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November 29, 2012

GIRARDVILLE - Flames tore through an iconic Schuylkill County store last night.  Firefighters were called to the former Jiffy Mart at 146 North Second Street in Girardville about 7:30 last night and found heavy smoke coming from the large, brick building.  The store had been closed for a time but was set to re-open soon under a new name.  The Republican Herald reports, firefighters struggled to contain the flames but could not and were forced to take a defensive stance as the roof above the convenience store part of the building collapsed.  An investigation into the cause of the fire continues today.

PORT CARBON - The man police believe is responsible for growing marijuana inside a double home that caught fire yesterday is in custody in Schuylkill County.  53-year old Dean Vermeersch of Port Carbon faces drug charges and is accused of putting people in danger.  The fire marshal said an electrical overload between the first and second floor of the home on Coal Street caused the fire.  Investigators believe some of the equipment used in the marijuana operation was connected to the outlet.  A family on the other side of the double block home was forced out by the flames. Vermeersch is locked up in the Schuylkill County prison.

SUNBURY – In Northumberland County, Sunbury police report the theft of a rifle.  Police say the rifle was taken from a pick-up truck parked on South Third Street last night.  The rifle is an Alpine 30-06 with a light brown wood stock.  Anyone with information about this weapons theft is asked to call Sunbury Police.
John Callahan (WGRC)

MIFFLINBURG – Police in a Union County borough urge residents to lock up their vehicles and outdoor belongings.  The Mifflinburg Police Department has been investigating a recent rash of thefts from unlocked vehicles, and urges all vehicle owners to keep their vehicles locked and to avoid keeping valuable items inside vehicles.  They also recommend that residents keep all outside valuables on porches and in garages secured.
John Callahan (WGRC)

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT – In Lycoming County, nearly $1,000 was raised to refurbish the original costume for Little League Baseball and Softball’s mascot through fund-raising events coordinated by students as part of their Business 244 Class at Lycoming College.  The funds raised by the class will be used to showcase the original Dugout costume when the Peter J. McGovern Little League Museum in South Williamsport reopens in June. The museum is currently closed as it undergoes extensive exhibit renovations.

MOUNT CARMEL – In Northumberland County, Mount Carmel Borough Council may consider a new fee on landlords.  The proposed ordinance would charge landlords a fee per rental unit.  With the current ordinance, landlords in Mount Carmel are already required to pay an annual $100 licensing fee, and are paying $40 for the first inspection of a rental house and $20 for each inspection after that. Owners of rental apartments pay $20 for the first inspection of an apartment and $15 for each inspection after that. The proposed fee would be in addition to the current set-up.  The News-Item reports, Councilman Joseph Lapotsky will be presenting the topic for discussion at the December 17th workshop meeting once he researches it thoroughly.  It could potentially be voted on at the December 20th regular meeting.

ATLAS – Northumberland County residents of Locust Gap, Kulpmont and Marion Heights met with U.S. Postal Service officials Wednesday to discuss the reduction of service hours at their facilities. Michael Wolfberg and Curt Evert, postmasters for Selinsgrove and Mount Carmel, respectively, held a meeting at the Atlas American Legion for each municipality to share results of surveys mailed about four weeks ago to residents.  The survey contained four options on potential changes to their post office. Residents chose between realignment of hours, delivery option, nearby post office or village post office, which would place a post office in a location such as a business or library. The News-Item reports, 2,074 surveys were mailed and 805 were returned. Of those returns, 90 percent favored realignment of hours.

UNIVERSITY PARK - Embattled former Penn State President Graham Spanier earned more than $3.2 million in taxable income last year, including nearly $2.5 million in a severance package that was triggered when he was fired after the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal broke.  Penn State released a breakdown of Spanier’s compensation from 2011 yesterday.  In all, Spanier earned $3,255,762 in 2011. That amount includes his annual salary of $700,000; taxable benefits worth $82,557; and $2,473,205 in the severance package that was part of an employment agreement from 2010.  The $2.47 million payout consists of two payments that will be held until June 2017: $1,225,000 and $1,248,205. That was deferred compensation Spanier earned over his 16 years as president. After taxes, Spanier will see $860,637 of that amount when he’s paid in June 2017.  Spanier was fired November 9th, 2011, by the university’s board of trustees after the investigation into child abuse allegations against Sandusky, a former university assistant football coach, was made public in a grand jury presentment.

LOCK HAVEN - The Clinton County Prison Board is banking on a $6 million budget for 2013, but also expects county tax money to make up a $2.25 million deficit.  At a special meeting Wednesday, the board also learned that it's not actually making money by housing state inmates at the local jail, and is actually losing money.  The figures - as presented to the board by Chief Clerk Amy Dicello and Susquehanna Group Financial Advisors representative Ed Zack -appeared to be wide open for a financial interpretation and analysis.  Unfortunately, a detailed financial analysis won't arrive in time for the end of 2012.  As a result, the Express reports, prison finances will have an almost certain impact on the county government's budget as a whole.

(Harrisburg) – The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties says despite a vote in favor of a strike authorization, professors at the state’s colleges and universities will not go on strike this semester.  Instead the professors will put off any consideration of a strike until the spring semester.  The issues precipitating the strike talk include health benefits, pay for online courses and the pay rate for temporary faculty members.  Both sides in the dispute say they will continue discussions throughout the month of December in hopes of reaching agreement.

(Harrisburg) – Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recognized the ten year anniversary of its Prepare Now program.  PUC Chairman, Robert Powelson told a gathering in Harrisburg that in addition to educating consumers about the availability of programs to assist them with utility bills, the Prepare Now program focus is on increasing customer awareness of increased heating costs, exploring ways to reduce energy usage and increasing awareness for safe home heating.

(Lewisburg) – SEDA-COG, a publicly funded development organization based in Lewisburg says it has nearly completed phase one of its project with the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund.  The project is analyzing utility bills for local governments in ten municipalities in Central Pennsylvania.  The utility bill analysis tracks energy savings, and helps identify additional opportunities to reduce energy costs.

(Scranton) – United States Marshals say they have arrested a 21-year-old man in McAdoo, PA for violation of federal probation in a case that involved former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  Shawn Christy and his father had been charged with making threatening phone calls to the law firm that represented Palin.  Both men pleaded guilty earlier this year to the charges, and Christy was sentenced in federal court in Alaska to five years of probation and shortly thereafter disappeared.

(Selinsgrove) – Students in the Selinsgrove School District will be starting school earlier next year.  The school board approved a recommendation by Selinsgrove Superintendent Chad Cohrs to begin classes August 20.  Cohrs says he hopes the earlier start will benefit students who by 2017 will be required to pass the Keystone exams about which we reported yesterday on WGRC news.  11th-graders will begin taking the Keystone exams this coming January.  Numerous other school districts in the WGRC listening area already are beginning classes two weeks before Labor Day.

(South Williamsport/Coburn) – Two Central Pennsylvania communities have received Competitive Community Development Block Grants.  South Williamsport received over $400,000 to help income-eligible residents replace deficient sewer lines.
The village of Coburn in Penn Township, Centre County was awarded a half million dollars to upgrade its water system.  The grants are referred to as “Competitive” to distinguish them from “Entitlement” grants.

(New Berlin) – Residents of the community of New Berlin in Union County can expect to take a survey in January as the SEDA-COG Energy Resource Center begins the final phase of the New Berlin Energy Independence project.  The survey is a follow-up to the energy audits undertaken in 2009 when the project began.  The project’s goal is a community-wide effort to conserve energy and apply renewable energy opportunities.

(Harrisburg) – Pennsylvania has begun a new program to help the state’s small businesses secure government contracts.  Under the Small Business Procurement Initiative, state agencies will reserve certain contracts for competition among self-certified companies.

(Washington D.C.) – It’s been learned that Pennsylvania 9th District Congressional Congressman Bill Shuster will become the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee beginning in January. The vote of Shuster to that position is seen as putting Pennsylvania’s need for federal highway monies front and center.
Earlier this month the 52-year-old Shuster won his seventh term to congress.

(Easton) – Crayola, the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of crayons is closing its over a half million square foot distribution center in Central Pennsylvania.  The crayon manufacturer says the distribution center in Bethel Township, Lebanon County will close January 18 and move to the Majestic Bethlehem Center, closer to its main headquarters in Easton.

(Mifflintown) – A man who robbed three area banks in October and early November remains in the Mifflin County Correctional Facility in lieu of $300,000 bail after his hearing was continued yesterday until December 19.  38-year-old Richard L. Lockett stole over $20,000 in the three robberies at the First National Bank in Thompsontown, the Juniata Valley Bank in Port Royal and the Swineford National Bank in Beaver Springs.