‘Money is tight’
HUGHESVILLE – The Hughesville Fire Hall was the last stop for Representative Garth Everett during a series of four Town Hall Meetings within his legislative district that began in Antes Fort on January 17. Geographically, Everett told the crowd of close to 75 on Thursday night, January 31st, that his district is one of the largest, but one of the smallest per population. This is his sixth term representing the 84th district of the Commonwealth. The state is very diverse he explained. For example, one representative will only cover 2.4 miles in a district but with a much larger constituency base than here. “Their world and our culture is a lot different than ours,” Everett said. “It’s a real challenge for us to get together in the state. I enjoy representing small town country PA in Harrisburg.”
“We are starting a brand new session. Past bills that were started are gone and now we are starting a new slate.” Everett has introduced six bills and will be serving on two new committees this year. Two committees that he is very involved in include Environment and Energy which is Marcellus related, and the PA Rural Game and Fish Commission. An avid outdoors man, he is also involved with the Chesapeake Bay Commission and spends specific studies on legislation that impacts rural Pennsylvania. He would like to see more property owners in rural areas have access to the natural gas. Up to now, it has not been economically viable to install pipelines in rural PA. “Some lines are installed on Main Streets, but not on side streets,” he said. It is the farms versus the boroughs. “We are working out angles to tap into these main gas lines.”
The deficit is another big concern explained Everett as taxes make up most of PA’s revenue. “Table games go to a general fund, slots go to tax relief. When the economy is down, the funds get smaller.” Education makes up the largest expense which he demonstrated through a graph showing 40 percent. There is no more Rainy Day Fund! “There are more demands now on the budget without increasing any funding,” he added.
Everett will be in Harrisburg this week working on legislation for the budget. One of the bills he introduced is to have drug testing for welfare recipients. “The welfare budget is probably near and dear to someone you are related to,” he said. He feels that spending on welfare is becoming larger due to rising health care, long term care, disability needs and health care spending through medicare and medicaid. Based on a study 3 years ago, one half billion goes to those who deserve this safety net according to Everett, who clearly stated that his intentions are for those who really deserve it.
After Everett introduced his new legislation, much discussion in the audience came about on regulating the gas industry, mainly from residents on Green Valley Road in Moreland Township which has now caused a major safety and hazardous problem. Tom Crawley stated that there is gas migration and tainted wells and there has been little success through DEP. Everett admitted that he, himself, is getting little cooperation with the organization and wants to introduce a “legislative fix.” It is a real problem now because the area is under methane migration on private water supplies according to Crawley. Range Resources is believed to be the reason. “I don’t think there is going to be a meeting of the minds,” said Crawley from Moreland Township. Another neighbor said that residents who live on Green Valley Road are often forced off the side of the road when the full size trucks come by, and is seeking improvements for widening the road as soon as possible.
In the meantime, 10 percent of the 205 million that was allocated to Pennsylvania from the impact fee, came back to Lycoming County. Everett assured that these funds will be put to direct use. One of the areas they are looking at is the intersection in Hughesvillle where Routess 220 and 405 meet. “It is an intersection that needs fixed,” he said based on a traffic study and discussions with affected property owners. Other areas of concern are in downtown Muncy where they are looking at improving the traffic signals. It is a challenge since the cost of purchasing just one traffic light exceeds $220,000. “The study itself was $250,000, just to figure out what to do!” exclaimed Everett.
Other concerns questioned included drilling on state game lands. Although permits are already issued through DEP and the PA Game Commission, Everett replied that some regulations have been in place since 1880. “It is my job to see that these developments are done in a responsible manner.”
Jack McCoy from Pennsdale asked about revenue from casinos and why most of it was going to the Scranton area. Everett said that we used this precedence to help obtain fees from the Marcellus impact fees. These fees come to us from Act 13.
Ralph Kisberg from the area’s Responsible Drilling Alliance expressed concern over local contractors and the threat of water safety from the gas drilling. Property owners will be affected by DEP’s lack of surveillance. “The gas companies carry too much power,” said Kisberg. Everett said he doesn’t like what they are doing because the companies have “too much sway in the whole process.” He added that a system needs to be in place where DEP takes care of this, so you aren’t waiting forever when your water is being impaired. DEP should fix the problem, take the energy company to court and get their money back.”
Alison Rupert said she lives 1200 feet from a compressor station and she is “scared to death” because based on a study she read, 300 percent of nitrous oxide is being released into the atmosphere.
Dick Bradley from the East Lycoming School Board and Superintendent, Michael Pawlik spoke out on cyber and charter schools. “Where is that money going?” they wanted to know. In the East Lycoming School district there are 45 students in cyber schools, most of them truancy cases. Forty percent of these students never return to the classroom and taxpayers have to cover their expense. As former solicitor for ELSD Everett said he will sponsor the bill and get it going. “Cyber schools aren’t a bad thing,” he said, “they’re just out of control. Sullivan County is getting crushed.”
Other discussions followed on underfunding of pensions, mandated unions, reducing legislature staff, privatizing the lottery, raising turnpike tolls, issuing cost of living raises, enforcing background checks for gun control, eliminating ‘do not call’ lists, weight limit restrictions on area roads, and the future of healthcare.