Columbia County Dealing With Urgent Issues
Columbia County is dealing with increasing substance use and behavioral health issues among residents and addressing long-term flooding risks to communities while managing costs for businesses and property-owners. The Commissioners have also invested COVID relief funds into workforce programs to support employers with critical workforce needs. Commissioner Rich Ridgway discussed these efforts with the Chamber’s Board of Directors in September.
Ridgway estimates that 50% to 70% of the inmates in the county jail are related to drugs or behavioral health issues. In many cases, there are no options to send people for treatment. The jail, adult probation, and children and youth services account for approximately half of the county’s $32 million budget. State funding and revenue from housing inmates from other counties help offset these costs.
The Commissioner noted that Columbia County has the lowest tax rate of any sixth-class county in the state, and he expected no tax increase next year.
Recognizing that workforce is a critical issue for employers in the county, the Commissioners invested COVID relief funds to create programs. The Skilled Trades Training Program offers free courses to residents of Columbia County or employees of County businesses at Columbia-Montour Area Vo-Tech and Central Columbia High School. Those that complete at least five of the courses receive a Maintenance Mechanic Certificate. Program details are available at cmvt.us.
The Chamber’s Foundation was awarded funding to create Skills That Pay. The five-module program, also offered through Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech, helps people develop foundational job skills including interviewing, teamwork, and basic financial literacy. Those that complete the free program also receive a certificate and are guaranteed interviews with county employers. Information about the Skills That Pay program is under the Foundation tab of the Chamber’s website, columbiamontourchamber.com. The Chamber and its Foundation are working with the County’s adult probation department and human service agencies to try to mobilize people back into the workforce through this program. Chamber Board members expressed interest in working with lower-level offenders and people in recovery on work-release.
The Commissioners also continue to pursue flood protection and mitigation throughout the County. Through the efforts of Senator John Gordner and Representative David Millard, $1.3 million was received for flooding and stormwater management issues. A significant portion of those funds has been distributed to local municipalities. Specific projects include bridge improvements in Millville, floodproofing in Benton, and the Fishing Creek Watershed and Bloomsburg West End flood mitigation studies. A stormwater management plan has also been developed for the Rt. 11 corridor including South Centre Township, Scott Township, and the Town of Bloomsburg, following isolated flooding that impacted a number of businesses and residents in 2018. The Chamber organized the initial meetings following that flooding. Several projects to reduce risks along the corridor have been completed.
Commissioner Ridgway thanked the Chamber Board for the opportunity to discuss these issues and welcomed additional opportunities to work with County employers.