new flood plain maps.

The maps were devised after the 2011 flood, during which many people experienced flash flooding and inundation where there had historically been no prior problems. Many officials around the state, including Williams, are questioning insurance mandates handed to some residents whose home were not flooded in 2011. He cited a woman in Overfield Township with no water near her home who is now expected to pay $5,000 for flood insurance.

The realtors are in an uproar over this too,” said Henry, noting that the value of properties that should not require insurance are being negatively impacted.

The next meeting of the Wyoming County Commissioners will be held at the courthouse in Tunkhannock on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 9 am. 

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