Story by Rick Hiduk / Facebook photo by Wysox Volunteer Fire Company
(Exclusive to EndlessMtnLifestyles.com readers)
A somber meeting of the Bradford County Commissioners on Thursday morning included tributes to commissioner Ed Bustin, who passed away on April 19, and comments by commissioners Daryl Miller and Doug McLinko about the desire of many to start reopening businesses shut down by Gov. Tom Wolf due to COVID-19 concerns.
Apparatus from area fire and ambulance companies, including Greater Valley EMS, were parked in front of the courthouse in Towanda, and black bunting was draped from the front of the building in honor of Bustin, who was a longtime firefighter and board member of the latter.
In their first order of business, the commissioners proclaimed the week of April 19 to 25 as Volunteer Appreciation week in Bradford County, which Miller and McLinko said was fitting since Bustin was such a prolific public servant.
“It is a phenomenally tragic thing for the county to deal with,” Miller said of the loss of Bustin in his role as commissioner, a post to which Bustin had been appointed in 2015 before winning two successful elections to retain his seat. “He touched people in all kinds of ways.”
“It’s a loss to the whole community. It’s going to be hard to fill his shoes,” McLinko concurred, referring to Bustin as a friend. “He loved all of Bradford County, but there was always a twinkle in his eye for The Valley.”
Many kind thoughts and memories of Bustin were shared live on the BC Commissioners Facebook page as the meeting ensued. Bustin was remembered for his involvement with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) as a board member and NACo, the National Association of Counties.
Prior to the playing of a video tribute to Bustin that included photos of him and various associates depicting the numerous roles and tasks that he had taken on was preceded by an overview of his career read by county chief clerk Michelle Shedden. Among the comments that she compiled on behalf of those mourning his death were that “He was always genuine,” and “His heart was already in the right place.”
According to Miller, Bustin also spearheaded the county’s COVID-19 Task Force, which continues to deal with the pandemic at the county level. Miller praised the efforts of people who have stepped up to help in numerous ways, including making face masks. Proctor & Gamble, Miller noted, donated 1,000 face masks, in addition to paper towels and gallons of hand sanitizer to the county. “People have been very giving and gracious,” said Miller.
Stats are Confusing – Workers are Anxious
The number of positive coronavirus cases attributed by the state to Bradford County had dropped from 31 to 29, and the number of deaths was cited at five, though Miller and McLinko are beginning to doubt the accuracy of the data.
“We know that there have been three fatalities at the Guthrie facility,” but two of them had home addresses in New York state,” Miller stated. “We cannot explain the other two. It could be Bradford County residents who are being cared for in another county or state and they passed there.”
Maintaining a high level of safety against the spread of the pandemic remains a priority in Bradford County, McLinko asserted, but he and Miller have joined the ranks of rural county commissioners across the Commonwealth who are frustrated with Gov. Wolf for vetoing legislation that would have given them more oversight in methodically reopening businesses and public spaces.
“We need to be safe and do our civic duty, but it’s time to get back to work,” said McLinko, who deems it unfair that the governor is lumping rural counties with Metropolitan areas, even those the statistics don’t show any virus hotspots in the country. “I’ve got angry people calling. The heavy-handedness of this has been something else. Governor Wolf is not king. Our forefathers would be rolling in their graves.”
“We understand the implications of the virus, but we can’t start businesses back soon enough,” Miller concurred. “We can protect ourselves at a personal level and a professional level.”
“I trust individuals more than I trust the state government,” McLinko continued. “If we don’t get our businesses started soon, some of them will go out of business.”
Nonetheless, Miller related, the county is looking for ways to get things up and running again in accordance with the governor’s current target date of May 8, if not sooner.
In support of small businesses, Miller and McLinko approved an agreement between the county, Trehab, and the Central Bradford Progress Authority to administer a grant program for businesses with two to 20 employees that have been effected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Progress Authority will administer the program for the county, which was implemented last week and also involves Susquehanna and Wyoming counties. The commissioners also added $100,000 in gas royalties to provide small, independent business people who can’t access other state and federal programs, with some money to help them start up again.
“The money we have set aside is going to Bradford County businesses,” McLinko explained.
Primary Election Update
In addition to numerous hires and transfers, retired county commissioner John Sullivan was appointed to Bradford County Election Board to replace Ed Bustin, effective April 19.
Because of the COVID-19 virus, the primary election has been moved back to June 2, McLinko noted. The Last day to register before the primary is May 18. The last day for registered voters to apply for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballot is May 26. The last day to submit completed mail-in and civilian absentee ballots is June 2, before 8 pm.
At this time, the county is planning to have all physical polling locations open and staffed with safeguards such as plexiglass shields in place to help protect poll workers and voters.