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Cumberland County commissioners discuss challenges to county

If the county government seems like it has a low public profile lately, maybe it’s because, unlike other levels of government, it hasn’t been subject to incessant gridlock.

During a breakfast engagement Tuesday morning with the Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce, Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler relayed a comment from an attendee at a recent County Commissioners’ Association of Pennsylvania conference.

“He said ‘I think the county commissioners are about the highest level of government in our country that still works,’” Hertzler said. “When you think about local government … it’s where the rubber hits the road. There’s a lot of talk in Harrisburg and D.C. but not much seems to get done.”

Hertzler’s colleagues, Gary Eichelberger and Vince DiFilippo, agreed that their three-member body was remarkably undramatic.

“I think we’re a good team — we certainly have our moments, believe me — but we discuss items, we can disagree, but we get it done,” DiFilippo said.

“This board is very focused on the people’s business and that’s a refreshing change,” Eichelberger said.

“I think there’s a lot of truth to that,” he said, referencing Hertzler’s anecdote. “We’ve seen counties have to assume more and more responsibility across the state … especially in this area since we are in growth mode.”

During their annual presentation to the chamber, the commissioners stressed the extent to which county government has had to take the reins to address the county’s increasing needs that aren’t being addressed at the state or federal level, and to keep the day-to-day organs of government running.

The county’s long-term financial outlook continues to be sound, DiFilippo said, noting the county’s reserves are strong enough that it has been able to go four years without a tax increase, despite gradual cost increases. The county’s bond rating is still AAA, allowing it to borrow at low rates for capital projects.

This is critical given several large upcoming expenses, all of which are critical to the county’s basic functions.

The county’s 911 system and public safety radio network will need a major overhaul over the next several years, and capital repairs and improvements are needed at Claremont Nursing and Rehabilitation, the county-owned nursing home.

The state will also be adding a seventh Court of Common Pleas judge to the county judiciary in 2020, with the county facing down significant costs to renovate its court offices to accommodate the extra judicial staff.

DiFilippo said the county government has taken the initiative on workforce and transportation issues. The county-sponsored Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. is working to develop and organize training to address the county’s’ shortage of skilled technical labor.

The commissioners were also recently successful in their push to have Capital Area Transit, a joint agency of Cumberland and Dauphin counties and the City of Harrisburg, contract with York-based Rabbittransit for management services.

“This is a big first step toward improving transit efficiency in our region,” DiFilippo said.

Further, the county’s electronics recycling program — set up due to inaction at the state level on fixing disposal regulations — has enabled area residents to dispose of over 300,000 pounds of unwanted televisions, computer parts and other items.

The county has also been successful in its multiyear plan to repair or replace the county’s 19 bridges and their adjacent roadways. The county infrastructure plan uses the $5 vehicle registration fee that counties are authorized to collect under state Act 89, which has generated roughly $1.1 million per year since 2015.

“That money is allowing counties to tackle the backlog of structurally deficient bridges across Pennsylvania ... but it doesn’t address the future, namely the future of widening I-81 throughout Pennsylvania,” Hertzler said.

Data from the American Society of Civil Engineers shows that 34 percent of Pennsylvania’s traffic is heavy trucks, more than double the national average. Statewide, time and fuel lost in congested traffic saps $3.7 billion per year.

Hertzler said the county has been told by PennDOT that the cost of widening I-81 between I-78 and the Maryland border is $2.7 billion, with little to no word on any state or federal financing plan.

“We need the federal government to step up and help us,” Hertzler said, adding that he was “underwhelmed” with the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan and it’s lack of detail as to how $200 billion in federal funding would leverage a total $1.5 trillion package, as Trump has promised.

“We need Congress to stop kicking the can down the road on this, because the can is stuck in traffic,” Hertzler said.

Possibly even more than I-81, the county is facing a public crisis over opioids, not only in the human cost, but increased costs to county government that aren’t being covered by the state or federal governments.

The county’s Children and Youth Services division saw a 26 percent increase in out-of-home placements last year, with 81 children removed from their homes in the last quarter of 2017 alone, Hertzler said. Of these, he said, two-thirds were due to parental drug use.

Data from the county coroner also shows that toxicology costs were $87,797.13 in 2017, more than double what was budgeted just a year prior, due to the need to confirm cause of death on an influx of overdose victims.

The county has signed on to a lawsuit, in conjunction with a number of county and municipal governments nationwide, against certain manufacturers and distributors of opioid medications, maintaining that the pharmaceutical industry inappropriately promoted the drugs and downplayed their risks.

Eichelberger said, however, that the suit was not a quick fix.

“To me, it’s very different than the tobacco settlement,” he said. Opioids do have a legitimate pharmaceutical use, as opposed to tobacco, making the case much less of a slam-dunk.

“We did have a healthy debate on that, but there was ultimately a unanimous decision to proceed on litigation,” Eichelberger said. “We chose an imperfect solution, but in this business there are no true perfect solutions.”

Tillerson out at State, to be replaced by CIA chief Pompeo

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump unceremoniously dumped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday — by tweet — and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take his place, abruptly ending Tillerson’s turbulent tenure as America’s top diplomat and escalating the administration’s chaotic second-year shake-up.

Tillerson was ousted barely four hours after he returned from an Africa mission and with no face-to-face conversation with the president, the latest casualty of an unruly White House that has seen multiple top officials depart in recent weeks. Citing the Iran nuclear deal and other issues, Trump said he and Tillerson were “not really thinking the same.”

“We disagreed on things,” Trump told reporters at the White House — a diplomatic take on a fractious relationship that included reports that Tillerson had privately called the president a “moron.”

Appearing in the State Department briefing room for likely the last time, Tillerson’s voice quavered as he described successes of his roughly one-year tenure: an economic pressure campaign on North Korea and a new Afghanistan plan.

“I will now return to private life, private citizen, a proud American, proud of the opportunity I’ve had to serve my country.”

He did not mention Trump — other than to say that he’d spoken by phone to the president Tuesday while Trump was on Air Force One.

He said he would delegate all authority to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, who will serve as acting secretary until Pompeo is confirmed. Tillerson will remain secretary in name until March 31, when he formally resigns his commission.

In an illustration of the gulf that has long separated Tillerson and Trump, the White House and the State Department disagreed about whether Tillerson had even been informed of his firing in advance.

Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein and other State Department officials said Tuesday morning that Tillerson hadn’t learned he was dismissed until he saw Trump’s early-morning tweet, and hadn’t discussed it directly with Trump. Goldstein said the former Exxon Mobil CEO was “unaware of the reason” he was fired and “had had every intention of staying.”

Then Goldstein, hours after making those comments, was fired, too.

“I’m a big boy,” Goldstein told reporters later. Describing Tillerson’s mood, Goldstein said: “He’s accepting.”

Multiple White House officials said that Tillerson had been informed of the decision Friday, while he was in Ethiopia. One official said chief of staff John Kelly had called Tillerson on Friday and again on Saturday to warn him that Trump was about to take imminent action if he did not resign and that a replacement had already been identified. Tillerson canceled his entire schedule that Saturday in Ethiopia, with the State Department telling reporters he was sick.

When Tillerson didn’t step aside, Trump fired him, that official said.

All of the officials demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

“I think Rex will be much happier now,” Trump said before flying to California.

Trump’s change puts Pompeo, an ardent foe of the Iran nuclear deal, in charge of U.S. diplomacy as the president decides whether to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. Trump faces another deadline in May to decide whether to remain in the Obama-era nuclear agreement that he campaigned aggressively against.

Tillerson has pushed Trump to remain in the agreement and had been pursuing a strategy with European allies and others to try to improve or augment it to Trump’s liking. The president mentioned differences over how to handle the Iran agreement, “so we were not really thinking the same.”

The reshuffle also comes amid a diplomatic opening with North Korea, with Trump set to hold a meeting with leader Kim Jong Un in May. Pressuring North Korea with sanctions and other isolation measures had been a top Tillerson priority, and he had been one of the administration’s more vocal advocates for holding talks in some form with the North. When Trump accepted Kim’s invitation for a meeting, Tillerson was in Ethiopia, though he said he spoke with Trump at 2:30 a.m., shortly before it was announced.

Tillerson’s departure adds to a period of turnover within Trump’s administration that has alarmed those both in and out of the White House. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn announced his resignation last week, not long after communications director Hope Hicks and staff secretary Rob Porter both departed near the start of Trump’s second year in office.

Speculation that Tillerson would be fired grew last fall with the reports of his “moron” insult, which the secretary state never personally denied.

The president said he was nominating the CIA’s deputy director, Gina Haspel, to take over for Pompeo at the intelligence agency. If confirmed, Haspel would be the CIA’s first female director

Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has been one of Trump’s most loyal Cabinet members and formed a close bond with the president, coming personally to the White House most days to deliver the President’s Daily Briefing. Known for his blunt-talking style, Pompeo has already been confirmed by the Senate for his current role at the CIA, making it likely that he will be confirmed for the State Department role.

“He will do a fantastic job!” Trump tweeted.

But several Democrats quickly raised concerns about both Pompeo and Haspel, suggesting their confirmation hearings could be contentious. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Senate Intelligence Committee member, accused Pompeo of being insufficiently tough on Russia and said he’d “demonstrated a casual relationship to truth and principle.”

Pompeo said he was “deeply grateful” to be nominated and looked “forward to guiding the world’s finest diplomatic corps” if confirmed. He also praised Trump, saying, “His leadership has made America safer.”

On Tillerson’s plane trip back from Africa, he had told reporters he had cut short his mission by one night because he was exhausted after working most of the night both Friday on Saturday and falling ill.

At the White House, two officials said Trump wanted to have a new team in place ahead of an upcoming meeting with Kim, the North Korean leader.

One senior White House official said that when Trump made the decision to meet with Kim while Tillerson was in Africa, an aide asked if Tillerson should weigh in on the matter. Trump said there was no reason to consult him because no matter what the group decided, Tillerson would be against it, the official said.

North Middleton Township
Congressional split of North Middleton precincts should not cause issues, county says

Two of North Middleton Township’s three voting precincts are split between the newly drawn 10th and 13th U.S. Congressional Districts, although the county’s elections bureau says this should not cause a problem come the May 15 primary vote.

While voting precincts are typically aligned to encompass a singular set of constituents, the recent re-draw of Pennsylvania’s congressional maps by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court splits North Middleton’s first and third precincts between two seats.

Only a small portion of the first precinct is cornered off in the 13th District, with most of it being in the 10th District. Half of the third precinct is split between the two, with the northern half sitting in the 13th District and southern half in the 10th District.

North Middleton’s first precinct polls at the fire company at 2061 Spring Road. Citizens in the third precinct poll at another fire company location at 310 N. Middleton Road.

The split will have “very little impact on our voters,” said Cumberland County Bureau of Elections Director Bethany Salzarulo.

Poll workers will be easily able to identify which voters get which ballot, depending on their party registration and which congressional district their specific address lies within, she said.

“It will be very clear who belongs where,” Salzarulo said. “We are still working out all the details.”

On Jan. 22, the state Supreme Court issued an order for the state to re-draw its congressional map after deciding in favor of the plaintiffs in a case that maintained the existing maps were gerrymandered along partisan lines, and thus violated the state’s constitutional guarantee of equal representation.

State legislators and Gov. Tom Wolf were unable to reach a consensus on a new map, resulting in several proposed re-draws being submitted to the court. On Feb. 19, the court issued its own map, based on the maps submitted, as well as input from redistricting experts.

Republican lawmakers have challenged the ability of the state Supreme Court to effectively impose new districts, taking the fight to federal court. A hearing on allegations that the state Supreme Court violated the federal constitution was held Friday, but no decision has been rendered.

The new congressional map contains much more compact districts and fewer divisions of counties than the old map. However, Cumberland County is still split, with the eastern half of the county in the new 10th District, and the western half in the new 13th District.

Congressman Scott Perry, who represents the 4th District on the old maps, will likely run in the 10th District, which also includes Dauphin County and northern York County, where Perry lives.

Democratic challengers in the 10th include Alan Howe of Carlisle, Eric Ding of Carlisle, Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson of York, George Scott of Dillsburg and Christina Hartman of Lancaster.

The 13th District appears to have no incumbent. Most of the district is within what was formerly the 9th District, represented by Congressman Bill Shuster, who has announced he is not running for re-election. The district stretches from western Cumberland County all the way to eastern Westmoreland County.

Republican hopefuls in the 13th include state Rep. Stephen Bloom of North Middleton Township, Benjamin Hornberger of Shippensburg, Art Halvorson of Bedford County, state Sen. John Eichelberger of Blair County, retired Col. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County and Travis Schooley of Franklin County.

Todd Rowley, of Westmoreland County, is running for the 13th on the Democratic side.