State officials address flood insurance, dairy farms at forum

PAT CROSSLEY/Sun-Gazette Rachel Levine, center, state secretary of health and physician general, answers a question from the audience at the state government’s Cabinet in Your Community forum at Lycoming College Monday. From left, the others participating are Russell Redding, secretary of agriculture; Cindy Dunn, secretary of conservation and natural resources; Pedro Rivera, secretary of education; and Jessica Altman, acting insurance commissioner.

Issues ranging from flooding and farming to education and the opioid crisis were discussed by state officials with the public during a forum at Lycoming College Monday.

The Cabinet in Your Community event came to Williamsport as part of an initiative to reach out to residents across the state.

Six members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s cabinet took questions from the audience during the more than an hour-long session.

Many of the questions came from local public officials seeking answers on topics affecting the communities they represent.

Lycoming County Commissioner Jack McKernan inquired about solutions to the rising flood insurance costs for property owners.

State Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said efforts are being done to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mitigate flooding as well as making policies more affordable.

Property owners can explore going to private insurers for coverage, she said.

State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said less consumption of milk is making it tougher for dairy farmers to stay in business.

“As consumers, our habits are shifting,” he told Tioga County Commissioner Erick Coolidge, the owner of a family dairy farm.

Redding said the state has a big stake in the dairy industry. But for it to remain viable it needs to stop relying on milk and diversify its product line.

“It takes some investments,” he said.

Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin was asked about the possibilities of a cheese factory coming to the region.

Davin said his agency always is looking for ways to attract business, including companies from out of state, through such incentives as low-interest loans and tax credits.

He said his department considers funding many projects based on need.

Bicycle trails, for example, not only serve as worthy recreational projects but can help boost local economies.

State Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said officials are working on ways to reduce the high cost of higher education and attempting to attract more quality teachers in the public school system.

Incentivizing students to attain college credits in high school can help reduce overall college costs, he said.

He noted that while there exist many “amazing teachers” in schools, there also is a shortage of qualified people to fill teaching positions.

“We have to support and incentivize more quality people to fill these positions,” he said.

State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine addressed the opioid crisis.

She noted that opioids continue to be an essential part of treating many people with chronic pain, but conceded they have been over used, leading in many cases to addiction problems.

State officials have put into place educational programs in the state’s medical schools for students to follow regarding opioid prescriptions.

Guidelines have also been developed for medical professionals to follow, she said.

Levine called the opioid issue a very complex one.

State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Dunn said evidence of climate change is apparent across the state.

She referred locally to major flooding of Loyalsock Creek two times in one five-year span.

Global warming has also impacted state forests and led to more invasive species, she said.