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State of the County

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Commissioner Ben Kafferlin presents a “State of the County” speech during Monday’s work session at the Warren County Courthouse.

Warren County Commissioner Ben Kafferlin presented the “State of the County” during Monday’s work session.

He said the purpose is “primary to raise awareness” on “three crises that I see brewing in the county” as well as take a look back at 2018 and forward to 2019 “mainly so the constituents of Warren County know what they’re getting for their tax dollars.”

Kafferlin noted that the county “accomplished much in the last year. Like all counties, we face our unique challenges and barriers.”

He identified three – pre-hospital care, socioeconomic issues and behavioral health issues.

On pre-hospital care, Kafferlin said the county “took a great step in the last year” with “upgraded radio systems.

“In short, by the end of 2019 we should be Next Gen 911 capable. For a small, rural county, that is unheard of.”

Kafferlin stated that “we do know that almost half of all 911 calls for EMS are unanswered in the first 10 minutes. The system is close to being broken.” He advocated for the county “to step in” and “provide any help we can.”

“One of the main things I’m calling for within EMS agencies (is to) take the ideas that they have come up with… and implement some of it” with county capital and resources in support.

In the socioeconomic realm, Kafferlin said that the county is “heading toward a very uncomfortable economic position…. We are out pacing other counties in losing population.”

He said that low unemployment and declining population result in a “bad set up for any business to move here” and highlighted the importance moving forward of the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College and a proposed county marketing director. He discussed specifically trying to recruit veterans and outdoor recreation enthusiasts who may want to move to the county.

“The one thing I hear holding them back is broadband,” he said, indicating that is “one of the main things the county needs to press and move on (as it is) holding people back from moving here.”

The third “crisis” he identified is what he called “behavioral health.”

He said the county should explore “social impact bonds,” essentially public-private partnerships where non-governmental organizations perform tasks “local government has been trying to do but failed.”

Specifically speaking on inmate recidivism, “if we partner with local churches and other non-profits… (the) county can increase effectiveness, creating (a) relationship bond between the county and people that need services.”

He spoke about the importance of not “just throwing them on to the street” and instead “find better ways to support them and keep them out of jail.”

Looking back at 2018, Kafferlin said community service hours completed by inmates rose from 583 in 2017 to 2,835 in 2019, the 911 center processed 1,500 more calls and there are now 1,000 more registered voters than a few years ago.

“The cost of county government is almost purely a function of the crime rate,” he said. “Our county, we ask our departments to just shoulder the extra work and tend not to increase their budget.” He said he wanted to “applaud” the departments but speculated that the county “might be at a breaking point” of what the departments are asked to do.

Looking ahead to 2019, Kafferlin said “it’s key to focus on completion of the Innovault co-working space” which could “revitalize our economic future.” In that vein, he also proposed starting a small business micro-loan program and entrepreneurship training.

He said a county think-tank also called for a Boys and Girls Club as a resource in the county, spoke about housing and services for the intellectually disabled and highlighted upcoming renovations to the courthouse.

Kafferlin said the county in 2019 will also be working on a bicentennial celebration, implementing new fiscal software and replacing – or preparing to replace – election machines.

He explained that a “couple of key positions… could really help,” including an independent living coordinator “for adults who need help with day-to-day living” as well as a mental health case management position that would focus on conducting family focus groups.

The county, Kafferlin said, will also have a role in the 2020 census and spoke about the importance of participating in that process.

“If we don’t have accurate numbers,” he said, “(we are) not going to get a lot of the federal funding that we need.”

Commissioner Jeff Eggleston thanked county staff “for the work they have done. The county is poised to do some really fantastic things. I know it hasn’t been easy with a lot of the political stuff that goes on…. We really can’t say enough about the staff here.”

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