Clinton County commissioners examine state budget plan

LOCK HAVEN – The Clinton County commissioners, continuing their examination of Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, offered several observations – and concerns – at Monday’s work session.

High on the list of items needing more information, Commissioner Jeff Snyder, said was the apparent “Giveth … Taketh away” initiative attached to the state’s conservation districts.

In Act 13, the governor’s policy for establishing revenues from fees on unconventional natural gas wells, the conservation districts were among the state agencies that benefit from allocations.

The impact fee is supposed to returns revenues from drilling back to local governments and to a number of state programs and initiatives relating to the industry, to offset the costs of those programs.

In other words, the impact fees were designed to help counties, so that residents don’t need to shoulder the responsibility for costs associated with increased use of county services.

But in Gov. Corbett’s budget, Snyder said, there appears to be a “troubling” effort to eliminate some Conservation District funds, which undermines the purpose of the earlier Act 13 allocation.

“It looks like the district is going to get hit with a $90,000 loss,” Snyder said. “This is at a time when conservation districts are asked by the state to do more and more. We have (Director) Mary Ann Bower looking into it.”

On the plus side, Snyder said the category of Child Welfare appears to see a statewide increase of $23 million, something Snyder said was an absolutely critical need.

Commissioner Pete Smeltz, revisiting the subject of block grants for human services, said it appears that the move from specific allocations for specific human service agencies to a general block grant covering all the county’s human services, is not mandatory this year.

Smetlz said Corbett’s block grant approach was designed to give county governments more flexibility in addressing specific needs.

“We’re getting tons of information from the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania,” he said, “and we need time to digest it.”

Smeltz said local examinations are complicated by the fact that Clinton and Lycoming counties provide those services in a joint effort and joinder administrators are “doing the math.”

And Snyder said after three years of flat funding, there appears to be an 2-percent Medicare increase for county-owned nursing homes, such as the local Susque-View Inc.

Last week Commissioner Joel Long offered a compliment toward the Corbett administration, saying at least there was “an attempt” to address a looming government pension crisis, but added that he disagreed with many of the governor’s other economic efforts.

Long pointed specifically to the governor’s plans to privatize the state system of liquor stores and the Commonwealth-run lottery program, which benefits senior citizens as two efforts that he believes are wrong for Pennsylvania.