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No change: City allowed to maintain tax rates

SUNBURY — Northumberland County Judge Hugh A. Jones on Wednesday morning granted permission to the City of Shamokin to maintain a 35-mill real estate tax and 2% earned income tax.

The petition for the real estate millage and earned income tax percentage were granted for the 12th and sixth consecutive year, respectively.

Jones issued his ruling following testimony by Shamokin Administrator Robert Slaby and Act 47 coordinator Ryan P. Hottenstein, with the state Department of Community and Economic Development, citing the need for the revenue that will be generated by the real estate and earned income taxes.

Shamokin Solicitor Frank Konopka, who prepared the petition, also argued that the city desperately needs the revenue to avoid cutting positions.

If the real estate tax millage and 2% earned income tax were to be denied, Slaby said, city council would have to prepare a new budget and cut personnel. The city would most likely be forced to make cuts in the police department, which would create a serious public safety issue.

Slaby pointed out that the police department is the city’s biggest expense.

Slaby said the petition doesn’t increase taxes but rather maintains the current rate on real estate and earned income taxes.

Hottenstein said all areas of city government would be subject to layoffs if the petition wasn’t granted. The Act 47 coordinator said other options to generate revenue were explored, but none were found that would equal the amount generated by the 35-mill real estate tax and 2% earned income tax.

Joseph Leschinskie, a vocal critic of council who was given an opportunity to speak at the hearing by Jones, opposed the 35-mill real estate tax but didn’t challenge the 2% earned income tax.

He said there is no justification for hiking the millage rate from 30 mills to 35 mills on real estate. He said the city would still have a small surplus without the millage increase.

Taxes are unaffordable for many people in the city, especially elderly residents, Leschinskie said, blaming city officials for not aggressively going after property owners who are delinquent on paying their taxes.

City officials previously said the measures will generate much-needed revenue for the local government that has been under the state’s Act 47 program for fiscally distressed municipalities since February 2015.

Increasing the real estate tax rate from 30 mills to 35 mills is expected to generate about $115,000 for the city since 1 mill is equivalent to $23,000.

Hiking the earned income tax from 1% to 2% will result in an additional $850,000 in revenue for the city.

At a meeting last month, city council approved the first reading of the 2020 budget that lists $4,074,908 in expenses and $4,255,489 in revenue, for a surplus of $180,581. The budget includes revenue that will be generated by the 35-mill real estate tax and 2% earned income tax.

Hottenstein said he and other Act 47 officials have reviewed the 2020 tentative spending plan for the city to make sure it conforms with the Act 47 plan.

Also in attendance at the 20-minute hearing were Shamokin Councilwoman-elect Jennifer Seidel, Jim Rose and Michael Carpenter, local government policy specialists with the state Department of Community and Economic Development.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTOS  

Maj. Tammy Hench, of the Salvation Army, collects donations from two children, above, and from Rick Jilinski, left, at an entrance to Walmart SuperCenter on Wednesday. The organization is actively seeking more volunteers to ring the bell, which is done on a daily basis. Anyone interested in bell ringing or volunteering for other tasks this holiday season may call ringing coordinator Judy Orner at 570-644-0486.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO  

Maj. Tammy Hench, of the Salvation Army, collects a donation from Rick Jilinski at an entrance to Walmart SuperCenter on Wednesday. The organization is actively seeking more volunteers to ring the bell, which is done on a daily basis. Anyone interested in bell ringing or volunteering for other tasks this holiday season may call ringing coordinator Judy Orner at 570-644-0486.


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Downtown Christmas, planned for Saturday, releases list of events

SHAMOKIN — The 11th annual Downtown Christmas will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Northumberland County Arts Center, Eighth and Arch streets.

“Downtown Christmas has been all about community — celebrating the Christmas season in our little corner of the world,” event organizer Jeanne Shaffer said. “The wealth of a town is in the hearts of its inhabitants.”

Following is a list of the activities planned in conjunction with the celebration:

Parade

The festivities will kick off with a parade to bring Santa to Shamokin on the Rotary sleigh. The parade will form at Rock and Independence streets.

The Shamokin Area High School Band, under the direction of Kevin Styer, will travel east along Independence Street, make a left turn on Market Street and travel south to Mulberry Street, before turning around and traveling back north along Market. Marchers will disband at Turkey Hill on Lincoln Street.

Visit with Santa

At the conclusion of the parade, Santa and Mrs. Claus will travel to the arts center to talk with the children.

Heath’s Gym Dance Crew will introduce Santa, after which the Shamokin Rotary Club will offer pictures with him and Mrs. Claus, sponsored by Holdren Notary and Paul’s HVAC, with candy canes provided compliments of Olvany Insurance.

Princess Party

After Santa is finished talking to the boys and girls — the time will vary with the amount of children to greet — a “princess party” will be held on stage with seven princesses: Elsa, Snow White, Tiana, Jasmine, Cinderella, Pocahontas and Belle, set in an enchanted forest.

Children will receive a gift and the princesses will tell stories and play games with them. The princess party is sponsored by the Plumbing Outlet and St. Francis Home Association.

Special Christmas music

Following the princess party, Sharon Styer will perform vocal and instrumental selections in the auditorium.

Balloon twister

A “balloon twister” will be set up on the first floor and will create a choice of characters. The feature is sponsored by Bill and Judy Allen and the AOAA.

Letters to Santa and face painting

A letter-writing room will be available on the second level outside the auditorium, where children may write their requests down on paper and have them sent to the North Pole. All letters will be answered. On the second level near the letter room, Emma Dailey will offer face painting.

Vendors

The studio inside the handicap entrance will house the following vendors: The Soupie King, Shamokin-Coal Township Public Library, handmade wood crafts by Ken Glassner, Linda’s Cookies, Brandon Zalar Caricatures, Raw Creations by Devan Petrusky, Keeley’s Confections, Zoe Russell’s Country Crafts. The Christian & Missionary Alliance Church will be set up in the hallway, providing outreach services to the community.

In the gallery room, stands will be set up for art by Claude Harrington, Scentsy by Lisa Wengrenovich, Haley Gessner’s 31 gifts, Class of 1971, Clear Candy by Missy, and Mommy & Me Rescue.

Shirts advertising the former F&S (Fuhrmann & Schmidt) Brewing Co. will be available for purchase, and Steve Adams will perform live music.

Wreath contest

The gallery will house more than 30 wreaths created by various organizations, businesses, residents and clubs from the area.

Wreaths will be voted on for 25 cents each. First-, second- and third-place ribbons will be announced at 3 p.m.

All wreaths may be purchased by bid.

Gift baskets

In the blue room, directly across from the gallery, guests can take a chance on more than 20 donated baskets. The event is sponsored by the arts council, and all proceeds will go to Downtown Christmas 2020.

Blue room

Also in the blue room will be the following vendors: First UM Church whoopie pies, Doterra Oils by Jennifer Bingaman, Glitz-n-Glam by Danielle DeWitt, and Christine Keefer stocking stuffers.

Outside will be Ginny Albert with crafts and stocking stuffers and a booth selling books.

Grilled Cheese 2 Café, Dynamic Wings and Full Throttle Food Truck will sell edible treats.

“The Northumberland County Council for the Arts wants to thank all those who helped bring this event to fruition,” Shaffer said. “It is only because of their generous support that these special events can be offered. May the spirit of Christmas live on in all of us all year long.”


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Three charged in Market Street standoff

SHAMOKIN — Three people involved in a Nov. 21 standoff in the first block of South Market Street have been charged by Patrolman Raymond Siko II with multiple offenses.

Jared J. Wagner, 27, of 810 N. Coal St., Shamokin, who was wanted on a warrant from Montour County and was on probation for assault, is charged with misdemeanors of flight to avoid apprehension, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.

Police said Wagner, who was suspected of possessing a firearm, barricaded himself in a crawlspace at 47 S. Market St. and refused to surrender to police for more than four hours. He was initially spotted by Siko on the front porch roof at 45-47 S. Market St. before he climbed through a second-story window at 47 S. Market St. while ignoring commands by police to stop.

Wagner surrendered to police and adult probation officers shortly before 4 p.m. A state police SERT (special emergency response) team was beginning to assemble outside the property just prior to a shirtless Wagner being taken into custody in the attic crawlspace.

No injuries were reported and no weapons were found in the home.

Wagner’s friends, Michelle M. Cragle, 37, and Shawn G. Hepner, 40, who reportedly were staying at 45 S. Market St. without the knowledge or permission of the landlord, were taken from the property at about 12:15 p.m. Police deployed pepper spray canisters to remove them from the attic crawlspace inside which they had barricaded themselves.

Cragle and Hepner were wanted on warrants out of Northumberland and Snyder counties, respectively.

Cragle is charged with misdemeanors of flight to avoid apprehension, hindering the apprehension of Wagner, providing false information to police regarding Wagner’s whereabouts and disorderly conduct.

Hepner is charged with flight to avoid punishment and disorderly conduct.

Wagner, Cragle and Hepner, who have previously been charged with drug offenses, remain in Northumberland County Jail.

The standoff prompted fire police to close off multiple blocks of Market Street and surrounding thoroughfares until the scene was cleared at about 5 p.m.

In addition to state police and multiple officers from Shamokin, Coal Township, Kulpmont, Ralpho Township, Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel Township, probation officers, county deputy sheriffs, state constables, fire chiefs, firefighters, county public safety department officers and city code enforcement officers provided assistance at the scene.


Chris Grego / C. J. GREGO/STAFF PHOTO  

Jared Wagner, 27, of Shamokin, right, is one of three people charged as the result of a standoff Nov. 21 on Market Street, Shamokin. Here he is escorted by Mount Carmel Township Chief of Police Brian Hollenbush.


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Woman dies after being struck by vehicle in Mount Carmel

MOUNT CARMEL TOWNSHIP — An 83-year-old woman died days after she was struck by a vehicle in front of the CVS Pharmacy on West Third Street, Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley said Wednesday.

The investigation surrounding the death of Joan Fanella, of Atlas, is continuing.

Mount Carmel Township Chief of Police Brian Hollenbush confirmed the incident occurred at 9:55 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, but declined to reveal more details, citing the active investigation.

According to Fanella’s son, Robert, his mother remained on the ground after being struck until medical personnel arrived. Joan Fanella was then transported to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where she was treated in the intensive care unit.

“We’d like to thank everyone who provided care for my mother,” Robert Fanella said.

Joan Fanella was hospitalized from Saturday morning until the family brought her home Wednesday, he added.

Kelley said Joan Fanella died at her home Friday.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO 

Southern Columbia’s Gaige Garcia keeps his feet moving for more yardage while defended by Wyoming’s Zajquay Williamson during Friday night’s football game at Anthony “Jake” Sobeski Stadium in West Pittston.


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Overtime continues to be serious concern at jail

COAL TOWNSHIP — Overtime remains a serious concern at Northumberland County Jail.

During Wednesday’s prison board meeting at the jail, Controller Chris Grayson reported overtime costs for the prison for 2019 total $716,651.66, with two pay periods remaining in the year.

Last year’s overtime costs totaled $274,653.08.

Grayson said the initial prison budget for 2020 was $7.8 million, but about $800,000 in expenses have been cut from the spending plan, making the final budgeted amount $7 million.

“We have to figure out a way to solve the overtime problem. It’s a serious issue,” Commissioner Kym Best said.

The overtime issue was raised by Fran Ruzicka, of Sunbury, who has attended multiple county meetings to voice concerns about the jail that opened last year in Coal Township.

Ruzicka, who has two sons working as correctional officers at the jail, said the excessive overtime has caused tension for guards and led to low morale.

She also talked about the high turnover rate of correctional officers. “It’s like a revolving door,” she said.

Last month, there were five new hires and four resignations at the jail.

Warden Bruce Kovach said sick leave and vacations have caused some of the overtime increase.

“We try to meet everyone’s needs, but we hope to reduce overtime costs by working with the staff,” he said, adding that only a small percentage of the employees abuse the sick leave policy, but it hurts the staff when it occurs due to the increased workload.

Northumberland County Court Administrator Kevin O’Hearn said employees who repeatedly call in sick could be required to provide a doctor’s excuse.

Kovach said the prison population was 252 Wednesday. He said the jail is housing seven inmates for Union County, two for Snyder County and 10 for Schuylkill County.

The county generated $48,214.23 in revenue last month by housing out-of-county inmates, he added.

The board also set its meeting dates for 2020. It will meet at 11 a.m. at the administration building on the following Wednesdays: Jan. 8, Feb. 5, April 4, May 6, July 8, Aug. 5, Oct. 7 and Nov. 4.

In addition, four quarterly meetings will be held at 12:15 p.m. at the prison. Those dates are March 4, June 3, Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.

President Judge Charles H. Saylor chaired the meeting. Other prison board members in attendance were Best, Grayson, Sheriff Robert Wolfe and District Attorney Tony Matulewicz.

Commissioner Sam Schiccatano, who was attending a SEDA-Council of Governments meeting, and Commissioner Richard Shoch were absent.