Deteriorating infrastructure, declining COVID vaccine demand, the new emergency call center project, and the retirement of a long-time employee were on the agenda at the July 15 Lebanon County Commissioners’ meeting, the first held in-person since early 2020.

Commissioners look at repairs to old county bridges

As Commissioner Bob Phillips noted, the county is responsible for 13 bridges, and they are mostly old, with some over 100. “It seems like there is always something going on with a bridge,” he said.

Read More: Frog’s Hollow bridge isn’t falling down, but it does need to be replaced

The commissioners dealt with four of them July 15.

Acting on the recommendation of county purchasing agent Danielle Emerich, commissioners awarded a $162,176 contract to Mar-Allen Concrete Products of Ephrata for repairs to the Reilly Road Bridge over Tulpehocken Creek in Jackson Township. Mar-Allen was the only bidder.

Emerich told commissioners that Mar-Allen hopes to start work later this month and to be done by Sept. 24.

The 18-foot span has been closed for several years and its condition is listed as “poor” in a national bridge database. County administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said the stone bridge dates back to the 1800s and that the price of repairs makes more sense “than to spend seven digits for a new bridge.”

Wolgemuth also reported that the county had unsuccessfully applied to Harrisburg several months ago for a grant to repair the Golf Road Bridge over Swatara Creek and Levans Bridge over Little Swatara Creek, two steel spans that are at least a century old. Both have been closed due to decades of deterioration.

Wolgemuth recommended that the county re-apply for a $2,935,763 grant, and the commissioners passed a resolution authorizing him to do so.

The commissioners also agreed to write a letter of support to the commonwealth on behalf of Bethel Township, which is seeking a grant to replace the flood-damaged Shirksville Road Bridge.

Recap of county COVID-19 vaccination site operations

Lebanon County opened a COVID-19 community vaccination facility on March 17 in an old K-Mart store on Route 72 south of Lebanon. It closed on May 27.

Read More: [Photo Story] Inside Lebanon’s new mass vaccination clinic

In that time, 33,000 doses were administered, said Bob Dowd, the county’s director of Emergency Services. Dowd’s EMS crew organized quickly.

“It was a short time line with a real big lift,” he said.

Dowd noted that it was initially thought the center would be needed for six months or more. However, decreasing demand for the vaccine, coupled with increasing supplies and wider availability, led to the early close.

The county’s initial partner was CNS Occupational Medicine, which expanded its opening-day capacity of 1,000 shots to 2,000 shots four weeks in, according to Dowd. WellSpan Health also set up its operation at the center, starting on April 1.

After Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz commented that the county had dropped to an average of three new COVID cases per day over the preceding week, and that cases statewide were declining, Dowd added, “That’s why we are able to sit here [as opposed to holding online meetings] today.”

Read More: WellSpan COVID admissions down since start of vaccinations

Commissioner Bill Ames praised the operation and everyone involved. “I don’t think we could have done any better,” he said.

Commissioners hear update on new 911 Center

Wolgemuth updated the commissioners on plans for a new county 911 Center in North Cornwall Township, which was estimated to cost about $36 million.

Read More: County commissioners discuss plans for $36 million 911 center in North Cornwall

He noted that the cost is driven significantly by the need to incorporate hardened and redundant systems into critical facilities, making the project similar to building a hospital or prison.

While the design isn’t complete, Wolgemuth said that it looked as if “the costs are going to approach $40 million,” and that pandemic-related increases in the prices of construction materials appeared to be easing.

“Our construction manager is sticking to those numbers,” he said.

But, bids won’t be solicited until September, Wolgemuth added. “I’ll have my fingers crossed on bid opening.”

Phillips noted that the building will be one of the most expensive projects the county has undertaken, but will be designed to last 50 years. “There could be some sticker shock for a county of this size,” he said, “but school districts are routinely spending $38 to $48 million just for renovations.”

Retiring 28-year employee honored

Wolgemuth read the commissioners’ public proclamation honoring Karen Kohr, who retired on July 17 after 28 years with the county, primarily as a fiscal operations officer for Children and Youth Services. Kohr’s fellow employees filled the room as she was honored.

The proclamation read in part that, “during her tenure, Karen served the county with devotion and commitment to Children and Youth Services. We … on behalf of past boards of commissioners, past and present employees, and all our citizens, unite to thank Karen for the outstanding service she provided.”

Other business before the commissioners:

  • County treasurer Sallie Neuin reported that the county’s general fund balance was $1,559,790.24
  • Wolgemuth reported on the county’s pension fund. According to a recent actuary’s audit, the county’s required annual contribution was slightly less than what had been budgeted, and was paid on July 14. The county pension is 83% funded.
  • A number of new hires, resignations, promotions, leaves of absence, and pay increases for county employees were reported by Leeanne Shank, county human resources assistant.
  • Some employees who perform interpreter duties in addition to their regular duties were approved for additional pay.
  • Holly Leahy, administrator for the county’s Mental Health, Intellectual Disabilities, and Early Intervention program received approval to contract with the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning to provide certain early childhood intervention services to county children.
  • Leahy received approval of MH/ID/EI’s annual Human Services Plan, which is required by the commonwealth in return for block grant funding.

Next meeting

The next Lebanon County Commissioners’ meeting will be Thursday, Aug. 5, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 207 of the Lebanon Municipal Building, 400 S. 8th St., Lebanon. All meetings are open to the public.

Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...