County gov’t growing for the wrong reasons

It is hard to argue against the Clinton County commissioners’ pending decision to buy the iconic Piper Blue Building at the airport and move a number of departments and staff to that location and out of downtown Lock Haven.

Consolidating services — in this case, for example, bringing all of the county’s Children & Youth Services staff to one location for the first time in memory — makes a lot of sense.

We know and have reported about how mandates for Children & Youth Services have skyrocketed — as have reports of child abuse — since the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, increasing that department’s budget (and that of counties across Pennsylvania) by several hundred thousand dollars in the past few years.

One estimate is that, since the Sandusky case, over 20 new pieces of legislation have come out of Harrisburg in regarding to more required response to claims of child abuse, more mandated reporting and increased security clearances for those who work with and serve children.

And a rise in crime and court cases here, mostly from drug and alcohol abuse, have forced the hiring of additional probation officers.

If you missed it, last week Commissioners Pete Smeltz, Paul Conklin and Jeff Snyder announced they will buy the Blue Building for an estimated $950,000 and move the following offices and staff to it: Assessment, Auditors, Agricultural Extension, Children & Youth, Commissioners, Conservation District, Geographic Information System (GIS), Management Information Systems (MIS), Payroll, Planning, Register and Recorder, Treasurer and Voter Registration.

All but Ag Extension and Conservation District will move from the courthouse on Water Street and the Garden Building on Main Street

Ag Extension and Conservation District will leave the county-owned building along Route 64 in Porter Township and move to the Blue Building. (Ah, not more demonstration garden and no more agricultural services from a prime area of agriculture in the county.) That building will be sold.

This will free up space to allow Probation and Parole much of the first floor in the Garden Building with its expanded staff. Commissioners say probation space is far too limited now.

The District Attorney’s Office will move into the first floor of the courthouse (from the back of the Garden Building), as will the Sheriff’s Office.

The Prothonotary’s Office will remain in the courthouse.

Notably, Children and Youth will no longer need its rented office space along Grove Street.

It’s unclear how many county employees will be moving from the courthouse and Garden Building, but it’s certain to be a lot.

And yes, the commissioners themselves are moving out of downtown.

We asked, and the commissioners confirmed that they did look at the Masonic Temple downtown, which also is for sale, but it has no parking and that’s a huge issue.

The Blue Building at the southwest corner of the William T. Piper Memmorial Airport complex comes with 4 acres and more than 225 parking spaces.

Moving all the staff to that location will free up parking in the county-owned lot behind the courthouse … or will it?

We expect most taxpayers do not like the explanation of “growing government” as the reason for this move … that is, the commissioners cite the larger Children and Youth and Probation and Parole staff as the prime reasons for “growing government” beyond their’ control.

Add to that nearly $4 million in updates proposed at the Clinton County Correctional Institution starting in 2017 — with financing coming via a bond issue or loan — and you get the picture: County government is growing for the wrong reasons.