It was a year of changes in Warren County.
Through changing faces and changing landscapes, Heraclitus’ words about the only constant once again held true in 2013.
We discovered just how good our government is at digging up information on us and just how bad it is at budget negotiations. We saw a pope retire for the first time in centuries and a controversial successor take his place, and we watched a bomb detonate in Boston while the nation still reeled from the violence of Sandy Hook.
Following a year of wrangling over everything from requiring union dues to whether people can eat dog meat, the state legislature passed only one of its major legislative initiative, a transportation bill, leaving pension reform and liquor privatization for another day. Meanwhile, the courts never gave a definitive answer on whether you need an ID to vote.
Locally, we learned that deaths outnumber births in Warren County, throwing population decline into stark focus. We watched a superintendent leave under troubling circumstances and welcomed another with hope for the future. We saw local traditions end and others rise to take their place. We found it harder to have a smoke but easier to get in shape, and we saw a changing of the guard in an election were, in many cases, nobody bothered to run.
After being denied tax-exempt status following a county assessment, a number of organizations appealed the decision including Warren General Hospital, the Rouse, the Warren County YMCA, Warren County Memorial Park, the Crary Home, and Calvary Chapel. A year’s worth of wrangling over what, and how much, charity was actually offered by the organizations and whether they were legally exempt from taxes. The jury is, largely, still out on the issue.
The Warren County School District moved forward with plans to renovate and consolidate schools. When the construction dust settles, Sheffield and Eisenhower will be K-12 facilities, Beaty-Warren Middle School will have a new, updated surface and a number of buildings will be closed including Russell, Sheffield, Sugar Grove, and Allegheny Valley Elementary Schools and the South Street Early Learning Center.
In the wake of now-defunct re-development projects, the city took steps to cut its losses. Steps to recover money from individuals involved in the Allegheny Center for the Arts Building and convention center debacles were explored and legal actions were taken against individuals including developer Tim King and former Gro-Warren Executive Director Christine Cheronis. The city has also embarked on a plan to pay itself back funds from a revolving loan fund utilized by Gro-Warren.
Despite the troubled projects of the past, the city moved forward with new work on a number of fronts. Grant funding was secured for a new wastewater treatment plant and for work on the municipal pool and ground was broken for work at Beaty Park. Meanwhile, in the midst of the city looking at divesting unused properties including parks, an outside community group drove the transformation of DeFrees park into a fitness park in an effort to make a difference.
The physical landscape changed in Warren County in 2013, most noticeably, Youngsville got a make-over through the commencement of work on its streetscape project.
Northwest Savings Bank moved forward with work on its expansion in the city.
The county welcomed its first Sheetz convenience store amongst a year of new openings. A “medical mall” opened in North Warren and the House of Hope project finally came to fruition with an actual house.
Meanwhile, Big Lots announced plans to leave the county.
Youngsville celebrated a birthday as well, turning 200, but got an unwelcome present in the form of massive damage by vandals at Youngsville Area High School in June.
Area festivals said goodbye including Pleasures and Treasures and Ribfest, but Ribfest rose again as the All-American BBQ Festival, though in Pittsfield rather than the city. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways decided a temporary hiatus was in order for the annual Rimrock Bash while the organization concentrated on other things. Another tradition had some stricter limits set for it as the city’s limit on how long prior to the Fourth of July parade chairs could be set out took effect.
America added a 13-letter word to its collective vocabulary, sequestration, when Congress failed to come to a budget agreement and Warren County learned that, if nothing else, those cuts trickle down. Organizations as diverse as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Warren County School District and social programs all felt the pain of mandatory cuts.
The school district realized some unexpected windfalls, including repayment of a few hundred thousand dollars in improperly withheld funds from Intermediate Unit 5, resulting in some extra cash in a tax-increase-free-budget.
Resignations and elections contributed to some new faces taking on some key roles.
Foremost, Warren County School District Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel resigned over what was eventually found to be financial improprieties. He was replaced by Dr. William Clark. Nancy McDanel resigned from the district’s board of school directors and was replaced by Marcy Morgan, and board members Dr. Paul Yorchisin and John Grant opted not to run for re-election seats vacant for the election of Paul Mangione and Trish Rosenstein.
Warren County Jail Warden Gerald Britton resigned leading to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Ken Klakamp, taking over supervisory duties at the jail.
District Attorney Ross McKeirnan lost a hotly contested primary race to Rob Greene.
The primary also saw a referendum pass in Youngsville permitting the city manager to live anywhere in the county.
City Councilmember Chris Park left the city limits, necessitating the appointment of Joe Sprentz to fill his seat. Sprentz did not run for the remainder of the term come election time and Mayor Mark Phillips decided not to run either. The end election result was Councilman Maurice Cashman taking Phillips place with Greg Fraser taking over in turn for Cashman and Richard Kolcharno filling out the remaining two years of Park’s term.
A number of other positions around the county were also filled by new faces during the election.
The Warren County School District took the initiative on some changes which will be seen state-wide, implementing common core standard-based curriculum and Keystone Exams. They also made some changes that won’t be mandated, including changes to controversial class rank and transfer policies.
The region saw some high-profile visits including U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell.
In addition, State Rep. Kathy Rapp’s calls for a conference on mental health issues at the Warren State Hospital brought experts from across the state as well as Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth and Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Shirley Moore Smeal.
A number of individuals and organizations received wider recognition outside the county including Joe Colosimo for his work with Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, Winterfest, Tidioute Community Charter School and Whirley!-DrinkWorks.
Both Youngsville and Warren decided to take part in the Young Lungs at Play program, banning smoking at parks within the municipalities.
A handful of major crimes marred the peace of the county including the aforementioned vandalism, a number of arsons; notably at Miracle Mountain and 1021 W. Fifth Ave. in the city; and a murder in Tidioute.
The Warren County Commissioners sparked a controversy with the announcement they were changing the designation of the county’s tourist promotion agency, and the sizable hotel occupancy tax revenue that accompanies it, from the Warren County Visitors Bureau to the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry. The decision was announced seemingly out-of-the-blue, as discussions on the matter were not done publicly and the need for municipalities representing 51 percent of the population to concur has made the move less than certain.
After the Congress once again failed to negotiate a budget, this time with an added debate over the debt ceiling, the U.S. House of Representatives allowed the government to partially shutdown in an attempt to defund Obamacare. The county once again felt the pain of Washington gridlock, particularly in reduced services and access on the Allegheny National Forest.
Warren once again starred in WPSU’s “Our Town” series and “Our Town: Warren” aired in October.