Clinton County, the City of Lock Haven and Keystone Central School District are already thinking in next year's terms and have laid plans for 2009 that some would call broad, others challenging. The Express asked local officials to talk about the groundwork of 2008 and give a preview of what they expect in the new year.
LOCK HAVEN - Cutting government costs with more efficiency, improving infrastructure, attracting new business and jobs are the major goals for the Clinton County commissioners in 2009.
Commissioner Tom Bossert said his main focus in the next year will be trying to curb the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, after the county's premiums jumped by 22 and 14 percent in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Bossert lamented the jump in health insurance premiums for next year, especially since county employees will pick up more of the tab themselves.
"I would like, in the coming year, to take a look at the major increases in our budget ... and address those," he said this week. "We would like to have a discovery procedure with health insurance to find out why the rates have increased so dramatically."
In addition, Bossert said he believes the commissioners have to remain vigilant with improving the county's infrastructure, noting the efforts of the Clinton County Sewer Authority allowed several municipalities to replace sewer lines in the last year to comply with consent orders from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Other areas still needing to be addressed, he said, are improving water distribution along the Route 64 corridor to the Lamar exit of Interstate 80 and attracting new businesses to the Lamar Township Business Park, near the Lock Haven exit of I-80.
"We, as county commissioners, will be working hand-in-hand with the Economic Partnership to market that. It has to be marketed. There is a burden the Partnership has and the county is backing it financially," Bossert said. "We have to assist in the marketing of Clinton County."
Commissioner Adam Coleman agreed, noting he has taken several out-of-state trips with Partnership President and CEO Mike Flanagan trying to attract new businesses to the business park.
"I'm going to continue to work with Mike and everybody at the Partnership so we can bring new businesses in over there, help the Partnership sell some land and get that area built up," he said.
Further, Coleman said he would like to create a new natural gas task force to look at the issues surrounding the natural gas drilling under the Marcellus Shale in the county.
The proposed task force, he said, would be comprised of representatives from the private and public sectors, farmers, landowners and government officials. In addition, Coleman said he would like to work with officials in the Keystone Central School District to possibly establish training programs for that specific industry.
"I think the creation of a board of that type would do great things for the county, especially with all the possibilities we're looking at with this gas boon," Coleman said.
Another area Coleman said he would like to explore next year would be possibly establishing broadband Internet capabilities in the western end of the county.
He said he will be meeting soon with the Central Pennsylvania Technology Council on ways to possibly expand broadband service in that area.
"If we get a broadband service up there, that would open up different doors and we can go about things in different ways up there," Coleman said.
Another area to work on in 2009, he said, is a possible purchasing card program for the county's purchasing department.
That program, Coleman said, would allow that department to use a debit card to buy office supplies and pay bills for things like phone service.
"Instead of the money coming directly from the account when the people get the check, or when they get the funds electronically, that money will stay in our account with M&T Bank for an additional 25 or 26 days. That's time we could be collecting interest on that money before the bill actually goes out," he said.
Commissioner Chairman Joel Long said 2009 will be "challenging."
He said he would like to further streamline county government after already restructuring the payroll department this year with Assistant Clerk Sue Conway taking on some of those responsibilities in the wake of Gloria Stinson's retirement.
"I'd like to examine how efficient we can be," Long said. "We have to remain vigilant about watching every penny because of where the economy is at."
In addition, he said he would like the county to improve its working relationship with municipalities to identify new development in the wake of the $1.2 million property reassessment for taxing purposes.
"We need to look at how we can have better communication with municipalities with permits so assessments can be kept more up to date," Long said.
He said he would also like to take a "major step forward" with construction of a new senior center in the former Kmart building in Clinton Plaza off Walnut Street in Lock Haven. That proposal has been bandied about for years, but took a major step forward in October as the commissioners applied for $1.5 million in state funding for renovations to the 55,000-square-foot building.
The application was made on behalf of STEP Inc. - officially known as the Lycoming-Clinton Counties Commission for Community Action Inc., based in Williamsport.
STEP planned to use the entire building, but has since scaled back that plan to only use half of the structure. STEP hopes to use the building to house the Lock Haven Senior Center, the Bi-County Office of Aging and an outreach center, all currently located in the Gary Tarr Memorial Jaycee Hall, 352 E. Water St.
STEP officials also plan to move Head Start offices and classrooms from McElhattan to the Lock Haven building.
Long hopes groundbreaking for the estimated $4 million project will occur next year with completion in the fall of 2010.
Coleman said a new, 14,000-square-foot storage building proposed near the county prison in McElhattan should be started in the spring.
In addition to allowing the prison to buy food in bulk and drive down its per-meal food costs, it would serve as a storage area for several county departments. The Prothonotary Office is quickly running out of available storage space for required court documents, he said.
In October, the board approved a $585,000 bond to erect the storage building, with the remaining $450,000 coming from a 2006 loan originally earmarked for purchase of the Pine Haven apartment complex near Lock Haven Hospital. That facility ultimately was bought by a private investor.