Commissioners say broadband plans advancing

Venango County commissioners talked about broadband expansion in the county during the panel’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner Albert Abramovic said the equipment needed to provide broadband access to portions of the Scrubgrass area has been put up on the tower at Bredinsburg, the Scrubgrass power plant and the tower at Victory Elementary School.

The county is waiting for the equipment to be hooked up to supply the broadband, Abramovic said.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” commissioner Mike Dulaney noted.

Dulaney added the county was hampered in spending CARES funds on broadband by bureaucracy and red tape.

“When you have three months to spend the money and the application takes six months there’s not much you can do,” Dulaney said.

In the long run this has enabled the county to find more long-term solutions to broadband questions and how to affordably and strategically expand access, commissioners chairman Sam Breene said.

Breene added commissioners are looking to expand broadband access first to the areas that are the easiest to connect.

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners heard from a new tenant near Venango Regional Airport.

Commissioners approved the lease of a small garage area near the airport to Tina Fenrick of Tina’s Taxi Service, which is based out of the Grove City area and serves five counties.

Fenrick said she is expanding her operation with the goal of making taxi service more affordable in Venango County.

She added she is trying to fill the void of getting people to and from Venango County and the Pittsburgh airport now that commuter flights at the airport have stopped.

The commissioners welcomed her to the area.

Commissioners also heard from Juliet Hilburn, a student success specialist with the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College based out of Warren.

Hilburn said an issue in northwest Pennsylvania is the lack of “accessible post-secondary education.”

“The goal of the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College is to get people to college and into the workforce and keep them here in Venango County,” Hilburn said.

The college, which currently has 80 students, offers several two-year degrees and several workforce certifications, Hilburn said.

Students are learning from home now, and Hilburn said the college is hoping to reopen its remote classrooms, one of which is at Venango Technology Center, at some point.

Students gather in person at remote classrooms with a proctor and log in to their teacher’s lecture online, Hilburn said.

When class locations are able to reopen, Hilburn said the college will have access to labs at the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville.

Hilburn said the college is in the process of applying for accreditation.

In another matter, Marie Plumer, the county’s Human Services administrator, said rental assistance and utilities assistance money is still available. Plumer said that over the past month Human Services received 89 calls about rental assistance or homelessness situations.

Two Mile Run County Park manager Luke Kauffman said rental houses at the park are being renovated and trees that have fallen on trails are being cleared. Kauffman said he is always taking volunteers to help with tree removal work.

And human resources director Justin Wolfe said the county is in the process of recruiting a new jail warden following the upcoming retirement of current warden Kelly McKenzie.

McKenzie, who has been employed at the jail for about 30 years, is retiring in February.