The message of the Huntingdon County Commissioners was working together at the annual State of the County Coffee Connection at the Huntingdon Country Club Wednesday morning as they discussed accomplishments in 2018 and goals for 2019.

Commissioner and chair Mark Sather said this board of commissioners works well together and they come together to “solve problems and overcome obstacles.”

“I like to compare it to rowing,” said Sather. “If everyone had their oars on the starboard side or on the port side, they would be rowing in circle and not accomplishing anything. This board does work well together and obstacles can be overcome.”

Sather also discussed how the economy is growing in the county, citing the growth of businesses like ACPi Products and Curbs Plus Inc. in Mount Union.

“Our unemployment rate ended in 2018 with 5.2 percent, which is lower than the 5.9 percent we saw in 2017,” he said. “In June, the county’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, which was only slightly higher than the state rate of 4.1 percent.

“CareerLink continues to operate and they report they have 70-plus job postings every month,” Sather added. “ACPi continues to expand its workforce. In 2017, they had 78 employees, and today, they have 160 employees. They’re still looking to add additional employees. That’s a success story.”

Other signs of economic growth Sather noted included K&L Plating, which is set to open soon on Fairgrounds Road in Smithfield Township, as well as the expansion of N.E. Reihart & Sons as well as small businesses in the county.

Scott Walls discussed 911 upgrades and how agencies worked together to bring that project to fruition.

“Work began in late 2017 and was completed in 2018,” Walls added. “Initial testing began last summer and we went live last fall. We have to extend special thanks to Valley Rural Electric Cooperative and state police for being community partners to the county. Valley Rural allowed us to access the site on Butler’s Knob that will help the Three Springs area, and that saved us $1,500. State police donated a tower site on top of Pine Grove Mountain.”

Walls also reflected on how the opioid crisis has impacted our county, and how that has put a strain on county resources in multiple departments.

“It’s a constant strain on the county budget,” he said. “We’ve seen increases in our jail population; it has a ripple effect on Children and Youth Services and the workload of the court system increases. Many of these offenders need public defender representation, and that’s paid for by county tax dollars.”

Walls also discussed specifically how the Huntingdon County Jail has been impacted by drug-related incidents.

“It has a significant impact on the jail population, not just with dealers and those addicted, but with related crimes,” he said. “In 2017, the court saw 3,657 cases, and 888 of them were criminal, and there were over 179 drug arrests in 2017. That affected the number of inmates that have to be housed by the county.

Commissioner Jeff Thomas noted the construction on parts of Route 22 in 2018, all of which were part of the Route 22 study done in 2012, and now they’re working to designate Routes 453 and 522 as part of the National Highway System.

“Those connect us to the major corridors of Interstates 99 and 76, so we go where we can make the projects happen,” said Thomas. “We submitted paperwork to the state to designate those routes as part of the National Highway System, and if approves, that approves the federal system to help complete improvements.”

He also acknowledged the formation of the Huntingdon County Rail Authority to analyze and consider acquiring rail spurs to open up job opportunities in the county.

Thomas also discussed grants that came into the county in 2018, including $500,000 for the Dirt and Gravel Road project, $1.2 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Funds for the 911 infrastructure upgrades as well as for the Huntingdon County Career and Technology Center, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission grant funds to fix the clock tower at the courthouse and more.

Sather discussed some economic progress in 2019, including the construction of Graystone Courts near Graystone Manor in Smithfield Township, the proposed plan of Rutters in Smithfield Township as well as other opportunities to partner with agencies, businesses and elected officials to make Huntingdon County better.

Walls said another goal of 2019 with the 911 system is work with the South Central Regional 911 Cooperative to provide redundancy within that cooperative and to share expenses and infrastructure.

Thomas said a county grant writer position was created to find more grant funds to bring in more revenue.

“This county grant writer will ask all county departments what their needs and fund funding out there,” he said. “We’re leaving too much money on the table because we don’t a designated county grant writer. It will start out as a part-time position, but hopefully move into a full-time position.”

He also acknowledged that Community Development Block Grant funds could be more difficult to receive in the county, but they working to fight that.

“The state wants to streamline funding so they only have to fund two or three large projects, but that could hurt small counties, so please lobby against that,” he said. “It may reduce their workload, but it won’t help our residents. I know that $40,000 for a small project in a small municipality would be like a $500,000 for a large municipality.”

The event, held by the Huntingdon County Chamber of Commerce, was sponsored by AristaCare at Huntingdon Park, Keller Engineers, Terrace Mountain Lodge and Hawn’s Bridge Recreation Area and Raystown Realty.

Kylie can be reached at khawn@huntingdondailynews.com.

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