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Wysox Township holds open house, Commissioners talk natural gas taxes

WYSOX TOWNSHIP- Doors were opened to the public at the new Wysox Township Building on Lake Road for the township’s open house on Wednesday afternoon.

The $686,000 building has been in the works for more than three years according to township officials and is paid for entirely out of the township’s Act 13 budget, which is funded by an impact fee on natural gas drilling.

“We waited until we had enough to do it” said Supervisor Bill Them at the open house. “And there’s still a nice balance in the Act 13 fund.”

Originally, the building had been planned to be built on the North side of the Wysox Fire Hall but after bids came in much higher than expected in May of 2018 the township redesigned the building and placed it on the South end of the Fire Hall and found a suitable bid of $686,000.

The price was still higher than the half a million dollar estimate by Stiffler-McGraw, the engineers tasked with designing the building, but rather than sitting on the project for another year or two the supervisors accepted the bid.

“It would have been another $200,000,” Them said if the township had waited a few years to bid the project again.

“The time to build anything if you have the money to do it is now, not two years from now,” he continued, citing the prices of steel rising dramatically over the recent years.

The building was paid for out of the Act 13 fund in it’s entirety, meaning that there is no debt on the building that could serve as the township’s headquarters for the next 200 years. Them and Barnes speculated that if the township did not have the Act 13 monies to pay for the building, the township would have had to raise taxes to make payments on a loan for the building.

“We would’ve had to float a bond and make payments,” Them said.

“Taxes would’ve gone up at least 30%,” said Supervisor Evan Barnes.

Visiting the new building were the Bradford County Commissioners who said that the township was taking the same approach with Act 13 monies that the County had.

“A lot of townships in Bradford County have done what the County has done and taken their impact fee to make upgrades and get us into the 21st century and take pressure off of taxpayers years from now,” said Commissioner Doug McLinko at the open house.

Commissioner Daryl Miller said to take the County bridges to see an example of how the impact fee has benefitted the area.

“The County historically was building maybe one bridge every four years with liquid fuels money,” he elaborated. “Now we’re able to build on the infrastructure that people travel on everyday and do a lot of work, we’re doing eight bridges in the next two years. We’ve done six already.”

“That’s a huge huge issue to economic development and public safety.”

When asked if the success of the Act 13 money locally will push them to support Gov. Wolf’s plan to use a severance tax on natural gas extraction to fund a $4.5 billion infrastructure plan Miller said no.

“No, the Act 13 money is doing what the Act 13 money was intended to do, which was come to the locality and benefit the localities that are being impacted by the gas drilling activities. When you put in a severance tax that goes into the general fund, how do you know what you’re getting back?”

Commissioner Ed Bustin also added to the discussion on Pennsylvania’s enacted and proposed natural gas taxes.

“I would love if someone would take the name off of these taxes and figure out what you’re paying per unit withdrawn- that would make it a lot easier. Having said that, the fact that right now if they put the severance tax on, landowners would take some of the hit… The Governor said recently that he wants a clause that that wouldn’t happen, well that’s great but you have to make sure that happens because you wouldn’t want to pass the law and figure it out after,” Bustin remarked.

“The other part of it is, they have to maintain the impact fee. There can be no change, or no negative impact to the impact fee or it’s just ridiculous,” he continued. “So the idea that there’s money that’s available, and I won’t have a whole lot of heartache about charging the industry, I really don’t, this reserve is here and it’s giving them more money than they’re going to lose during the impact or severance, but they have to make sure they protect A: The residents, and B: the communities that are currently getting their impact fees. I wish they would use plain language and stop this nonsense about confusing people over what is a fee and what is a tax- make it simple.”

Township officials said the new building will serve as a safer environment for their workers and constituents as it is ADA approved. The building also has storage space for emergency supplies, is functional without power and is located outside of the flood zone.


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In hearing on gun violence, Pennsylvania lawmakers and experts turn focus from mass attacks to suicides

Pennsylvania’s state Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off two days of hearings related to gun violence in Harrisburg this week with public health issues taking the forefront on the first day.

Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Dallas, said that the spate of gun violence helped prompt discussions about behavioral health.

“The rise in suicides among the young and veterans is both alarming and saddening,” she said.

The sessions come more than six weeks after five House Democrats called for a special session to reform the state’s gun laws in response to the mass shootings that took place in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this year.

Dr. Kenneth Certa, an associate professor of psychiatry at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, said that while the impetus for hearings across the country like the one in Harrisburg was mass shooting events, the reality is those acts of violence pale in comparison to suicides.

“In psychiatry, we are very well aware that 70 percent of deaths from guns are suicides,” he said.

He said suicide rates have increased by 30 percent over the past decade. Last year, 47,000 Americans killed themselves, he said.

That’s why he’s pushing for gun control as a form of means reduction. He noted that after Switzerland dropped its requirement for every adult male to carry a gun for national defense, suicide rates dropped by a third.

“There is ample data that throughout history that if you reduce the means of easy death, suicide rates go down,” he said.

While the number of suicides may seem small, especially compared to the national population, mental health experts testified that almost everyone at least fleetingly considers suicide at some point, and that the focus should be on those suffering from mental illnesses that require treatment.

In Pennsylvania, that number is approximately 1.3 million.

Under questioning from state Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, David Rogers, the past president of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, said it would be prudent to encourage family physicians and others to conduct mental health screenings to identify people who may need treatment.

Mental health wasn’t the only focus of Tuesday’s hearing. Dr. Zoe Maher, an assistant professor of surgery at Temple University and the co-founder of the Coalition of Trauma Centers for Firearm Injury Prevention, said last year her Philadelphia hospital’s trauma center treated 481 people for gunshot wounds.

She said firearm injuries, like a toddler shot in the chest by his cousin, are preventable.

“As a healthcare community, we have tackled a number of public health crises alongside our legislators,” she said “From educating the public on the dangers of tobacco, to preventing injury from car accidents thru collaboration with automakers and legislators, to the still unresolved battle we are waging together against the opioid epidemic.

“So why can’t we tackle the public health crisis from firearm injury? The answer is that we can, and we must.”

Dr. Jack Rozel, medical director of the UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, said America’s rate of mental illness and the treatment of mental illness doesn’t differ significantly from those of other developed nations. The same also applies to the rate of playing violent video games, which is sometimes considered a reason for mass violent outburst.

“There are other factors that drive the violence,” he said. “The 25-fold increased risk of firearm homicide that we see in our country is not driven by a 25-fold increase in psychiatric illness in our country by any stretch of the imagination.”


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Man sentenced eight to 52 years in prison following sexual abuse charges

Rivera

A Towanda man was sentenced eight to 52 years in prison on Thursday following sexual abuse allegations from four underage girls.

According to Bradford County Assistant District Attorney Brian Gallagher, 29–year–old Jonathan Rivera was found guilty of four counts of felony corruption of minors in the third degree, two counts of felony indecent assault in the third degree, felony endangering the welfare of children in the third degree, two counts of misdemeanor indecent assault and two counts of misdemeanor indecent exposure.

Rivera was charged in June 2018 after the Pennsylvania State Police received two initial reports of abuse in April 2018. In one case, one girl ended up choking on a lollipop that Rivera had shoved in her mouth, according to police, and had to be resuscitated by Guthrie Towanda Memorial EMS responders before being life-flighted to Geisinger in Danville for further treatment.

From an interview with one of the mothers, police noted that Rivera claimed the girls – who were ages seven and eight at the time of the reporting – would do inappropriate things around him, such as try to pull his pants down and touch his privates, and he would tell them how wrong it was to do that. The resulting investigation uncovered two other abuse victims – ages 10 and 15 at the time of the police report.


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Sayre man facing charges after allegedly stealing over $20K

A 29-year-old Sayre man is facing theft related charges after allegedly taking over $20,000 in cash from a South Lehigh Avenue residence in Sayre in July.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Sayre Borough police were dispatched to a burglary that had occurred while the homeowners were on vacation. The victims reported $20,000 in cash was taken from a hamper along with $800 in an envelope, $900 in a checkbook, $63 in quarters, a $40 winning lottery ticket and two full bottles of oxycodone.

A foot trail was found in the grass outside the residence’s storm doors leading to the neighbor’s garage area, according to police. After further investigation, it was discovered that Daniel Bustin was living in the garage at the time of the incident. Bustin had moved out of the garage and into an apartment while the victims were away.Through interviews, investigators found that Bustin had posted to Facebook the purchase of a new car and cell phone. Another individual noted that Bustin didn’t have a job, but “all of a sudden had a bunch of money.”

The garage that Bustin had been living in during the incident was searched along with his apartment. The apartment had empty bags that matched the description of those that contained the missing money along with drug paraphernalia and tools that the victims reported missing.

Bustin is facing charges of felony receiving stolen property in the third degree, felony theft by unlawful taking – movable property in the third degree, felony criminal trespass – break into property in the second degree, felony burglary – overnight accommodation, no person present, and misdemeanor use/possession of drug paraphernalia.

Bustin is in the Bradford County Correctional Facility on $75,000 bail and has a preliminary hearing on Oct. 8 with Magisterial District Judge Larry Hurley.


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Drama director pleads guilty to sexual assault charges

A former drama club director of both Sayre and Athens high schools entered two guilty pleas on Sept. 24 for sexual assault related charges following accusations of touching a student multiple times as well as making sexual comments to others, according to the Pennsylvania State Police.

Bradford County Assistant District Attorney Brian Gallagher stated that 38-year-old Justin Patrick Shaw pled guilty to institutional sexual assault and sexual assault by sports official, volunteer, or employee of non–profit association.

Shaw had been a drama director at both the Sayre and Athens high schools, although the police report largely focused on incidents that took place elsewhere, such as the former Justin P. Shaw Academy of The Performing Arts building in Athens, in Shaw’s vehicle, or at his home in Waverly. It was unclear if three claims of sexually suggestive comments took place on school grounds.

Police began investigating Shaw after a student came forward to Athens Area High School administration. Three of the student interviews referenced in the affidavit were conducted back in January while a fourth took place in February.

The affidavit of probable cause stated that Shaw touched a male student inappropriately multiple times and made the student touch him. Court documents also go on to claim that he made sexual advances toward that student, made a comment about a girl’s chest in front of other students, made a comment about oral sex to another female student, told a girl to make sexual sounds during a rehearsal and suggested sex between a boy and girl once she was 18.

In a fourth student interview, another male said Shaw asked him about his sex life, and tried to hold his hand, touch his arm and cuddle with him, according to police. Both young men related that Shaw would act emotionally unstable and threaten to harm himself when the students were hesitant about hanging out. These claims dated back to around the beginning of 2018.

A sentencing date was not available at the time of reporting.