Lebanon County recently received an “A” for its financial outlook, due primarily to the county’s general obligation (GO) bonds, according to the firm S&P Global Ratings, the Lebanon County Commissioners said.

Chairman Bob Phillips was happy with the high mark, saying it was an improvement since the last rating and explaining that their new higher rating will help the county with obtaining loans in the future.

With a new dispatch center to be built in the near future, the good rating comes at an opportune time.

S&P Global Ratings assigned its “A” long-term rating to Lebanon County’s series 2017 general obligation bonds.

The primary credit analyst for the report was Benjamin Gallovic of Chicago.

The financial firm believes the outlook for the county to be positive due to the county’s “strengthening financial position,” with a financial surplus in 2016, full funding of the county’s pension annual requirement contribution, and maintenance of strong reserves.

The county’s improved finances can be attributed to a property tax increase in 2016 and eliminating the general fund subsidy to Cedar Haven, formerly the county-owned nursing home.

The report from S&P Global considers the county’s budgetary performance strong, with a county operating surplus of 4.9 percent of expenditures in the general fund and 2.4 percent across all governmental funds in 2016.

On the negative side, the firm considers Lebanon County’s economy weak.

The county has an estimated population of 137,224 and has a projected per capita effective buying income (EBI) at 95.7 percent of the national level and per capita market value of $62,376.

The county’s unemployment rate in 2016 was 4.5 percent.

Although still based on agriculture, with 40 percent of the land in cropland, the county has diversified into industrial and service enterprises. The largest county employer is the Department of Military Affairs with more than 1,000 employees. Other leading employers include Farmers Pride Inc./Bell and Evans in food processing and the WellSpan/Good Samaritan Hospital.

In other business, the county commissioners presented a proclamation in honor of March as “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month” to Holly Leahy, administrator of Lebanon County’s Mental Health/Intellectual Disability/ Early Intervention agency, to Monica Boyer, consultation and education director of MH/ID/EI, and Maureen Wescott, executive director of The ARC.

From left: County Commissioner Bill Ames, Mental Health/Intellectual Disability/ Early Intervention agency administrator Holly Leahy, County Commissioner Bob Phillips, County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, and The ARC executive director Maureen Wescott.

The proclamation showed the commissioners’ appreciation for those who support and protect the rights of people and work for equal treatment of all people, County Clerk Jamie Wolgemuth said.

From left: Haley Eargle, Monica Boyer, Amber Wilfred, Chris Heibel, County Commissioner Bill Ames, Holly Leahy, County Commissioner Bob Phillips, County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, and Maureen Wescott.

There have been “many positive changes” in the treatment and education of people with developmental disabilities in recent years, Leahy said.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan designated the month of March to be observed as National Developmental Disabilities Month, Leahy said.

“That observation signified changes in the public perception of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Leahy said.

Without regard to diagnosis, all people deserve respect and security, and deserve to be fully included in life, Leahy said.

Throughout March, MH/ID/EI has planned a number of events in recognition of the ongoing struggle for appropriate help and treatment of those with disabilities, including an exhibition at the Lebanon Valley Council on the Arts at 720 Cumberland St.

Called “Past, Present, and Beyond,” the exhibition will feature a free traveling exhibition describing the history of the infamous Pennhurst State School and Hospital.

The exhibit will open at 3 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, at 720 Cumberland St., with a program from 4 to 5 p.m., followed by light refreshments.

Special guest speakers will be Jean Searle, a former resident of Pennhurst, a self-advocate and co-president of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance.

Searle is employed by Disability Rights of PA.

Also on the program is Karen Ahrens, deputy secretary for the PA Office of Developmental Programs.

The program will be followed by a short documentary directed by Erik Soulliard of Annubis Productions and will feature the lives of people with developmental disabilities in Lebanon County.

“Just because someone has a developmental disability, they still have everyday lives, too,” Boyer said.

The exhibition is being presented in conjunction with the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance.

Pennhurst was created in 1908 in Spring City, Chester County, for the detention of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and in time became a place of inhumane treatment.

In time, the neglect and abuse levied in Pennhurst became “shocking” according to publicity about the exhibit and Pennhurt’s closure in 1987 was a model for de-institutionalization around the world.

The exhibition serves as a reminder of the dangers of classifying persons as “the other,” according to “A Site of Conscience.”

Folks participating in the First Friday Art Walk in Lebanon city on March 6 are invited to view the Pennhurst exhibit and Brave Arts Studio Exhibit , also at the Council on the Arts at 720 Cumberland St.

On March 17, a free community education session about the PA ABLE Saving Program will be held at 6 p.m. in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, 600 S. 12th St.

The session will inform people about eligibility for disability expenses without jeopardizing government benefits.

Saturday, March 21 will be “World Down Syndrome Day,” and people are invited to check out the website to learn more.

In another matter, Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation representative Al McCord updated the commissioners on the forthcoming construction of the access control gates to be built for increased security at the east and west end of the Gap.

Read More: Increased security coming to Fort Indiantown Gap; construction of two gates to start this spring

Due to various contracting and engineering set-backs, Gap officials are anticipating a start on either one of the access gates by mid-spring of this year, McCord said.

Engineers anticipate the first gate to be completed sometime in 2021, he said.

By mid-March, artillery training by a number of units will be taking place, McCord said, letting area residents know they would be hearing increased shooting from the Gap.

Helicopter use is also on the increase as members of the Pa. 28th Combat Brigade get ready to deploy, he said.

Fort Indiantown Gap remains the second busiest US Army airfield in the country, McCord said.

About 51,000 soldiers will be stationed at the Gap throughout the year, he said.

In another matter, county Purchasing Agent Dennis Firestone told the commissioners that the contract to repair the county-owned bridge in Heidelberg Township known as the “Redrock Bridge” was awarded to the Mar-Allen Company of Lancaster County at a cost of $69,952.

The bridge was damaged by a large tractor-trailer that became stuck on the small bridge a few months ago.

Carol Davies, administrator of the Area Agency of Aging, told the commissioners that the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, a project of the Department of Agriculture, would again be giving checks to senior citizens this spring to be able to buy produce at local farmers’ markets.

The four checks of $6 each are given to those seniors of eligible income and the program thereby brings money into the local economy, Davies said.

The checks will be distributed after May 15 and can be used, starting June 1, Davies said.

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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.