Commissioners OK sale of land, building to agency

By JOHN RISHEL

jrishel@lockhaven.com

LOCK HAVEN — The Clinton County Conservation District owns its own offices.

The county commissioners Thursday approved an agreement to sell the county-owned office building and land along Route 64 in Porter Township to the agency at a negotiated price of $150,000 through a no-interest loan.

The district board of directors approved the same agreement Thursday, too, and is planning a ceremonial signing ceremony for next Friday.

“We have had a partnership with the Conservation District since 1946 to provide services to the people of Clinton County. The county has to subsidize and support the Conversation District,” Commissioner Pete Smeltz said.

Approximately seven agency staff members work at the property at 45 Cooperation Lane south of Mill Hall.

That site also used to house the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service office, which has since moved to the Garden Building in downtown Lock Haven.

The sale was sought by the Conservation District after the commissioners bought the Piper Blue Building at the William T. Piper Memorial Airport and moved various county offices there and out of downtown, while consolidating mostly court and law enforcement related services to the Garden Building and courthouse at Jay and Water streets.

The Conservation District board did not want to move, preferring to remain in the country, where it felt it could best serve farmers and landowners.

A deal was struck for the county to sell the building and land to the agency.

On Thursday, a memorandum of understanding between the commissioners and the Conservation District was approved as a companion item, addressing district operations, functions and responsibilities as they relate to state law and county government “to provide the highest degree of mutual understanding and cooperation.”

“It is a seven-page MOU, negotiated over time, of how the relationship will be moving forward. It provides consistency on how the relationship will work,” Smeltz said. “They are going to have their own housing, their own office space. There is no money involved in the memorandum, aside from the fact that we pay the salaries of (agency) employees and we always have. That is not a change.”

“The Conservation District has been looking for this MOU for a long time now, and it spells out where we stand on both sides. I look forward to getting it taken care of,” said Commissioner Paul Conklin said.

The agency must make a $30,000 payment up front upon approval of the sale, and then make payments of $30,000 the first day of each March over the course of the following four years until the negotiated price is met, according to Smeltz.

“There is no interest being charged. The county is providing some IT services but they will be billed. The agreement requires the conservation department to pay for utility bills accrued in January and February of this year as the agreement was made,” said Conklin.

“We want and need them to be successful. They will own their own operation up there. The payment is structured to make sure this purchase will not be a financial hardship for them. It will be a place for them to call home,” he added.

The Conservation District is operated under the leadership of a board of directors appointed by the commissioners. Each member serves 4 year terms and are volunteers who review conservation-related issues. They meet monthly. The district is actually a subdivision of state government, but its funding is provided by the county, the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission, the state Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, and the Unconventional Gas Fund.

Essentially, the district staff provide technical, financial and educational resources, to help residents conserve soil, water and related natural resources, to help guide residents through environmental regulations and to help them properly manage natural resources and land.

The agency board consists of five farmer directors who derive a major portion of their livelihood from farming or forestry, three public directors and a county commissioner. Staff consister of a manager, resource conservationist, resource technician, agricultural resource conservationist, roads and ag technician, watershed specialist-education coordinator and program assistant-board secretary.

Manager Mary Ann Bower told The Express the district board’s vote to buy the property Thursday was unanimous.

The agency will use money generated by conservation plan review fees and sales to help pay off the loan.

She said the agency board also is considering leasing space at the office to generate revenue.

The district joins its sister agencies in Bradford and Snyder counties, among others, as building owners, she mentioned.

The property allows the agency to conduct demonstrations there for farmers and landowners, along with demonstration plantings. There also is a demonstration garden used by the Cooperative Extension Service’s master gardeners. There is ample office space, conference rooms and parking.

In other business Thursday, the commissioners approved an inmate housing agreement with Montour County, which will pay $70 per day for every inmate it sends to the prison in Wayne Township.

Smeltz said $70 is the “standard rate” to house prison inmates from other counties.

An internship agreement between the county and Lock Haven University for an unpaid intern in the GIS Department was also approved.

The board then recognized the retirement of Lynn Neff, assistant fiscal accountant in the Commissioner’s Office, effective March 8.

“Lynn has been an integral part of the commissioners’ office for 17 years, and we are going to miss her. She has recently lost her husband, is relocating, and is going through some major life changes. She needs our support and prayers right now.” Smeltz said.

The payment of county bills in the amount of $153,040.48 and net payroll in the amount of $286,939.75 were approved for the period ending Feb. 22.

Invoices over $10,000 included $95,695.22 to Clinton County TPA for Hotel Tax (pass-through) and $10,362.97 to Direct Energy for heating at the courthouse, Garden and Piper buildings and the prison.

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