Recognizing the need to plan for growth and dealing with change, the Wayne County Commissioners have taken the extra step of facilitating working groups to implement the plan and accept input from the public. That program, called "Wayne Tomorrow," was described Sept. 23rd at a town meeting at the Hawley Senior Center, one of several that have been held across the county by the Commissioners.
Ideas or topics raised by audience members included finding existing business space here and there to help new entrepreneurs get started; concerns over flooding risk in Hawley; ways to assist new farmers; tax breaks to attract business and Hawley's good fortune at winning the Benjamin Moore paint contest.
Commissioner Chairman Brian Smith first gave an overview of Wayne County. He brought the glad news that Wayne County is in sound financial shape. "There are no big hammers waiting to drop," Smith said. "All bills are paid."
"Wayne Tomorrow" developed after the required 10-year update of the county comprehensive plan in 2010. That same year the Census results showed that the county population is declining. That raises concern, Smith said. With the great expanse of Wayne County- a 69 mile drive from top to bottom- they can handle moderate growth. Losing population, however, reduces the tax base. The recent national recession also impacted. There has been a downturn in subdivision applications, loss of manufacturers and less and less dairy farms.
Smith said that the County is fortunate to have a board of elected commissioners that are willing to work together, listen to each other although viewpoints may differ.
Comparing tax rates with nearby counties in northeast Pennsylvania, Wayne County enjoys the lowest. The three school districts- Wallenpaupack, Wayne Highlands and Western Wayne- have tax rates among the lowest in the state. This all points to a favorable environment to attract business, industry and commerce, as well as people who may want to move here, Smith stated.
••• Areas of focus
Commissioner Wendell Kay outlined the Wayne Tomorrow strategy for putting the 10-year plan in practice. An action committee was formed to define five keys areas they wish to pursue and identify threats and opportunities:
• Human Resources & Education
• Quality of Life
• Sustainable Communities
• Business & Economic Development.
Work groups were assembled to examine these. The Commissioners insisted that each group be inclusive in terms of where they live and whether resident or part-time, gender, age and economic status. They called for each group to balance needs, work and communicate well together, incorporate the concept of health whether it be in terms of lifestyle, environment, economy, etc., and that each group be tolerant.
Page 2 of 4 - Information has been gathered through presentations such as by the Wayne Memorial Health System and Wayne Library Alliance; surveys, Census data, studies of other communities and other means.
Several needs were identified.
• Expand communication. This includes in part, links to training providers and educational resources. Explore concepts of a "digital community" as a new generation rises adept to the developing waves of technology.
• Develop a Career Technical Center (CTC). This is seen as critical to train the labor force for modern job opportunities, transform the economy and increase opportunities for youth and adult students.
Kay noted that out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania, only three lack a CTC. They are Adams, Pike and Wayne. Each subgroup identified the need for a CTC. Vocational training and continuing education would be offered. Youth would be given the choice to return to Wayne County- having the skills to use here where business would develop to make use of our trained labor pool.
Smith later said that state funds were found to be lacking to help finance construction of a CTC. Chief Clerk Vicki Botjer added that a collaborative approach has been discussed, to share training resources at different locations.
Commissioner Jonathan Fritz further discussed the identified need for economic development. Retail and tourism are the two top employment sectors in Wayne County, and also offer the least in terms of salary. Fritz said we need to diversify our economy. He said we need a change in mindset that values diversity, is open to change and different characteristics of people.
He also reminded that we must embrace new ways of doing things. "We need to stay two years ahead of technology rather than five years behind."
Other identified needs concerned educational opportunities, health and wellness, natural assets and transportation.
Several things are already being done.
A Technology Committee is working on solutions to bring expanded access to high speed internet to consumers and business. The County is giving access to the PSP Radio System for affordable wireless internet in southern Wayne, with expansion being discussed.
Sterling Business and Technology Park has two lots in the back section leased, totaling 10 acres. Other lots are being marketed. The business park, along with Sterling Township, Western Wayne School District and the County have applied for Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) status. This would allow tax-free opportunities over a set number of years as an incentive for business and industry.
College opportunities have grown in Wayne County. Bachelors programs are available through the community college level.
Wayne Memorial Health System has completed its Community Needs Assessment and is partnering with the County and community groups to solve problems together.
Page 3 of 4 - Recently the County joined with community voices to call on legislators to halt a proposed state on-lot septic system regulation that would have severely hindered local economic growth. Dialogue is continuing between groups with different focus but sharing like goals.
Fritz stated that the County will maintain balanced, team approach and needs public participation.
••• Topics raised by public
Issues raised by the audience included…
• A man asked what the Commissioners' view was on the new CVS pharmacy project in Honesdale, and concerns over pedestrian safety at that location. Kay reminded that the Commissioners do not have the role to oversee municipal projects. The County Planning Department and Conservation District have input.
• Attorney Anthony Waldron, who is a part of the Wayne County Agricultural Land Preservation Board, mentioned the difficulty families wanting to farm have in obtaining land. Delaware Highlands Conservancy is looking at a land trust used elsewhere where farmland can be donated.
Commissioner Smith, who is a dairyman, urged the public to press their legislators to treat dairy as a business, and allow the price of milk paid to the producer to reflect the actual costs the farmer faces.
• Sue Currier, director of the Delaware Highland Conservancy, noted that Hawley businessman Henry Skier had provided them office space at a reduced rate. The Conservancy in turn offers space to the Downtown Hawley Partnership. She suggested that existing business space could be identified to provide a "low cost of entry" for new business. Commissioner Kay said that the County has been discussing the same concept.
• Grant Genzlinger asked the Commissioners if they could intercede with the state to set up a workshop with PennDOT and Hawley Borough over June 30th storm issues. A culvert under Route 6 was completely blocked with debris from the storm runoff, which led to heavy damage at his property, Settler's Inn (and a nearby residence). It has been three months, but the meeting has not taken place. Commissioner Kay assured that they would contact the Hawley mayor and PennDOT. Genzlinger said he is concerned about the next major storm if the problem is not corrected.
• Sue Currier, who is with Downtown Hawley Partnership, noted how thrilled they were that Hawley was picked by the Benjamin Moore paint contest to come and paint downtown business facades. She asked for ideas how the success may be promoted once the work is completed next year.
• Attorney Waldron also advised that a good tool to attract new business is to enact the Local Economic Revitalization Act (LERTA). This program allowed gradual deferment of taxes on new construction over a five year period. KOZ, on the other hand, temporarily eliminates the taxes completely on the parcel.
Page 4 of 4 - ••• Input welcome
The Wayne County Commissioners invited input from the public on Wayne Tomorrow and issues facing the county. Information is available online at www.co.wayne.pa.us/features. Input may be made by calling Chief Clerk Vicky Botjer at 570-253-3055 ext.. 4050, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.