Carbon County officials are frustrated with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation regarding the requirement for bridge inspections.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted on two motions regarding naming an engineer to complete the inspections of bridges between 2013 and 2018.
The first motion passed was to rescind an action taken on May 17, choosing option two for the next cycle of bridge inspections. Then this option, which was given to the county in a letter sent by PennDOT, was for the county to retain Carbon Engineering to complete the inspections.
The second motion passed was to notify PennDOT, as required by Act 44 of 1988, of the county's choice of option one, which authorizes PennDOT as the engineer to complete the inspections.
Following the actions, Commissioners Wayne Nothstein, chairman; and Thomas J. Gerhard voiced their frustrations. Nothstein said the county was "forced" into rescinding its original choice.
Nothstein explained that after the county chose option two at a meeting of the board of commissioners, it sent the required paperwork to PennDOT District Five.
After not hearing back from the state, officials learned that they were not approved for option two, but no reasons were supplied.
Nothstein continued that after numerous attempts to contact officials at PennDOT, he was finally told Carbon was denied because the county's decision was not made at a meeting and that PennDOT never received the paperwork, which Nothstein said was not true and that if the paperwork was lost, it was due to someone on PennDOT's end.
Later, the county was informed that regulations had changed in 2011, which officials were never notified about, Nothstein said. He added that the new option the county was never given, was that if they chose to go with their own engineer, they would need to complete a request for proposal and open up the option to all engineering firms who would want to do the work. Deadline for completing the RFP process is the end of the year.
"I was a little perturbed by the fact that we were never notified of our options and what we had to go through," he said. "All three of us regret that we had to make the decision to go with PennDOT and let them do the inspections. The unfortunate part is a local county engineering firm will lose that business to an outside firm and most likely will still cost the county more because they automatically take that funding out of our liquid fuels program for bridge repairs.
"This is a federal regulation but I'm perturbed that PennDOT District Five did not properly notify us or tell us about what is going on."
Gerhard agreed with Nothstein, saying that PennDOT "dropped the ball on us."
"I think it was all cut and dry and then they forced it down our throat," he said. "I'm very, very disappointed. We chose Carbon Engineering and we want everyone to know that. We were forced to use PennDOT for these inspections of our bridges so I'm very unhappy about that."
He commended Eloise Ahner, county administrator, for her efforts in this matter.
Gerhard said Ahner responded to PennDOT's emails in a timely fashion, but the quick responses were not reciprocated on PennDOT's end.
In other matters, Commissioner William O'Gurek recognized Bernice M. Snyder, a resident of Maple Shade Meadows in Nesquehoning, for her dedication to the county over the last 36 years. The county accepted Snyder's resignation from the Redevelopment Authority during yesterday's meeting. The Redevelopment Authority, which is comprised of five people, handles loans for business improvements.
O'Gurek called Snyder a "special lady who has served on the authority since 1976."
He said that in her resignation letter, Snyder cited the revitalization of downtown Jim Thorpe and Race Street as some of her "proudest involvements as a member of the authority."
O'Gurek said what makes Snyder an even more special person is that she served on the authority up until the age of 98.
Nothstein echoed O'Gurek's comments, saying that Snyder was very active in the Redevelopment Authority during her tenure.
"It's with deep regret we have to accept her resignation," Nothstein said. "I wish her well."
Other actions included:
Ÿ Approved the 2012 Emergency Management Performance Grant for funding support salaries and benefits of the EMA coordinator and administrative assistant. Estimated revenue is $51,394.
Ÿ Ratified the submission of the 904 Recycling Grant application to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection asking for reimbursement in the amount of $24,000 for collected recyclable materials for calendar year 2011.
Ÿ Approved the proposed budget relating to the Agency Disabilities Resource Center/Link Network section of Title XIX agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. Carbon County's allocation is $40,000.
Ÿ Approved tax refunds for four properties.
The first two are located at 397 Hemlock Drive, Lehighton, Mahoning Township. The Mahoning Valley Retirement Villas received a refund of $381.48 as a result of a court appeal that reduced the assessment of two parcels of land. Mahoning Valley Convalescent Home received a refund of $3,729.46 as a result of a court appeal that reduced the assessed value of two parcels of land.
Paul V. Yanchura III of Lansford received a tax refund as a result of board appeal, which applies the veteran's exemption as of Feb. 9, 2012.
According to county solicitor Daniel Miscavige, the veteran's exemption is applied in cases after the Veterans Affairs qualifies an individual as a disabled veteran. The veteran must be 100 percent disability in order to qualify. The exemption automatically entitles the veteran to an exemption of real estate taxes on his property.
Penn Forest Streams Property Owners Association, 11 Clubhouse Road, Jim Thorpe, received a refund of $25.33 after it was determined that the property value of a parcel was lowered to zero because it is a common area and not a taxable property under the Uniformed Planned Community Act.
Ÿ O'Gurek voted no to allow Dawn Ferrante, director of Carbon County Economic Development, to attend the NEDA's 56th annual conference in Hartford, Conn. He said it was because he has concerns about county employees traveling to conferences out-of-state because of added costs. He pointed out that he doesn't have a problem with in-state conferences because they relate to economic development.
Nothstein added that he also struggled with this approval because of added expenses to the county, but decided in the end to approve it because economic development is the area Carbon County is lacking in most.