Mercer County News
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2014

   Note: Newest reports are listed first and continue chronologically in the order they were submitted. Any ideas can be submitted to Public Information Officer Jeff Greenburg at jgreenburg@mcc.co.mercer.pa.us. 

 

  • S&P RAISES COUNTY CREDIT RATING 

MERCER – Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services recently raised its long-term rating and underlying rating on Mercer County ’s general obligation bonds one notch from “A Stable” to “A+ Stable.”

“We believe the county will likely maintain what we consider its strong budgetary flexibility and liquidity,” Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Linda Yip said in a release. “We also believe what we regard as the county’s strong management condition and good financial management practices and policies will likely allow it to maintain its sound operations and strong reserves.”

Mercer County Fiscal Administrator John Logan cited several key points to explain how the county earned the ratings upgrade:

·         Elected officials and department heads spend conservatively with a focus on delivering their services (and we recognize that there are more savings opportunities here as we continue to work toward minimizing costs in the future);

·         Commissioners have insisted on not filling vacant positions unless justified;

·         Commissioners are willing to raise taxes to meet the county’s debt service and programmatic obligations, but in most years meet rising costs in some areas by reducing costs in others;

·         Whenever possible the Commissioners have added to the county’s Operating Reserve Fund as protection against future significant costs;

·         Commissioners, particularly Matt McConnell, have talked aggressively with state funding sources (such as DPW) to improve their financial support of the programs we conduct for them.

I hope that not only will investors recognize this upgrade, but the residents and companies will recognize that Mercer County delivers outstanding opportunity and services while being cost conscious,” McConnell said.

Commissioner John Lechner agreed.

“A strong and fiscally solvent county government should also help attract new businesses to our area over the long run; and more development is the key to the ongoing return of prosperity to our county,” he said.

 

  • CONSERVATION DISTRICT SEEDLING SALE UNDER WAY  

It’s that time of year again; time to start thinking about your new and innovative landscaping ideas for your home and surrounding property.  The benefits from a yard properly landscaped are vast.  Did you know that if you properly landscape your lands, you increase the property value by 10 percent?!  By planting trees that increase shade such as various hardwoods and conifers, it lowers the temperature of the surrounding area.  This can eventually lead a lower electric bill because the air conditioner is not running 24/7 during the summer months. 

Trees, especially conifers, can actually lower the cost of heating in the winter.  If you plant these trees close to or adjacent to your house, it acts as a windbreak.  By acting as a windbreak, cutting winds are not able to creep into your home, causing you to turn up your heat to combat the cold.  Not only does landscaping help out economically, it’s also very important for surrounding wildlife.  You can plant native species that are flower or seed producing to attract wildlife and provide food for those organisms.  Not to mention that many of those plants that produce nuts and fruit are also enjoyed by people too. 

                Our 2014 seedling sale has a line-up of new seedlings and plants.  We offer two different berry packages: a berry bundle for $15 that has two red thornless raspberry and two kiwi gold raspberries & a blueberry bundle, $18, that has one blue ray and one friendship, each individually potted and expected to produce berries this year.  We offer seedlings in clusters of 6 same species plants for $8: white pine, blue spruce, eastern hemlock, and Norway spruce. 

If you are looking for smaller bundles of single species in clusters of 3, we have fraser fir, concolor fir, and douglas fir for $5/ bundle.  We also have sycamores and American hazelnuts in bundles of 3 for $8.  Try out some of our smaller bundles that include two single species: black elderberry ($6), bald cypress ($8), American cranberrybush ($4), American plum ($4), and osage orange ($4). 

Want to plant some native perennial flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, well be sure to purchase our 1 oz Ernest seed packets for $5; they have over 26 native flowers in them.  Be sure to check out our products for 2014 to enhance your backyard habitat.  We have hemlock American Kestrel boxes available for $25. 

We want to thank the woodshop at Lakeview High School for graciously constructing all of our boxes this year. We are also offering rain barrels again this year for $65; these are a great way to utilize rain water from gutters.  Be sure to order all your items today!!  Some items are selling out fast!  Orders must be placed by Friday, March 21! For more information, please call (724) 662-2242 to place your order today or visit www.mercercountycd.com

 

  • PETITION PACKETS AVAILABLE, PA DISTRICTS CHANGING  

Petition packets for candidates running for local precinct committee positions on the May 20 primary ballot will be available beginning February 12 at the Bureau of Elections in the Mercer County Courthouse. The first day to circulate those petitions is Feb. 18 and they must be filed no later than 4:30 p.m. March 11 with the Bureau of Elections. All other candidates should call the Pennsylvania Department of State at 717-787-5280 to access their packets, which must be filed in Harrisburg no later than March 11.

It is important for voters who are signing petitions for candidates running for State House seats in the 7th, 8th and 17th districts to remember they must sign for candidates based on the newly re-districted areas that will be in place beginning in 2015. Those voters will also see the new districts on their ballots this year.

Following is the geographic breakdown by race (for voting and signing petitions):

1. All of Mercer County continues to be in the 3rd Congressional District.
2. All of Mercer County continues to be in the 50th State Senate District.
3. The following municipalities are in the 7th State House District: Cities of Farrell, Hermitage and Sharon; Townships of Lackawannock, Pymatuning, Shenango, South Pymatuning and West Salem; and Boroughs of Clark, Greenville , Sharpsville, West Middlesex and Wheatland.
4. The following municipalities are in the 8th State House District: Townships of Coolspring, Deer Creek, Fairview, Findley, French Creek, Jackson, Lake, Liberty, Mill Creek, New Vernon, Perry, Pine, Sandy Creek, Sandy Lake, Springfield, Wolf Creek and Worth; and Boroughs of Fredonia, Grove City, Jackson Center, Mercer, New Lebanon, Sandy Lake, Sheakleyville and Stoneboro.
5. The following municipalities are in the 17th State House District: Townships of Delaware, East Lackawannock, Greene, Hempfield, Jefferson, Otter Creek, Salem , Sugar Grove and Wilmington ; and Borough of Jamestown.

Signers of petitions should also remember they can sign nomination petitions only for as many candidates for each office as they are permitted to vote. So if it’s a vote for one, they can sign only one candidate’s petition in that particular race. Signers must be registered voters and an enrolled member of the party and district referred to in the petition. And signers must personally complete each section of the line they are filling out, including printed name, signature, residence and date. Info: 724-662-7542.

 

  • PIGS AND PAINT: ONE SESSION CANVAS PAINTING SERIES  

            Are you looking for a way to break your cabin fever and get out of the house?  Do you want to explore your creative, artistic side through painting?  Well, come join Munnell Run Farm in conjunction with Lauren Sheridan, our newest guest artisan, in a program that highlights just that.  With a bachelor’s in art education and a master’s in education, she is fully equipped to teach you how to paint on an 11” X 14” canvas in her two and a half hour session on March 24.   Gerber Daisies will be your first painting in this new series.  No art experience is required. All materials provided. 

        This program will be held at Munnell Run Farm (753 Greenville Road, Mercer, PA 16137) which is located one mile outside the courthouse on Route 58 going towards Greenville.  You will see a sign with Munnell Run Farm on it; turn down that lane and follow the signs down to the “Pig Barn”, the last building on the left.  Note: It is the only red building on the farm. The program will start at 6:00 PM and end around 8:30 PM.  The cost for the program is $25 and we ask that you call and pre-register by March 17.  You can do so by calling (724) 662-2242 and asking for Jacqueline. 

 

  • DIVE INTO BLUE PLANET OF WATER  

                Come join the Mercer County Conservation District in conjunction with Munnell Run Farm on Thursday, February 20 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM for a free movie night highlighting one of the most valuable resources on our blue planet, water.  Come with us as we “dive into the Blue Planet and discover many amazing and diverse worlds full of life in living color”.  Please pre-register by February 19 by calling (724) 662- 2242 and asking for Jacqueline.  This program is free to the public and will be held in the “Pig Barn” at Munnell Run Farm which is located at: 753 Greenville Road , Mercer , PA 16137 .   We will have drinks and fresh popcorn available; all money donations received will go towards future environmental education programs and providing free movie nights like these. 

 

  • MUNNELL RUN OFFERS WAGON WHEEL RUG WEAVING  

Are you looking for a way to use old fabric or old material has been laying around the house?  Do you want to get back to your pioneer roots and live like the early settlers of America?  Well, come join Munnell Run Farm in conjunction with Cyndi Burk, owner of “The Nut House”, in a program that highlights just that.  Cyndi Burk is a very innovative and talented artisan who makes a plethora of beautiful pieces from rugs, to center pieces, to up-cycling old, unwanted materials.  Two different classes will be held to teach you how to make your own special wagon wheel rug.  What is that you might ask?  Back in the pioneer days, women travelling out west would take wagon wheels as a frame and make rugs within them.  They would use scrap material they had to weave beautiful rugs.  At this workshop, we will use circular frames in order to replicate the style of rugs made back then.

What exactly do you need to bring?  You need to bring 4 yards of fabric; 2 yards of one style/ pattern and 2 yards of another.  It is best to use any fabric but fleece or wool; they don’t tend to rip down as easily.  Don’t worry about ripping down your fabric until you get here.  Also bring a j hook if you have one.

  This program will be held at Munnell Run Farm (753 Greenville Road, Mercer, PA 16137) which is located one mile outside the courthouse on Route 58 going towards Greenville.  You will see a sign with Munnell Run Farm on it; turn down that lane and follow the signs down to the “Pig Barn”, the last building on the left.  Note: It is the only red building on the farm.

 The cost for the program is $30 and we ask that you call and pre-register.  You can do so by calling (724) 662- 2242 and asking for Jacqueline.  There are two different program dates available:  Tuesday, February 25 from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM and Wednesday, March 12 from 9:00 AM to Noon.  To pre-register for February 25, please call by Friday, February 21.  To pre-register for March 12, please call by Friday, March 7.

 

  • BAKER NAMED CORRECTION OFFICER OF THE YEAR  

(This story, recognizing Mercer County Jail correctional officer James L. Baker, was published by The Herald Newspaper in Sharon.)

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

MERCER COUNTY — That’s the wisdom of 29-year-old James L. Baker, a correctional officer at the Mercer County Jail honored by colleagues and supervisors as the 2013 Corrections Officer of the Year.

Baker, who is married with a family, said he’s always yearned for a career where he thought he could “make a difference in someone’s life” but admits that the job he has is nothing like the job he thought he was getting when he studied criminal justice at Penn State.

“One day I’m a mental health worker, a counselor and the next, I’m a bouncer, breaking up a fight,” he said. The situations he sees inside the jail are “things you wouldn’t expect on the outside. But I know that these are people just like me, but they’ve made a mistake. I try to treat everyone with respect,” he said.

And for that attitude, Baker’s work is appreciated by both his colleagues and supervisors. Warden Erna Craig said Baker “exemplifies what a corrections officer ought to be.”

Baker was honored at the county commissioners meeting last week and Commissioner Chairman John Lechner, who was also in law enforcement at one time, said he thinks it  “says a lot” that Baker’s co-workers and supervisors voted unanimously to give him the award.

“That speaks to his character and the kind of person he is and we’re happy to have someone of that caliber working in our jail,” Lechner said.

Baker usually works the afternoon shift, a turn that he thinks is often the busiest. “Everybody’s up and awake and doing their thing,” he said.

Although he treats the inmates with respect, he doesn’t befriend anyone incarcerated, because he’s not allowed. “But I will say we sort of have an understanding, a mutual respect, I guess. You have to have that, to do this job. That allows us to resolve conflicts without getting physical,” he said.

With an inmate population that averages about 250 daily, Baker said his role has been different every day in the five years he’s been there. He works with the male population, he said, and sees the main components of his job as “care, custody and control.”

“My main priority is safety. Not just for the workers but for the inmates too. Sometimes protecting them from other inmates,” he added. Cells are double occupancy and on occasion, fights break out. “But we’re real quick to break those up,” he said.

Baker said he very much appreciates the award and said he thinks it was given to him for his general work ethic. “I’m very proud to work there and of my work. It’s my way of keeping people safe and providing for my family,” he said.

A proclamation presented to Baker cites his “display of exemplary performance in his duties with outstanding work ethics. He is vigilant and detail oriented. He carries great respect for his superiors and co-workers. He is highly professional. He is an initiator and requires little, if any, supervision. He is considered a fair and honest individual and is very loyal to the prison operations.”

As far as his future, Baker said he’d like to stay at the jail, but hopes to advance to a higher rank with more responsibility. When he’s not working, he likes to spend time with his family and hunt and fish.

 

  • MERCER COUNTY ELECTION SURVIVAL GUIDE '14 ... 

… OR (ALMOST) EVERYTHING AN INFORMED VOTER NEEDS TO KNOW!

 ELECTIONS

1.      Election Dates:

a.       Primary – May 20, 2014

b.      General – November 4, 2014

2.      Voting Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

3.      Key word: PATIENCE

4.      Educate yourself as to what offices are on the ballot. This year you will see the following:

a.       Federal races: U.S. Representative

b.      Statewide races: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Senator in the General Assembly and Representative in the General Assembly

c.       Countywide races: Member of the State Democratic and Republican Committees (winners decided in primary).

d.      Precinct-level races: Democratic and Republican Committeeman and Committeewoman (winners decided in primary).

5.      Redistricting or re-apportionment occurred at the federal and state levels and will affect voters’ ballots in many precincts.

a.       As in 2012, all of Mercer County will vote in the 3rd Congressional District.

b.      All of Mercer County will continue to vote in the 50th State Senate District.

c.       There were many changes to the State House Districts in the county.

                                          i.      The following municipalities vote in the 7th State House District: Cities of Farrell, Hermitage and Sharon; Townships of Lackawannock, Pymatuning, Shenango, South Pymatuning and West Salem; and Boroughs of Clark, Greenville , Sharpsville, West Middlesex and Wheatland.

                                          ii.      The following municipalities vote in the 8th State House District: Townships of Coolspring, Deer Creek, Fairview, Findley, French Creek, Jackson, Lake, Liberty, Mill Creek, New Vernon, Perry, Pine, Sandy Creek, Sandy Lake, Springfield, Wolf Creek and Worth; and Boroughs of Fredonia, Grove City, Jackson Center, Mercer, New Lebanon, Sandy Lake, Sheakleyville and Stoneboro.

                                         iii.      The following municipalities vote in the 17th State House District: Townships of Delaware, East Lackawannock, Greene, Hempfield, Jefferson, Otter Creek, Salem , Sugar Grove and Wilmington ; and Borough of Jamestown.

6.      Voter ID: The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania struck down in January the in-person photo identification portion of the Voter ID Law that was passed by the General Assembly in 2012 that would require all voters to show some form of photo ID at the polls. Those voting for the first time in a new precinct, however, are required to show some form of ID, but it can be anyone of a dozen valid photo or non-photo IDs under the current law.

7.      Haven’t used the county’s touch screen voting system before? No problem. A voting tutorial is linked at the county’s Web site at www.mcc.co.mercer.pa.us. Click on Voter Registration/Elections and then link to View ESS iVotronic. Or visit the election office at the courthouse for an opportunity to get your hands on a machine.

8.      Expect lines at certain times of the day, especially first thing in the morning, around lunch time and then after dinner. The shortest waits usually occur mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

9.      Pennsylvania law allows candidates and campaigners to electioneer, pass out campaign materials and talk to you as long as they are 10 feet from the polling room. There is nothing, however, that requires you to answer them or take their materials. But if you do take any campaign literature, DO NOT leave it in the polling place. You MUST have a clear path to the polling room and if you believe campaigners are impeding or blocking that path, please inform a poll worker.

10.  Mercer County voters are permitted to wear political attire into the polling place. Voters cannot, however, do or say anything beyond simply wearing the item or they will be asked to leave. Poll workers and poll watchers are not permitted to wear political attire.

11.  ALL voters in line at 8 p.m. – even if that line stretches outside the building and down the street – are permitted by law to vote. If you are NOT in line at 8 p.m. when the Judge of Elections announces the polls are closed, you are NOT allowed to vote. The Judge should assign a poll worker to mark the last person who was IN LINE at 8 p.m.

12.  Election returns will be posted as they arrive at the courthouse on the county’s Web site at www.mcc.co.mercer.pa.us.

PETITION INFORMATION FOR CANDIDATES

13.  The first day to circulate and file a petition for Republicans and Democrats is Feb. 18, 2014. The last day to circulate and file a petition is March 11, 2014. Packets for local candidates will be available in the county’s election office beginning Feb. 12, 2014. Only committee candidates will pick up packets at the Mercer County Courthouse. All others will need to get them from the Department of State in Harrisburg and file them there.

14.  The first day to circulate and file nominating papers for minor party and independent candidates is March 12, 2014. The last day to circulate and file nominating papers is Aug.  1, 2014. Packets for those candidates will be available from the Department of State in Harrisburg and must be filed there.  

VOTER REGISTRATION

15.  Voter Registration Deadlines:

a.       Primary – April 21, 2014

b.      General – October 6, 2014

16.  If you have moved since you last voted, you need to register at your current address. If your name has changed as a result of marital status or some other reason, you need to register under your new name.

17.  If you haven’t voted in more than five years, there is a good chance your voting status has been made inactive or canceled. If you are inactive, you can vote but you are required to show a proper form of identification and sign an affirmation.

18.  If you have been canceled, you must register again.

19.  If you have any question about your voting status, it’s worth the time needed to check on it. Stop in the election office at the courthouse or call us at 724-662-7542. Our hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.  

ABSENTEE BALLOTS

20.  If you are going to be out of the precinct on Election Day or you have an illness or disability that prevents you from going to the polls, you can vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballot applications are available at most post offices, municipal buildings and libraries in the county, as well as online at the county’s Web site or by calling the election office.

21.  The deadline to apply for a regular absentee ballot for the primary is May 13, 2014, and the ballot must be returned to the election office by 5 p.m. May 16, 2014.

22.  The deadline to apply for a regular absentee ballot for the general election is Oct. 28, 2014, and the ballot must be returned to the election office by 5 p.m. Oct. 31, 2014.

 POLLING PLACES

23.  You can check your polling place location online at the county’s Web site: www.mcc.co.mercer.pa.us. Click on Voter Registration/Elections at left and look for a link to polling locations. There are also precinct maps.

 

  • DA UPDATE ON CRASH CASE

Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems announced Tuesday that the Commonwealth had received DNA reports back from the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Labs on the initial 12 major pieces of evidence submitted to the lab for DNA testing related to the murder of Mr. Frank Crash. Based on the reported results, the Hempfield Township Police assisted by the Pennsylvania State Police and Detectives from the District Attorney’s office are moving forward in their investigation of Mr. Crash’s murder.  

It should be noted that the Commonwealth is only able to submit 12 major pieces of evidence to the lab for DNA testing and we started with over 90 pieces for submission. Officers therefore are also meeting with lab technicians in Erie to choose and have prepared our next submission. Based on the length of time this process has already taken, we are not expecting new DNA results in the near future; however, the current investigation could be resolved without those results at any time. The District Attorney and police agencies have nothing to add to this release at this time and will not be accepting questions.

 

  • CABIN FEVER ESCAPE

Come join the Mercer County Conservation District on a leisurely wintry walk through our wetlands trail system on Saturday, February 8 from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM.  You will have the opportunity to be exposed to a wide array of wildlife, either by sight or by tracks.  Be sure to bring your camera, binoculars, layered clothing, and boots in order to make this experience optimal. We will introduce you to our newly established wildlife area and we will explore the lives of the critters that call this area home.  Please pre-register by Friday, February 7; you can do so by calling (724) 662- 2242 and asking for Jacqueline or Chris.  This program is $5 per person.  Families over 5, have a reduced rate of $20.  We will meet at the “Pig Barn” at Munnell Run Farm which is located at: 24 Avalon Court Suite 300 , Mercer , PA 16137 .   

 

  •   FEEDING AND ATTRACING WINTER BIRDS

Come join the Mercer County Conservation District on a program designed to teach you about the many birds that call “PA” home during the winter.  This program will be held on Thursday, January 30 from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM.  Come join us as we take you through a pictorial journey of the many birds and their sounds that reside here in winter.  We will also introduce you to the many types of seed and the birds that prefer them.  Please pre-register by Tuesday, January 28.   You can do so by calling (724) 662- 2242 and asking for Jacqueline or Chris.  This program is $5 per person.  Families over 5, have a reduced rate of $20.  We will meet at the “Pig Barn” at Munnell Run Farm which is located at: 753 Greenville Road , Mercer , PA 16137 .   

 

  •     NIKOLOFF EARNS STATEWIDE HONOR

Rand Nikoloff, Mercer County Domestic Relations Section Director, is this year's recipient of the Robert S. Stewart Award. It was given to him recently while attending the 46th Annual Domestic Relations Association of Pennsylvania Conference.  This award was established in 1976 and is presented to the person who exemplifies the ideas established by Robert S. Stewart, the first Pennsylvania DRS Director, in the pursuit of collecting support for children of Pennsylvania .

This award is the highest given by DRAP to those persons whose achievements have won the admiration and respect of child support workers throughout Pennsylvania . DRAP (www.d-r-a-p.org) is a non-profit corporation composed of Child Support professionals dedicated to improving child support services in Pennsylvania .  The association has over 1,400 members with representatives from each of the 67 county Domestic Relations Sections (DRS) or Family Courts, and the state Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE).

Nikoloff, a native of Harrisburg who resides in Grove City , has served as the Director of the Mercer County DRS since March 1993, having come into the child support field as Assistant Director in 1990 after a 15-year career with the county's Juvenile Probation Office (JPO). A 1975 graduate of Grove City College with a B.A. in Sociology, Mr. Nikoloff returned to school and obtained a Master's Degree in the Administration of Justice from Shippensburg University in 1984.

Elected to the Domestic Relations Board of Directors in 1993, Mr. Nikoloff has served on a variety of committees, including the DRAP Advisory Committee, Legislation Committee, Supreme Court Rules Committee, and the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System (PACSES) Advisory Committee (PAC). While chairing the Legislation Committee, Mr. Nikoloff had the opportunity to testify on behalf of DRAP before the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Nikoloff served as DRAP President during a vital period from 2008-2010 for both DRAP and DRS's statewide. During this time, the current Cooperative Agreement was being negotiated which is an intergovernmental agreement between the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW), the DRS's of the Court of Common Pleas and County Commissioners. This agreement outlines the roles and responsibilities as a DRS and defines DRAP's role/relationship within the child support arena moving forward for the next five years. He also was among four individuals who evaluated the New Jersey state child support computer system as groundwork for a feasibility study that served as the first step in updating the state PACSES system.

Mr. Nikoloff continues to serve DRAP and Mercer County . Currently, the Mercer County DRS collects 83.59% of all monthly support ordered and collects past due support from 82.39% of all cases. These percentages exceed the federal standard or milestone of 80% set for these measures. During the 2012 Federal Fiscal Year, the Mercer County DRS collected a total of $14.2 million for the support of families throughout the county.

Mr. Nikoloff's efforts during his tenure as Director along with the collective energies of those who have worked beside him throughout the years resulted in achievements never before seen in the collection of support and without question has significantly impacted families not just within Mercer County but also throughout the Commonwealth.