Flood Protection Project Proceeding On-Time

From SEDA-COG

 

The Columbia County flood risk management project is about 75 percent complete with full completion anticipated in November. To date, the project is on time and on budget.

Construction started last March with the official groundbreaking following that April.

The $30 million project will preserve over 700 jobs at the Autoneum North America Inc. facility, as well as maintain the potential for industrial development and local employment at the former Windsor Foods site. Without a flood risk management system, the former Windsor Foods facility would be unsalable and fall into a state of deterioration, becoming a blighting influence in the Town of Bloomsburg.

The project continues to have a positive effect on the local and regional economy. The project’s general contractor remains committed to local sourcing of suppliers and subcontractors from the area when it is feasible. Several local suppliers and subcontractors continue to provide material, equipment and labor to the project.

The weather has been conducive, allowing work to continue through most of the winter. Most of the subterranean work is complete. The H-pile and pre-cast concrete panels along West Fifth Street, Magee Avenue and Sixth Street are nearing completion. Most of the concrete work for the closure structures along the West Fifth Street corridor is complete. The structure to be constructed at the western end of the Autoneum facility over the next couple of months is a Mechanically Stabilized Earthen Levee. This type of levee is best described as half of an earthen levee (wet side) and half of a retaining wall (dry side). Work along the North Shore Railroad mainline continues.

On West 11th Street, an earthen levee has been constructed along a portion of the western border of the former Windsor Foods facility. Tying into the earthen levee is a Mechanically Stabilized Earthen Levee which extends to West 11th Street, turns and runs east along West 11th street. Work will begin over the next few weeks to complete the Mechanically Stabilized Earthen Levee. This will allow the construction start of the full earthen levee, which will cross old West 11th Street and connect to high ground in a previously wooded area west of Barton Street.

In addition to the construction of the flood wall, substantial work has occurred and continues on several sanitary sewer pump stations and a storm water pump station.

FMLA Guide Available

From ChamberChoice

In late April, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced that a new general Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Notice will soon be issued. According to the DOL, the new poster won’t necessarily include an extensive amount of new information. Rather, the information in the notice will be reorganized so that it’s more reader friendly. The Agency has advised that employers will be allowed to either continue posting their current Notice or post the new version. Thus, employers are not required to change their current poster.

Along with that announcement, the agency also issued a new guide to assist employers with FMLA administration. Another purpose of the Guide is to help employers increase their knowledge of the law. This Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act is designed to provide essential information about the FMLA, including information about employers’ obligations under the law and the options available to employers in administering leave under the FMLA. The Guide is organized to correspond to the order of events from an employee’s leave request to restoration of the employee to the same or equivalent job at the end of the employee’s FMLA leave. It also includes a topical index for ease of use.

Although the Guide may not provide an answer to every FMLA administration issue an employer may have, it is likely to have some benefit to employers when administering the FMLA.

Representatives Optimistic About 2016-17 Budget Process

The State Representatives for Columbia and Montour counties are optimistic that finalizing a budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year will be quicker than the process for the current year’s budget. Despite a structural deficit of $1.4 to $1.8 billion in the proposal, Representatives David Millard and Kurt Masser feel this year’s negotiations are better. Their comments were made to members during a breakfast program held Friday, May 6th at the Pine Barn Inn.

Jennifer Reis with the PA Chamber of Business & Industry outlined Governor Wolf’s $33.29 billion budget, which represents a 10.9% increase in spending from the finalized 2015-16 plan. Included in the proposal are increasing the personal income tax rate from 3.07 to 3.4 percent, retroactive to January 1, a severance tax on the natural gas industry, and taxing a number of products and services that are currently not taxed. Reis noted that the budget includes no significant reforms to the State’s two public pension systems, or moves toward privatization of the liquor system.

MillardRepresentative Millard highlighted the increasing burden of the pension plans. In the upcoming fiscal year, more than $2 billion will be dedicated to pension obligations. Over the next four years, those costs will increase by more than $1 billion. Rep. Millard has co-sponsored legislation which would put all new hires in a 401k plan, which would ease the burden long-term.

Representative Masser reiterated that it’s past time for Pennsylvania to get out of the liquor sales business, which only generates a 3% profit. “If any CEO was running a monopoly and could only return three percent, I don’t think your days in that position would be long,” said Masser. Privatization of the system could generate significant revenues.   Masser

Masser also stated that this year’s budget negotiating process is better. During an abbreviated, two-day session week last week, the state House positioned H.B. 1999 – the General Appropriations bill for the 2016-17 fiscal year – for a final vote. After bringing up the bill on the House floor, lawmakers withdrew all of their amendments with the understanding that their funding priorities would be addressed at a later date.

The PA Chamber also expects the proposal to increase the minimum wage to be revisited. Earlier this year, Governor Wolf increased the minimum wage for State employees to $10.15 per hour. The Independent Fiscal Office projected in November that an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour could result in 31,000 lost jobs in Pennsylvania and 500,000 nationwide. The PA Chamber has been advocating for workforce training programs and tax credits to help low wage earners rather than mandated wage increases. Millard and Masser said they are still looking at the potential impacts and solutions to the minimum wage discussion.

Understanding Flood Insurance and Mitigation Programs

Residential and commercial property owners in flood-prone areas of Columbia and Montour counties are facing dramatic increases in flood insurance. The Columbia County Housing and Redevelopment Authority recently received grant dollars to help some homeowners mitigate these higher costs and future flooding risks. Information sessions are scheduled for May 11th to explain the reasons for the insurance increases, and the grant assistance program. In addition to property owners, lenders, realtors, and insurance agents are welcome to attend to learn more.

In 2012, Congress passed the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. This legislation phases out flood insurance subsidies, which impacts many properties in our area that were built prior to the creation of the program. When the subsidies are fully phased out, property owners could be facing premiums many times higher than current rates.

Additionally, FEMA is remapping flood elevations along the Susquehanna River Basin following the flooding in 2011. This is likely to result in many more properties being included in flood zones. The remapped zones are scheduled to take effect in 2018.

The Redevelopment Authority has received funding to help homeowners in some sections of Columbia County to elevate their homes and/or utilities above base flood elevations. There are income guidelines associated with these Federal dollars. The informational sessions will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on May 11th at the Espy Fire Hall to provide additional details, distribute applications, and help residents determine if their properties will be impacted by remapping.

Analysis Highlights Heavy Burden of Wolf’s Budget Proposals

The state’s Independent Fiscal Office released an analysis last week that anticipates the tax increases proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf in his 2016-17 budget plan would generate $2.66 billion for new state spending. This is slightly less than the $2.7 billion that the governor’s budget office estimates would be the full amount of tax hikes under his proposal. The IFO estimates that the proposed retroactive Personal Income Tax increase would generate the most revenue, netting $1.27 billion.

The IFO analysis also examined the impact of the governor’s proposed severance tax – a 6.5 percent levy that maintains the current impact fee but allows drillers to claim impact fee payments as a credit against the severance tax. The IFO notes the significant discount that Marcellus drillers are being paid compared to that of other major national hubs, and projects that this discount will remain in effect for the next several years. Because the governor’s proposal does not allow for deduction of post-production costs, the effective rate of the proposed severance would be the highest among other states that, along with Pennsylvania, lead the country in gas production: Ohio, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma.

FO also examined the employment effects of raising the state’s mandated entry wage to $10.15 per hour. The analysis projects a loss of nearly 30,000 jobs due to the increase, with the job losses felt disproportionately by part-time employees, as well as a “slower rate of hiring compared to a counterfactual where minimum wage did not increase.”

The final piece of the 2015-16 budget becomes law following an announcement by the Wolf administration last week that the governor will not veto or sign H.B. 1589, the Fiscal Code Bill. Per the Pennsylvania Constitution, legislation passed by the General Assembly automatically becomes law if the governor does not act on it within 10 days.