Public comments took center stage at Thursday’s county commissioner’s meeting in what was otherwise a lightly scheduled agenda.

Following up one day after a workshop session of a presentation made by four representatives of the Governor Dick board of directors to the commissioners, Cornwall resident Susan Wheeler made several requests concerning commissioner oversight as Governor Dick Park trustees. 

Read More: Governor Dick board addresses criticism in report given to county commissioners

Wheeler asked the commissioners to consider conducting an independent review of the forest stewardship plan for Governor Dick Park. (The park’s stewardship plan is a 10-year roadmap for how the park is to be maintained.)

“I would appreciate maybe going through the Natural Lands Trust again and getting a second opinion of the stewardship plan,” said Wheeler. “I had hoped to have that for you to present today, but they’ve changed their rules, and as I am not the land owner and I don’t have connections with Governor Dick, they will not come out and do it. So, it would have to come from you or it would have to come from the (park) board.”

Wheeler added that Mike Sherman of the Lebanon Conservancy should also be consulted as a valuable resource located within Lebanon County given his experience and knowledge in land management.

“We have all of this (in-county) talent that’s not being used that can help us with this forest management,” noted Wheeler. “To me, before anything else is done, we need to move forward with this.”

Wheeler also recommended to the county commissioners to expand its oversight of Governor Dick Park beyond the current board of directors and include the county commissioners and the public. 

In the early part of the 2000s, Wheeler said the public was more involved in the park’s maintenance and welfare, noting that whole families would pull invasive species plants from the ground, that she held educational lectures and a butterfly garden was located there. 

“This can all happen again, (but) the public has been turned off,” said Wheeler. “We need to give the public a voice. We have to listen to what they say. … Let’s do a forest plan that does not involve all of this logging, I hope you would consider that.” 

Wheeler began her comments by saying she was an original Friends of Governor Dick member, adding they had “a great working relationship” with the park’s board of directors but parted ways once timber harvesting was conducted by the board as part of its stewardship plan.

That split led the Friends group to get a second opinion about the park’s stewardship plan. Some of those recommendations encouraged selective cutting and lesser herbicide spraying, adding she believes too much spraying is happening based on what she heard at Wednesday’s workshop session.

Democratic commissioner candidate Michael Schroeder of South Annville Township asked the commissioners to back Wheeler’s requests and to host a public meeting to “have a conversation about Governor Dick Park.” (He also complimented the commissioners for the launch of the county’s new website but added a gap that needs to be addressed is the accessibility of meeting minutes on the website as well as the meeting videos that are posted to the commissioner’s YouTube channel.)

Read More: Updated functionality and features highlight Lebanon County’s new website

Tim Finn, a local mountain biking enthusiast, said he felt compelled to address the commissioners on Thursday because his name was referenced several times at Wednesday’s meeting. He highlighted various projects the biking community has accomplished to improve trail safety at Governor Dick for all users. 

“We changed two trails to make them safer for all hikers, to make them more sustainable and more fun for mountain bikers,” said Finn. We turned one fence trail into a multi-use trail, really for the safety of returning visitors from the Environmental Center to the Monument parking lot.”

Also noting that he’s traveled the world to mountain bike, Finn said he chooses to live in Mount Gretna. 

“We have a lot of phenomenal things going on between Swatara Creek, the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail that’s connecting all of these parks and Governor Dick,” said Finn. “We really have a great thing going on here and I want to thank you all for your support for all of these projects.”

Finn shared a personal wish with the commissioners.

“It is to continue to support multi-use trails and bike lanes,” said Finn. “Make it safer for us on the roads, give us more places to go. Rocky Creek – there are trails there that could be built … that are safe and sustainable. If you build it, we will come. The tourism comes and, right now, with the rail trail connecting Coleman (Park), Swatara and Governor Dick, you all are building something phenomenal, and I just wanted you to know.” 

Another public comment consisted of questions posed by Wayne Kauffman of North Annville Township about the Greater Lebanon Refuse Authority. He wanted to know who authorizes its spending, who runs the authority, and whether GLRA has the right to build a gun range on its property. 

County administrator Jamie Wolgemuth explained the authority was created about 50 years ago to handle waste management in Lebanon County and decision-making was delegated to the authority at that time, meaning the authority runs autonomously. 

Kauffman expressed concern about the current decibel levels from the existing gun range, adding it will worsen with a second range in the area. Wolgemuth replied that concern would fall under the jurisdiction of North Annville Township since GLRA’s property is located in that municipality.  

Kauffman said the reason a second gun range is being built is because local officials can’t get along with members of the Lebanon County Police Combat Club, whose gun range sits adjacent to GLRA’s property. 

County Sheriff Jeffrie Marley refuted Kauffman’s comment, saying the county – in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies in Lebanon County – plans to build a new range because the club is charging for the use of their facility and access is limited.

“They decided to make money out there and they decided to let outside companies come in to provide outside training,” said Marley. “They bill themselves as a local police combat range. However, they charge a certain amount of money for us to come out. Training budgets are very tight for every municipality to provide that mandatory training that we have to provide yearly. It’s also hard for us to be able to work around the scheduling of every officer that has to go through it (mandatory training) to be able to get out on that range.” 

Marley said the club is allowing other non-Lebanon County organizations to use their range, which makes it more difficult for county-based officers to meet their mandatory training requirements. Concerning increased gunfire caused by the construction of a second range, Marley said local law enforcement will not contribute to it.

“The number of (local law enforcement) people shooting is still going to be the same, whether we’re on a new range or we’re on that range, it’s still the same amount of shooting,” said Marley. “Your gripe, as we explained before, is not with local law enforcement, the landfill or the county. It’s with the police combat range, so you should be going to their meetings and say, ‘Hey, why is this occurring?’” 

In other county business, the commissioners recognized Northern Lebanon’s Little League baseball team for its third-place finish at the state competition, which determines the Pennsylvania team that represents the state at the Little League World Series in Williamsport. 

The team members, several parents and a number of coaches attended the meeting, which included a photo opportunity with the commissioners and the receipt of a certificate of recognition for each player.

Assistant coach Brad Demler spoke on behalf of the team, highlighting their journey to states and all that the 12-year-olds had accomplished on the way there. He noted that one of the two teams they lost in the two-loss elimination format was the one from Media that qualified for the Little League World Series.

Brad Demler, far right, speaks to the county commissioners about the incredible season of the Northern Lebanon little league baseball team that finished third at the state tournament. (James Mentzer)

“This was the first time ever that any of our teams won the sectional’s title,” said Demler in providing playoff highlights prior to the state tournament. “Last year, we got our first-ever section win, but this year we actually won the section’s championship, which was a lot of fun.”

At the WS qualifying tournament, which was held near Philadelphia, the team won their first two games, by a score of 1-0 and one that ended with a walk-off, or game-ending, play. 

“What was really cool about that was the Phillie Phantic was there and all the kids got to celebrate with the Phantic, which was really cool,” added Demler. 

As quickly as they won the first two games, it seemed like the team lost its next two games just as quickly, according to Demler. The first loss was to the team from Media and the second was a rematch with the team they had previously beat with the walk-off win during their second game of the tournament.

“It was a heck of a ride and I believe these kids will never forget it,” Demler concluded. 

Northern Lebanon’s Little League baseball team poses for a photo opportunity with Lebanon County commissioners Bob Phillips, Jo Ellen Litz, and Mike Kuhn. (Provided photo)

The commissioners also unanimously accepted a new contract with Teamster’s Local 429 involving Lebanon County’s social services agencies. Those agencies include the departments for the Area Agency on Aging, Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention, Drug and Alcohol and Children and Youth.

New contract highlights include a wage increase of $3 per hour through the end of the year and a 4-percent increase for 2025, 2026 and 2027; an increased work week from 37.5 to 40 hours per week; increase in on-call compensation for Children and Youth employees ($375); increase in travel expenses to $10/$16/$20; increase in the sick leave buy back rate to $20 with a decrease in maximum allowable sick days permitted to rollover at the end of the year; an increase in medical insurance deductibles to $1,000/$2,000 with working spouse carve-out; an increase in HELX monthly payment from $200 to $250 per month; an increase in vacation time accrual rate from one to four years of employment from 10 days to 12 days per year; and modification to the Leave of Absence and Family Medical Leave Act policies. 

In a separate personnel matter, the commissioners voted 2-1 to authorize the immediate hire by the Lebanon County District Attorney’s office of a new detective, which would bring that department’s complement to six individuals. The collective bargaining agreement with the detective’s union for Step One employment is $63,100, according to Wolgemuth. 

During discussion prior to the vote, Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz said she found the DA’s request unusual because it was outside the budget cycle and also because information provided to the commissioners about the city was not true. 

“We were told some things with the city that turned out not to be the case,” said Litz. “We interviewed the mayor and the chief and we were given a litany of accuracies. The bottom line is the chief is doing the administrative work and they have all of the detectives in the field. I think we’re doing okay and it’s not a mandatory position. The county does not have to fund detectives, we choose to fund detectives. But to expand the force, I am not convinced that this will not let up after the seven homicides, this will go back to normal and this is just a fluke. I think it is premature to request an additional position.”

Commissioners Mike Kuhn and Bob Phillips both expressed support for the hiring of another detective. Phillips noted that there was actually a request for two detectives, not one and that another will be considered to be hired in the first quarter of 2024. Following discussion, both Kuhn and Phillips approved the request with Litz voting no. 

In other county business, the commissioners voted to:

  • Receive a second quarter investment update from Stifel, the investment company that runs the county’s pension fund, and from Washington Crossing, which handles about 15 percent of the county’s investment portfolio.
  • Approve change orders related to the new 911 Center being built in North Cornwall Township totaling $18,771. It was noted these changes still have the county well within monies earmarked for change orders as they occur throughout the life cycle of the construction project, which is slated to end later this year.
  • Appoint Litz to represent the commissioners on the South Central Workforce Development board.
  • Accept election integrity grant program post-election reports in the amount of $55,772.02 for the administration of the 2022 general election and $264,393.94 for the municipal and primary elections in 2023. The big expenditure in 2023 was for the mail-in ballot processing equipment purchased by the county. (LebTown previously reported that the machinery cost $180,000 to purchase.)
  • Grant two hotel tax grant fund applications. The commissioners agreed to pay Hilltop Playground Association a total of $6,150 of the $7,500 it had requested for the “Cars for Kids” car show on Sept. 17 and their Oktoberfest event on Oct. 21. The $6,150 represents the 25 percent match agreement that’s part of the grant fund application agreement. The second grant approved was for the Susquehanna Valley Showdown event in October 2024 at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center in the amount of $7,500. 
  • Enter into an agreement with Lebanon County Transit for the administration of the medical assistance transportation program. That contract runs from July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024.
  • Name Nicole Gray to a three-year on the Lebanon County Community Action Partnership Community Action Advisory Board through the end of December 2026. Gray is the executive director of the Community Health Council of Lebanon.
  • Agree to five real estate tax exemption requests from fully disabled veterans.
  • Approve the minutes of their Aug. 3 meeting after it was amended to include verbiage that the reason for the installation of new lighting at Monument Park was to enhance public safety in and around the park. The commissioners also approved the Treasurer’s Report and numerous other personnel transactions.
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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...