‘Adversity breeds innovation’: Lock Haven officials look to the future, reflect on 2020
LOCK HAVEN — The city of Lock Haven managed to turn lemons into lemonade in some respects during 2020. With a global pandemic straining its businesses and residents, city staff attempted to come up with innovative ideas and strategies to help.
“I think resiliency in the people that work for the city and the elected officials for the city is the reason that we could pull together and get through the last year,” City Manager Gregory Wilson said.
From the outdoor eatery in the East Main Street parking lot, the Pedestrian Mall on Fridays and Saturdays, offering financial help through its financial loan programs and suspending late fees on water and sewer bills, the city attempted to assist its residents and the businesses inside its limits.
“I’ve always said change is going to happen, you can either sit back and let it happen or you can try and control where it’s going and that’s really what we did,” Mayor Joel Long said.
Long said city staff were already attempting to brainstorm new ideas to move the city forward when the pandemic hit.
“They shifted gears to help with the pandemic. I think that 2020 was a very nasty year but we handled it as well as anybody,” he said.
Wilson noted that there wasn’t an emergency preparedness plan for the events of 2020.
“We had to make it up as we went,” he said, noting that the plan has been placed in a binder for possible future use.
Wilson further spoke about the actions taken by staff and elected officials which helped along the way in 2020.
“You have a city council that welcomed the opportunity to do meetings, but do them in a public forum like on Facebook live and YouTube,” he said.
Wilson said that very few residents attended in-person meetings. “Now you can go on YouTube and see that more than a 100 people have viewed the recent council meeting,” he said. “Definitely council’s willingness to accept that challenge and embrace new technology is something the public reacted to positively because now we have a lot more people paying attention to their local government.”
The extra effort put into making life a little better for city residents was challenging, but Wilson said staff, elected officials and volunteers really stepped up.
“In order to do everything we could to support, and in some cases, try to save local businesses, we have city staff volunteering their time to make the farmer’s market to draw people into downtown,” he said. “And the same elected officials participated in that, volunteering their time.”
The Pedestrian Mall grew out of the city seeing a need for outdoor dining.
“When no restaurants could have people inside we spent city tax payer dollars to invest in picnic tables and flower pots and created an outdoor dining space for people and that grew into the Pedestrian Mall,” he said. “I think it shows that the people that were elected in this community and the people that they appoint and hire do value this community and we showed in a very hard year how hard we’re willing to work to make this community successful.”
Long said the pandemic and challenges in 2020 showed the resilience of the city, which saw a boom in new businesses downtown in recent months.
“I think that it shows that adversity breeds innovation,” he said. “We didn’t sit back and say ‘oh whoa was me’ we took action.”
With the COVID-19 vaccine now getting into the arms of citizens, Long hopes this means returning to a pre-pandemic world isn’t too far away.
“It feels like there’s light at the end of the tunnel which gives hope. It’s very relieving knowing that there’s a timeframe that things can start to get somewhat back to normal,” he said. “If we can get more vaccine here and more people vaccinated, the better and we can start feeling like we’re a community again.”
Beyond the pandemic, city officials have been busy implementing and making plans to focus on three core beliefs: accountability, sustainability and accessibility.
Among these plans for improvement is the city’s aging stormwater infrastructure.
“Stormwater infrastructure will continue to be a focus this year, not only in projects but exploring an equitable stormwater management fee to help support the replacement of this aged-out system,” Wilson said.
City council recently improved a five year update to Sunset Pine’s non-existent stormwater management system. The city’s public works crew is also continuing to find and repair leaks in the water system.
The city will also take on multiple large paving projects in 2021 including paving East Water Street from North Jay to the city line and both Spring and Fourths streets following the new Geisinger Medical facilities completion.
In an effort to ensure residents, both new and old, are up to date on pertinent ordinances city staff have begun handing out “Good Neighbor Guides.” These door hanger guides provide a list of the ordinances which pertain most to residents including grass and snow removal, pets, sidewalks and swimming pools.
Council has also continued its mission to get some properties back on the tax roll, including the sale of 2 E. Walnut St. – the former city public works building — to VASAS, Inc. The company intends to build a restaurant at the location. The city’s redevelopment authority is also continuing to look into options for the former Wolf’s Furniture/Town Tavern properties at 37-55 Bellefonte Ave.
In 2020, city council approved sending a grant application that, if approved, would assist in the rehabilitation of Fallon Alley from East Main to the Water Street parking lot.
Although 2020 proved to be a difficult year, city staff and its elected officials are continuing to look forward.
Lock Haven City Hall
20 E. Church Street
Lock Haven, PA 17745