Official: Feds will review polling places

The Department of Justice intends to survey the 86 polling locations in Lycoming County for accessibility issues, said Forrest Lehman, director of voter services, adding that the county should prepare for a report deeming some locations as non-compliant — but with no specific solutions.

Lehman told the commissioners Thursday, based on communication with other counties that have already undergone Department of Justice inspections, the department will submit a report several months after reviewing the polling locations that states which locations are out of compliance, including the general area that is problematic, such as the slope of a parking lot.

“However, my understanding is that those reports will not specify exactly how” it is out of compliance, Lehman said. “The department’s position is that the measurements they take are work product that we won’t have access to. So they’ll tell us the slope of a ramp is not correct, but it’ll be up to us to figure out what is wrong with it and how do we fix it.”

Eight or nine other counties have been inspected since 2009, Lehman said, and some of them have used the contractor Election IQ to survey polling places to discover “de minimis,” or minimal, fixes in advance. He requested that the commissioners approve a professional services agreement not to exceed $50,000 with the organization so it can do the same for Lycoming County.

“I can certainly imagine that, out of 86 polling places, we might have some (problems), particularly in rural areas where there may not be many public facilities,” Lehman said. “We believe the contractor will be able to give us targeted, expert advice about what are the de minimis corrections that might be necessary in order to comply with Justice Department requests.”

Lehman’s request was approved 2-1, with Commissioner Tony Mussare voting against. He asked Lehman if the county has had any voters complain about the accessibility of polling locations, to which Lehman responded, “No.”

“So it’s another entity that’s going to force us to spend money when we’ve had no complaints,” Mussare said, adding sarcastically, “that makes sense.”

Mussare added that he agrees locations should be reviewed for the safety and accessibility of voters, but is against paying an outside contractor to do the same work the Department of Justice will do.

In another matter, the commissioners’ votes also were split 2-1 over the enactment of the updated hotel tax ordinance. The update switches the hotel tax filing schedule from monthly to a system based on a business’ income, similar to the state’s system for collecting sales tax. The goal was to ease the burden on smaller businesses such as bed and breakfasts and cabins, said Commissioner Jack McKernan.

After voting no, Commissioner Rick Mirabito said he wasn’t voting against the filing system change, but against approving the ordinance as a whole.

“I support the change that was made. The problem I have is that it’s a brand new document that supports the mythology that we appoint the TPA,” he said.

Mirabito explained that the commissioners are supposed to be in charge of appointing the members of the Tourism Promotion Agency just as they appoint the members of the Housing and Airport authorities. However, he said, the commissioners haven’t been the ones appointing those members.

“Under the county code, we’re supposed to appoint the Tourist Promotion Agency,” he said. “We’ve never, ever appointed people to the board of the TPA and I think that we should be doing that.”

In other business, the commissioners:

• Made the following appointments to county committees and authorities: Diane J. Eck and Tom Burkholder to the Library System Board; Holly Baker to the Housing Authority; Cameron Koons and Bill Messersmith to the Conservation District; Jack McKernan and Howard Fry to the SEDA-Council of Governments Board of Directors; Bill Martin, Ryan Tira and Christopher Logue to the Airport Authority; Charles Hall and Victor Marquardt to the Water and Sewer Authority; and David Schultz and Scott Harvey to the Joint Rail Authority.

• Approved the following personnel items: Robin Leigh Kaiser as a full-time replacement clerk in the juvenile probation office at $11.79 per hour, effective Tuesday; Odessa R. Carichner as a full-time replacement deputy sheriff in the sheriff’s office at $18.08 per hour, effective Jan. 2; reclassification of Scott W. Konkle as a full-time replacement communications specialist and project manager in the Department of Public Safety at $30.06 per hour, effective Dec. 31; and reclassification of Thomas Probst as a full-time resident supervisor in the Pre-Release Center at $16.59 per hour, effective Dec. 31.