Budget Hearings Begin in Harrisburg

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

This week kicks off several weeks of State budget hearings, where lawmakers on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will hear from the heads of state-run agencies, state row offices and educational institutions that receive state funding. These hearings, which are held each year in the weeks following the governor’s budget address, give these entities the opportunity to weigh in on the level of funding that the administration has proposed they receive in the coming fiscal year and allows committee members to ask questions about the funding and the function of their agencies. Updates will be provided in the coming weeks and the Columbia-Montour Chamber will be planning a budget breakfast later this spring.

Bloomsburg Council Considering Signage Changes

Bloomsburg Town Council is considering changes to its zoning ordinance related to business signage in its Commercial, Commercial-Residential, and Business Campus districts. While existing signs would be grandfathered, some of the proposed changes would prohibit new signage that is similar to what is currently being used.

A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, February 27th at 6:00 p.m. at Town Hall prior to Council’s vote.   A copy of the proposed amendment is available here , and at Town Hall during normal business hours. The Chamber’s Board of Directors is expressing concerns about the proposed changes in a letter to Council. Additionally, there appears to be conflicting language in amendment.   Business and commercial property owners in the Town are encouraged to review these proposed changes and attend Monday’s hearing to express any concerns.

Candidate Academy Encourages People to Run for Local Office

An upcoming informational program aims to encourage people to run for local office. The Candidate Academy will outline the basic requirements, issues, expectations, and practices associated with public service. The no-cost program is being presented by the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce and Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau and sponsored by ArchCentral Architects of Bloomsburg.

The Candidate Academy will be held on Thursday, February 23rd from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. in the front meeting room of the Bloomsburg Fire Hall, 911 Market Street. Anyone considering running for a local office such as borough or town council, township board of supervisors, or school board, or who would simply like to better understand the election process is welcome to attend. Topics to be covered will include: timing and deadlines for circulating and filing petitions, campaign financing, reporting requirements, ethics, the Sunshine Act, and other issues. A panel of local elected officials will also share their insights about campaigning and public service.

The last day for candidates to circulate and file nomination petitions for the 2017 elections is March 7th.

As space is limited, anyone interested in attending should register online or by calling the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522. For more information, contact Fred Gaffney, Chamber President, by phone or email at fgaffney@cmpartnership.org.

Outstanding Businesses and Individuals Recognized

Member businesses and individuals of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau were recognized during the organizations’ Annual Meeting Thursday, February 9th. The event was held at Rolling Pines Golf Course & Banquet Facility in Berwick, and sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities.

Five awards were presented to recognize businesses and individuals for their significant contributions to the community. To begin, The Travel & Tourism Buddy Award, sponsored by Knoebels Amusement Resort, was presented to Bob Stoudt, Executive Director of the Montour Area Recreation Commission. The Small Business of the Year Award, sponsored by First Columbia Bank & Trust, was presented to Freas Farm Winery. The Large Business of the Year Award, sponsored by The Columbia Alliance of Economic Growth, was presented to Central Columbia School District. The Community Progress Award, sponsored by Berwick Hospital Center, was presented to Geisinger Health System – Woodbine. The Outstanding Citizen Award, sponsored by Berwick Industrial Development Association, was presented to Daniel S. Jankowski. Daniel is an RN in the Emergency Department at Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital. Outside of his work at the hospital, he has been a dedicated community volunteer and advocate for the Benton area.    A special thank you to those who were able to attend this year’s meeting, and to all sponsors of the event who made the night possible.

Wolf Budget Includes Additional Investments in Education and Business

On Tuesday, PA Governor Tom Wolf unveiled his 2017-18 budget proposal. His General Fund budget of $32.3 billion represents an increase of $571.5 million, or 1.8 percent, over the current spending plan. Cuts and savings of $2 billion are included to avoid “broad-based tax increases”. Wolf continues to advocate for additional spending on education. Included in his budget is a $100 million increase for Pre-K to 12 basic education. The budget also would provide an additional $8.9 million for the 14 universities of the State System of Higher Education.

The plan seeks to support manufacturers by establishing an apprenticeship grant program and a manufacturing training-to-career grant program. A “one-stop-shop” would be created within the Department of Community and Economic Development to streamline the process for business establishment or expansion. An additional $2.5 million is proposed to assist economic development organizations in reaching out to identify employer needs. The Governor’s budget also provides $6.1 million for tourism marketing at the state level. Of immediate concern to the business community, the Governor continues his push for an increase in the minimum wage to $12 per hour.

A severance tax on the natural gas industry is again being proposed. And, the expansion of sales tax is also included in the budget, but limited to specialty software and computer services, prepared food sold to airlines, aircraft maintenance and repair, and business storage that does not contribute to a justifiable return in increased business investment. Cuts and savings amounting to a projected $2 billion include consolidating state agencies. The Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole would be merged into a new Department of Criminal Justice. A new Department of Health and Human services would merge the program functions of the departments of Human Services, Health, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol Programs.

A summary of the Governor’s proposal is available here. Additional details on the impact of the proposed budget will be provided in the coming weeks. A budget breakfast program is also being scheduled for members this spring.