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County Hall Corner: Last Call – 2023 is Departing

This marks my eighth year of covering county government, and I am being very honest in saying that I enjoyed this year above them all. I am a person who likes to focus on the positives and not just dwell on the negatives, and there were many positives for the county in this past year.

In June, the county completed the innovative bridge bundling program, which took a lot of energy to get off the ground, but ultimately dealt with 17 different bridges throughout the county that were considered structurally deficient. The municipalities in which these bridges were located also had to pitch in, but without the county’s help, it was very, very doubtful this would have been accomplished. This idea was so innovative that other PA counties have taken note and are considering doing the same. A big hats off to a number of folks in the Lycoming County Planning & Community Development Department who helped pull off this exceedingly inventive initiative.

In October, Lycoming County Coroner Chuck Kiessling found that after a decade and a half of complaining, you can finally get your wish. The reasons that it took so very, very, very long to finally find a home for the operations of the county coroner would more likely take a book to explain rather than a paragraph or two that I have here. But suffice to say that the coroner is one of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals that Lycoming County employs and this new facility is truly a godsend for everyone involved.

There were troubles as well, such as two fires in June at the county landfill in the space of a week. Landfill fires are extremely dangerous as they can literally burn for years and even decades. The fact that they were extinguished so quickly is a great tribute to the landfill staff themselves and the 14 local fire companies that so quickly responded. Few people are aware that the landfill works very closely with these local fire companies to prepare for just such emergencies. Hats off to Director Jason Yorks, Chief Training & Risk Management Officer Al Little at the Lycoming County Resource Management Services, and those local volunteer fire companies that do so much and get so little recognition for it.

One of the year’s biggest events was the awarding of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) Funds, which took place right at the beginning of the year. The county had $22 million they could dispense, and they received $78 million in requests, which meant the commissioners were definitely going to disturb a lot of people by their choice of where the money would go.

They had decided on the front end to focus exclusively on projects that were “generational,” meaning projects that would still be used by future generations. They also went the second and third mile to ensure they gave everyone a fair chance. Even US Senator Bob Casey Jr. recognized this. When he visited Williamsport in January while doing a road trip around the Commonwealth to inquire of the various county governments how they were planning on spending their ARPA funds that he had voted for in Congress, he was truly impressed by what he saw here. Senator Casey told the three commissioners that their diligence and project design should be a model for the entire state.

The three commissioners, Scott Metzger, Tony Mussare, and Rick Mirabito have done a lot for our county these past four years. Scott Metzger took the place of Jack McKernan in 2020 and also the presidency of the board and will continue in that capacity in the coming years. His experience and stability will be greatly needed as the county is losing two very experienced and dedicated individuals.

We will miss Commissioners Tony Mussare and Rick Mirabito for their service in a very demanding position since 2016. Being of opposite parties, they were certainly not on the same page one hundred percent of the time. In fact, I remember once at a meeting in 2017, the two of them went back and forth for almost an hour over an issue relating to the hotel tax fees. Yet, behind the scenes, I knew that all three of these commissioners had respect for each other, and though they obviously did not agree on everything, they were open to listening and learning from one another.

Rick Mirabito had been a Pennsylvania state representative, and his knowledge of how that body worked in Harrisburg was very helpful several times. Tony Mussare runs a store in Williamsport and understands the stress and strain of small businesses and also how important these are to a community such as we have in Lycoming County. The insights from both men were often used and were often helpful.

So, as 2023 fades away and we say goodbye to Rick and Tony, we can thank them greatly for leaving their office better than where they found it. And as we welcome the new year, we wish the very best success for the newly elected commissioners, Republican Marc Sortman and Democrat Mark Mussina. May they approach their public office with unwavering diligence and integrity, display a dedication to the entire county community, and possess a desire to leave a legacy of excellence that would be an example for those who will follow them. Just like their predecessors did…

Happy New Year to all!