Commissioners expand broadband, explain voting, extend deadlines

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 9/8/20

HONESDALE, PA — The Wayne County Commissioners have no time to waste in spending the more than $4 million the county received in CARES Act funding.

“This CARES Act funding is something …

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Commissioners expand broadband, explain voting, extend deadlines

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HONESDALE, PA — The Wayne County Commissioners have no time to waste in spending the more than $4 million the county received in CARES Act funding.

“This CARES Act funding is something that will disappear if it is not spent by the end of December,” chairman Brian Smith said at last week’s meeting. “And the projects that we have to utilize it on have to be in place and serving people by the end of December, so that’s not so simple.”

A chunk of the fleeting funding will go toward addressing an issue the commissioners have long talked about addressing: access to rural broadband. As commissioner Joe Adams often references, one-third of Wayne County residents do not have access to high-speed internet.

Now the county has entered into an agreement with Essential Management Solutions, LLC to provide consulting work to manage the county’s broadband project. The agreement includes up to 200 hours of professional services at an hourly rate of $140 not to exceed $28,000. Adams emphasized that local taxpayer dollars were not funding the firm’s consulting fee—rather CARES funding will cover the costs entirely.

“It’s particularly important with [students] learning from home, colleges having kids learning from home, new people moving into our area that are trying to work from home, telemedicine and all the other things that we need broadband for,” Smith said.

The commissioners did not yet discuss the details of the broadband project at their last meeting.

As for the $2.4 million in CARES funding that will be doled out to local businesses and nonprofits, the commissioners are continuing to review the applications; commissioner Jocelyn Cramer said she hopes to be notifying recipients by the end of the month or early October. With the “rules changing” several times regarding how the county is allowed to distribute the money, Smith called the process “like dancing on a skateboard.”

“It’s a daunting task. I believe we’ve had about 147 companies and nonprofits apply; we are oversubscribed by a couple of million dollars,” Adams said.

During her weekly election update, Cramer reminded residents that mail-in ballots will be sent out by the end of September and urged voters to be careful when filling ballots out.

“Be very diligent about reading the instructions and making sure you are responding exactly how the instructions request you to do so, so that your ballot is not discounted,” she said, specifically noting that voters should remember to use the “secrecy envelopes” that come with the mail-in ballots. Cramer said that some incorrectly filled-out absentee ballots had to be discounted in the spring primary, but that there were “very few” out of the approximately 4,000 residents who voted by mail.

Chief clerk Andrew Seder asked residents who “see any suspicious activity when it comes to ballots” to report it to the Bureau of Elections and local law enforcement.

“I’m sure we’re going to start seeing some crazy things over the next two months,” he said. Cramer noted that they “haven’t seen any of that craziness in the past.”

While rumors and anxiety about mail-in voter fraud abound throughout the country, there is little to no authoritative evidence that voting-by-mail increases instances of voter fraud.

The last item on the meeting’s agenda, the extended discount period for Wayne County residents to pay their tax bills has concluded. Seder said that in a normal year, this portion of the year would be the “penalty phase,” in which a 10-percent late fee is incurred. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commissioners and all but one municipality (the Borough of Starrucca) have delayed the penalty phase until the first day of next year. Until December 31, residents can pay the face value of their county and municipal taxes.

“We had a lot of people who accumulated the monies that they needed to be able to pay their taxes and take the [two percent] discount between May and August,” Adams said, he thanked the tax collectors who had to do “a lot of extra work to do the right thing for the taxpayers.”

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