Focus on Funding: Governor’s ‘Cabinet in Your Community’ Event Held in Franklin

| August 31, 2018

FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – The issue of funding for fire companies and EMS organizations led the discussion at the Governor’s “Cabinet in Your Community” event held on Thursday morning at the Barrow-Civic Theatre in Franklin.

(Pictured, left to right: Secretaries Cindy Dunn, Teresa Miller, Teresa Osborne, and Leslie Richards)

The “Cabinet in Your Community” events are designed to give citizens the opportunity to talk with cabinet secretaries and discuss issues important to their local area.

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Dunn; Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa D. Miller; Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne; and Department of Transportation Secretary Leslie S. Richards represented the Governor’s Cabinet.

State Senator Scott Hutchinson, Representative Lee James, and Representative Donna Oberlander were also in attendance, as well as representatives from Senator Toomey’s office and Congressman Glenn Thompson’s office, along with other county and local elected officials.

Several community members also attended the event.

It stemmed from a new initiative by the governor to provide a platform for engagement between the cabinet and local community members throughout the Commonwealth that was launched in November.

“The Governor believes it is vital for the state to really hear from communities and really understand what is going on in each community and find out how we can support you and allow everyone to feel connected to Harrisburg,” said Julie Slomski, Director of the Governor’s Northwest Regional Office.

Following the opening introductions of each of the cabinet members, they each took a moment to give those in attendance an overview of some of their respective departments’ main focuses at the present time, ranging from the role outdoor recreation plays in Pennsylvania’s economy to how the PennDOT Connects Program is changing how the Department of Transportation handles projects.

One of the major issues that surfaced several times during the question, answer, and suggestion portion of the event was the issue of funding and finding volunteers facing many volunteer fire companies and EMS organizations.

The issue was first raised by Butler County Commissioner Kevin Boozel, who is an active firefighter and EMT in Butler County.

“Our equipment is dying, and we don’t have the funds to keep that going or the manpower to keep it going,” Commissioner Boozel said.

“I can tell you that this is not your issue, but I can tell you that it does impact you, so I’m asking for your help getting that across.”

“We’re in danger of closing two EMS providers in Butler County from bankruptcy.”

Secretary Richards responded about a new management efficiency program that addresses the situation.

“We just kicked off officially, it’s called Penn TIME, and it’s about traffic incident management efficiency, that’s what ‘TIME’ refers to, and we’re looking at exactly the topics you mentioned,” explained Richards.

According to Secretary Miller, the General Assembly passed an increase in reimbursement from Medicaid for EMS services.

Secretary Dunn added, “We do have a small grant program for wildland firefighting that can help local fire departments with various equipment.”

Nancy K. Freenock, City Manager for the City of Warren, approached the issue from a different angle, relating that residents in various townships outside the Warren city limits depend on Warren’s career fire and EMS department. Consequently, the lack of volunteerism often has Warren’s EMS providers outside the city handling calls, leaving them unavailable for calls that come up inside the city.

On a related issue, regarding a question about a possible per capita fee for state police coverage of townships or municipalities without their own police force, Secretary Richards explained that changes in funding have left a “gap” in the funds needed for state police coverage, while many rural areas are unable to support their own police forces, creating an increased burden on the PSP.

“They were looking for a way for townships and boroughs that currently do not have law enforcement. Right now, they are able to request state police law enforcement at no cost to them,” explained Richards.

“It’s putting increased burdens on our state police, because they have to cover wider areas, and there’s a cost to it. It’s not free for them to provide those services, so the governor proposed, in his budget, a $25 per capita fee, which I think is a fantastic bargain, considering in my township it was a $300 and that’s average, for many townships and boroughs, what that pay per person, for law enforcement, to help the State Police provide those services and to get paid for the services their providing.”

“That did not pass in the last two years. It has been presented both years. I don’t know what the chances of it passing this year, but they do have to figure out how to fill that gap on the general fund,” continued Richards.

Venango County Commissioner Chip Abramovic asked Secretary Richards for an explanation of the PennDOT Connects Program.

“What I was asking our teams to do is actually go out there before you put any type of drawing on paper to find out what’s important to the community,” said Secretary Richards.

“We’re looking at comp plans, many of our communities have put a lot of time into putting together what they want their community to look like, what is important to them. We’re looking at open space plans, we’re looking at economic development plans. We’re seeing where businesses are relocating or moving into this area.”

We’re seeing, again, where trucking and freight is important to businesses in an area. We’re seeing where flooding is an issue. What is important to the quality of life? Why do people choose to live there and why do they like living there? What are their concerns? And then seeing how can we best design our project to fit into those community goals.”

A question from a local mental health provider questioned how the state is going to improve waiting time for psychological evaluations and the crisis in psychological care in Pennsylvania.

“Accessing psychologists and psychiatrists, I think, is not just an issue in this are, it’s not just an issue in Pennsylvania, I think this is an issue throughout the country,” Secretary Miller said.

“I think one of the things we’ve been working on, and I hear about, is sort of telehealth, and whether that can increase access. I think that is one of the issues DHS has been working on in conjunction with the Department of Health and other agencies as well, as well as the governor’s office, to figure out how can we make telehealth more available.”

Other topics discussed included the need for better rural internet coverage, the need for recreational ATV trails, ways the Department of Aging is helping older Pennsylvanians remain in their homes, updates on long-term managed care pilot programs, and how the state is currently handling both the tick population and black fly population problems.

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