PA Public Utility Commission Working to Preserve Rural Broadband Funding

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is encouraging residents, businesses, local leaders and other concerned parties – especially in rural communities – to contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of efforts to preserve nearly $140 million in funding intended to increase access to high speed internet service in underserved areas in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, the PUC and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) filed a joint petition with the FCC as part of an ongoing effort to address Pennsylvania’s “digital divide” by preserving millions of dollars in federal funding intended to increase access to high speed internet service in rural communities across the Commonwealth.

Funding for the Connect America Fund Phase II program (CAF II) is drawn from the federal universal service surcharges paid by state residents and businesses. It is intended to support the deployment of broadband service in high-cost areas, including many rural communities. Most incumbent local telephone companies serving Pennsylvania’s high-cost areas accepted the CAF II funding, along with the commitment to meet federal benchmarks for broadband speed (10 Mbps download & 1 Mbps upload), but the Verizon companies did not, jeopardizing the continued availability of millions of dollars in broadband support throughout Pennsylvania. While this funding is currently only available to regulated utilities, there are other internet providers in the region willing to work with communities and businesses. The Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to state legislators in June asking for more flexibility in how these dollars can be allocated to expand broadband in rural areas.

“The FCC plans to conduct an auction to allocate the broadband funding that was not accepted by Verizon, and the PUC has been encouraging all concerned parties to work together to keep these dollars in our state,” said PUC Commissioner David W. Sweet. “We remain hopeful that the FCC will consider the joint petition by the PUC and DCED to approve a Pennsylvania-specific weighting factor to the upcoming CAF II auction.”

Information regarding how to submit comments electronically or by mail to the FCC on this issue is available on the PUC’s website

Additionally, the Commission continues to encourage state and local leaders to continue exploring mechanisms to enhance financial support for rural broadband projects – which could help influence the FCC’s decision about where funds should be directed.

Future Careers Expo Helps Students Explore Career Options

Middle and high school students from the region and their parents explored career options at the 3rd Future Careers Expo held Thursday, Nov. 9 at Bloomsburg University. Nearly 40 employers and education providers were on hand to talk to young people about opportunities that exist in our area. The event was held in the evening at the Kehr Union so that parents could be part of the conversation.

The event is a partnership between the Bloomsburg University STEM Magnet program and the Foundation of the Columbia Montour Chamber, and was supported by the Arconic Foundation and Williams. The Foundation works to support area employers through workforce development initiatives. In addition to this Expo, programs such as School Counts, Classroom on Main Street, and The Leader in Me develop employability skills in young people and provide exposure to a wide variety of career options.

Among the participating employer and education providers were Chamber members Arconic/Kawneer Company, Bloomsburg University, Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School, First Columbia Bank, First Keystone Community Bank, Geisinger, Maria Joseph Continuing Care Community, McTish, Kunkel & Associates, PA CareerLink Columbia/Montour Counties, Pennsylvania College of Technology, PPL Electric Utilities, SEKISUI SPI, Susquehanna Nuclear/Talen Energy and Williams

Chamber President Fred Gaffney Garners Award, Continues PACP Board Appointment

Chamber President Fred Gaffney

Columbia Montour Chamber president Fred Gaffney was recently reappointed to another term on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals (PACP) at its recent annual conference held in late October in Clarion, Pa. Gaffney was also one of eight Chamber professional from across the state to receive a PACP Service Award, as he was honored for 15 years of service as a Chamber professional. 

Board members serve in the volunteer leadership role for a specified term, developing and leading the annual Plan of Action to assist in the enhancement of quality education in professional and organizational development to its members.  Key events for PACP include the annual Chamber Professionals & Leadership Conference, Chamber Day in Harrisburg, and ongoing professional development webinars and programs.

Each year PACP recognizes chamber professionals who have served any five-year increment in chamber management. To qualify, candidates must have been in full-time chamber or chamber-sponsored affiliate management for at least five years, must now be serving in chamber management in Pennsylvania, and must have been a PACP member for at least three consecutive years. PACP’s Service Awards are meant to promote and recognize outstanding chamber service not only to the individual’s community but also to their professional association.

PACP is the professional association of Pennsylvania local chambers of commerce executives and professionals whose mission is to enhance the quality and relevance of chamber management in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

IRS Publishes 2018 Benefit Plan Adjustments

From ChamberChoice

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — when the IRS announces limits and adjustments on employee benefit plans. On Oct. 19, the IRS released its 2018 Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLAs) for tax-related employee benefits in Revenue Procedure 2017-58 and in IRS Notice 2017-64. Some limits have increased while others remained the same.

What Employers Need to Know

• Health Flexible Spending Accounts Increased. The annual employee salary contribution limit to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) will increase to $2,650 for 2018 (a $50 increase from 2017). An employer may decide to have a different limitation on employee health FSA contributions, it just cannot be more than the IRS limit. The limit applies on an employee-by-employee basis. Any non-elective employer contributions generally do not count toward the employee’s dollar limit.

• The monthly limit under IRC Section 132 for fringe benefits is $260 for the combined monthly limit for transit pass and vanpooling expenses. The monthly limit for parking expenses is also $260 per month.

• Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) is an HRA that is available only to small employers that are not subject to the employer shared responsibility penalties under health care reform. As of January 1, 2018, the limitation for QSEHRA payments and reimbursements is $5,050 for an individual and $10,250 for family. This is a $50 increase for individual reimbursements and a $250 increase for family reimbursements.

• The penalty for failure to file correct information returns (which include W-2s, W-3s, 1095 and 1094-C’s will increase to $270 per failure. This increased penalty will be applicable for returns required to be filed in 2019.

The table above demonstrates the 2018 limits for many of the common benefits offered by employers. This is not a comprehensive list.

Employers should begin to review their payroll and plan administration systems for the 2018 adjustments. When preparing open enrollment materials, an employer should incorporate these limits in any communications.

Finally, the employer should determine to distribute updated Summary Plan Descriptions (SPD) or provide a Summary of Material Modifications (SMM) for any required amendments.

Welcome GAF

More than 400 businesses and organizations belong to the Chamber to receive benefits and support efforts to strengthen their businesses and our region. Increased membership allows us to offer additional programs and benefits, have a stronger voice in advocacy and be involved in more activities and initiatives in our communities. The Chamber welcomes its newest member, GAF, to help us fulfill our mission.

GAF, as it is commonly referred to, is an acronym for General Aniline & Film, was founded in 1886, and is North America’s largest roofing materials manufacturer. Currently headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., GAF recently opened a new manufacturing facility in New Columbia, Pa., just off Interstate 80 at 2093 Old Route 15, which already has or will create more than 40 new jobs in the area. It currently has open positions at its new facility. GAF produces materials for both commercial and residential roofing systems, and the New Columbia plant is the latest of a more than $2 billion investment that GAF has contributed in the roofing industry over the last 10 years. GAF has been the recipient of numerous awards in recent years as it has grown to nearly $3 billion in annual sales. For more information, visit its website.