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Clinton gov’t officials OK purchase of tower

LOCK HAVEN — Discussions surrounding a communication tower in western Clinton County lead to a split vote among the Clinton County Board of Commissioners.

During Thursday’s voting session, the board voted 2-1 in favor of an agreement between the county and three individuals for the purchase of a communication tower along Summerson Mountain Road near North Bend for $1,000,000.

The agreement would be between the county and Thomas F. Charles, Dennis L. Charles and Darla K. Zimmerman and include an easement and rights of access for maintenance purposed and utilities.

Purchasing the tower is part of the county’s ongoing project to upgrade its emergency services communication in the western part of the county to meet federal guidelines.

Commissioner Angela Harding, before voting against the purchase, offered her reasoning behind her decision. She prefaced that she was not against the improvement of communication equipment for the county’s emergency services.

“I want to be very clear that it is imperative that Clinton County government support emergency services, first responders and public safety. This is our responsibility and it’s one that I take very seriously,” she said.

However, Harding said she felt the purchase was rushed, with the grant to potentially cover the cost in questions.

“This tower and equipment purchase is in limbo as we are unsure whether or not we will be able to use a USDA grant for the purchase,” Harding said.

Chief Clerk Jann Meyers said the USDA grant has already been approved, however the question is whether “purchasing” the tower will qualify under the grant.

Harding said, while clarification for that grant is in the hands of the USDA and Senator Bob Casey’s office, there’s question on whether or not the county could potentially have to pay for the $1 million price tag out of its budget.

Board Chair Miles Kessinger said there are other grant possibilities to pay for the tower.

“I understand your concerns, I understand where you’re coming from. But this is a piece of vital equipment that emergency services needs for western Clinton County,” Kessinger said. “I understand what you say about grant money. But there are ways around that.”

Kessinger said the county could use another grant to purchase the tower.

“We’ve got the money secured through the grant for equipment purchases. So one way or the other, we can use this money somewhere and offset the cost of the tower,” he said. “At this point, that’s where I am and I’m prepared to go through with the purchase.”

Harding expressed her interest in whether or not that county would be able to lease the tower instead of purchase it.

“To my knowledge we have not inquired about holding a long-term lease like the two, possibly three tenants currently on the tower. In fact, I have not been given or had an opportunity to review the detailed long-term leases that we are adopting with the purchase of the tower. Nor am I 100% sure of the exact amount of rent being paid on those leases. This means we do not know the revenue that is currently or that will be indebted to the county long term,” she said.

“If the county would negotiate a long-term lease on this tower with an access easement included at $1,000 per month with a 5% increase each year for ten years, the total cost to the county would be just over $133,000,” she concluded.

Vice Chair Jeff Snyder, who voted in favor of the purchase, said in his discussions with the owner a possible lease wasn’t discussed.

“I don’t know that there was ever an opportunity for negotiation on any leasing,” he said. Snyder noted that a letter penned by county emergency services director, Andrew Kremser, sent to the board’s office, said there was a possibility they could lose the tower.

“In (the) letter written to us … there was a possibility that if the county did not purchase this tower, that we could lose it” which could mean a loss to the county, he said. “Not only in dollars but loss of the coverage in that area.”

Snyder added that the quick process to reach this agreement was due to “the family wanting to sell the tower quickly.”

“Unfortunately, sometimes things just don’t work out in the timeframe… the way we would like,” he said. “Under the circumstances, I think we’re doing what we have to do to protect the best interests of the coverage area.”

Another concern of Hardings was the potential cost to fix issues with the tower.

“The tower failed a professionally done structural integrity review in 2020. It’s not major, but it will cost several thousand dollars to repair it and bring it back to passing conditions,” she said.

According to Kremser, issues that could interfere with the tower’s ability to meet a threshold requirement.

“The structural issues are some minor issues located at two sections of cross braces,” he told The Express. “When towers are inspected, they must meet thresholds that surpass well beyond 100 percent weight capacity and stress.”

The tower purchased is one of eight used for the county’s department of emergency services. According to Kremser, seven are scattered throughout the county and one is located in Centre County.

He noted exact locations cannot be provided due to safety issues.

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