COUDERSPORT — The Potter County Commissioners on Thursday spoke of ongoing data-driven justice efforts during a meeting held in Coudersport.

Commissioner Paul Heimel announced that county officials recently participated in the first meeting concerning the White House Data-Driven Justice initiative with which the county has become involved. Potter County has the smallest population of any jurisdiction being included in the pilot program being initiated in communities across the country.

“We’ve already established connections with Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and Eau Claire County, Wisconsin in our continuing study of best practices,” said Heimel. “This is an executive-level organization, so these contacts are related to how counties can best use resources — financial, personnel and facilities — to support the significant changes we’re beginning to see in the administration of criminal justice.”

Meetings will be held twice monthly, with most communities involved participating through conference call/webinar-style meetings via the internet due to the vast distances separating participants.

Heimel said the process will only work with support from across county criminal justice systems, which Potter County has. Currently, Potter County judges, treatment specialists, the probation department, district attorney’s office, public defender, law enforcement officials and others work together to administer the county’s recently-accredited DUI Treatment Court and newly-launched drug court programs. Cooperation has also been a key to opening the Women’s Treatment Center and launching programs at the Potter County Jail for inmates readying to re-enter society.

The White House-affiliated initiative is aimed at using data-driven, proven strategies to reduce inmate populations, including through early assessment of individuals entering the criminal justice system for determination of bail arrangements and possible alternatives to traditional crime-and-punishment policies. The changes are being implemented in such a way as to protect public safety and help the system become more fiscally efficient.

In other news, Bill Simpson, the new director of veterans affairs for Potter County, attended Thursday’s meeting.

Simpson is a graduate of Oswayo Valley High School in Shinglehouse. He served 24 years with the U.S. Navy Seabees, and worked for Frontier Communications after his retirement from the military.

“I’m glad to be here. I have retired from two different organizations. This isn’t a job for me; it’s a chance to serve my home community, which I didn’t get to do directly while I was in the service,” said Simpson. “This is an opportunity for me to serve again and I’m really excited to help the veterans and their families.”

Simpson said he plans to increase outreach efforts to veterans. He has already visited several VFW and Legion organizations in the county and has set up appointments to travel to several others, but he wants to include additional venues that veterans may frequent, like senior centers and other meetings veterans may attend.

He is also working with the Oswayo Valley schools on their Veterans Day programs and hopes to see similar remembrance efforts duplicated at other local schools.

Meanwhile, Jeff Davidek of C.S. McKee, in charge of handling the county’s retirement fund, discussed recent market trends and the condition of the county’s investments.

“To say it’s been a volatile year would probably be an understatement,” said Davidek. He noted the presidential election, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, increasing oil prices and the federal reserve’s indication that interest rates could rise as early as December as stressors on the system.

“It’s hard to say what the impact of the election will be,” said Davidek. “There will be challenges regardless of who takes the office.”

He noted likely future inflation problems due to the ongoing stimulus package, but mentioned positives of strong wage growth over the past twelve months and the largest increase in household income since the Great Recession during last quarter.

Over the third quarter of 2016, the county’s portfolio increased from $14.12 million to $14.65 million, a 3.76 percent return for the quarter.

In other news, Commissioner Susan Kefover recently attended a meeting of the Area Transportation Authority (ATA), where changing demographics were discussed.

Kefover said ATA officials reported a surge in the number of college-age students using public transportation. She said the trend began in college towns, where many young people who come from cities and are accustomed to using public transportation began riding ATA buses.

“Now, there’s a younger ridership at campuses, spurring other young, local people to use the service,” said Kefover. A number of routes and opportunities are available for people in rural Pennsylvania through ATA.

Also, the commissioners approved an intergovernmental agreement with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) Health Alliance. Insurance benefits will now be purchased through this partnership, with the Delaware Valley Health Trust through Aetna Insurance Co. County employees will meet with the commissioners and other officials next week to discuss the new benefits package.

The next commissioners meeting will be held at 11 a.m. Oct. 27 at the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport.

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