County Notes Progress On Broadband Expansion, Resignation of Public Defender

Wyoming County Commissioners (above, seated, from left) Tom Henry, Rick Wilbur and Ernie King proclaimed April 9 through 15 as National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. With them is county 911 Center director Jeff Porter, who plans to treat his staff to pizza during shift changes over the next couple of days.

Story and photos by Rick Hiduk

(exclusive to Endless Mountain Lifestyles readers)

After citing several recent and upcoming meetings with communications companies in the area during their regular public meeting on April 11, the Wyoming County Commissioners provided an update on the much-needed expansion of broadband and internet services in the area. They have also been meeting with the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PA BDA), for which they are preparing a master plan to close the gaps in local coverage.

We are putting together a very good map of Wyoming County by municipality,” said commissioner Rick Wilbur. The map will show the overlay of service provided to the area and make it clear where internet is still needed the most. The key players in Wyoming County that Wilbur cited are Blue Ridge, Claverack, Comcast, and Frontier, each of which is working with the county to develop the map.

It’s very complicated, but it’s promising too,” commissioner Tom Henry remarked.

Several funding sources will be made available to the county over the next two years, the largest chunk of money expected in 2024. “And we will have the plans ready,” commissioner Ernie King stated. The PA BDA is more likely to fund projects that demonstrate solid public/private partnerships between the county and providers who generally won’t extend service into any area that does not have at least 25 homes per square mile. Passing on government funding to them via the state and federal programs should make the project more economically feasible for them, King suggested.

The work that Claverack is doing to parallel their existing electric infrastructure with fiber internet lines is of particular interest to the commissioners because the electric cooperative reaches some of the most rural parts of the county. Frontier is also running fiber lines, and the commissioners will get an update from Comcast on April 19. In the end, the county will not own any of the new transmission lines but will turn them over to company that completes the work.

Public Defender Departing

The commissioners reluctantly accepted the resignation of public defender Jesse Hallhan, who will leave for a job in the Scranton area after April 17. Hallihan has worked for the county since September of 2019, initially serving as an assistant to then public defender Timothy Michaels, who was let go by the county in January 2021.

We’re going to miss him,” Henry said of Hallihan. “He did a good job.”

The job opening for public defender will be advertised as soon as possible and is currently posted on the county’s website

Parks and Recreation Apps Available

County planner Lynnelle Farber was present to announce that applications for the county’s new five-member Parks Board have been posted on the website, as well as applications for Marcellus Legacy Fund grants for recreation-oriented projects. Both are due by May 2, and results will be announced at the May 9 commissioners meeting.

The county currently only has one park – Seneca Trail Park in Eaton Township – which has been maintained primarily by volunteers over the past few years as it changed hands from the county to the township and then back to the county. Board membership is not limited to those already associated with the park, as other properties could be developed as public green space in the future.

Use of the Marcellus Legacy grants is limited to projects that enhance recreational opportunities in a given community. Applicants can apply for as much as $5,000 with an equal match in parallel funding or in-kind contributions.

Since 2015, the county has approved the distribution of $150,000 in Marcellus Legacy money, which is a dedicated funding stream associated with the Act 13 impact fees paid by natural gas companies. For this round, another $50,000 has been set aside.

County Inmates Eligible for Work Release

The county’s work release program has been reinstated for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. It is not up and running yet, but the commissioners are hopeful that it will be soon. According to Henry, municipal leaders and managers of other entities with projects needing manpower can contact warden Ken Repsher at the Wyoming County Correctional Facility by calling 570-836-1616 for more information and to obtain an application.

There is tremendous interest among the prisoners,” Wilbur noted.

Spring Electronic Recycling Returns

County recycling and waste director Mike Rogers announced that the first of two annual electronic recycling events will be held at the Recycling Center in Tunkhannock Township on Saturday, May 13. Varied costs are associated with larger items like televisions, air conditioners, and electric water heaters, but disposal of some items like cell phones, desk top copiers and microwave ovens are free. View the complete list here:

The event will be held from 9 am to noon, and preregistration is required to help with traffic control. Drop-offs are handled efficiently by the company that hauls the equipment away, Rogers related. Twenty five vehicles are moved through every 30 minutes. To register, interested readers may call the Center at 570-836-0729. The next electronic recycling event will be held on Sept. 16.

Grant Approved for Safety Enhancements

The commissioners approved an application for $30,000 in PCoRP (Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool) funding made available through the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP). Nearly half of it – $13,559 – is earmarked for new radios for the Sheriff’s Department. The remaining funds will be used for various expenditures, including three new automated external defibrillators and AED batteries, new carpeting for the Juvenile Probation office, and new flooring at the prison. The latter two projects, King explained, were approved due to deterioration of current flooring that could pose a tripping risk.

The county can apply for an additional $35,000 through the CCAP’s Pennsylvania Counties Workers’ Compensation Trust (Pcomp), which also addressed risk control, as well as claims services and training, from June through the end of the year.

Another safety issue requiring outside funding is the security camera system utilized in the courthouse. There is nothing wrong with it, but the federal government mandated replacement of any systems that have parts manufactured in China. The total cost will be $76,833 and will be paid for from Act 13 funds.

Free Community Dinner Planned

Wyoming County Human Services administrator John Alunni was on hand to provide information about Fork Over Love, a walk-up/drive-through event to be held at the Tunkhannock Primary Center at 5 pm on Wednesday, May 3, for which local eateries provide free meals to the community.

According to commissioner Henry, more than 170 meals were distributed during a similar event last year. All county residents are eligible to enjoy a free meal or pick one up for a person in need.

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