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Blair County Commissioners briefs

Altoona School district to collect tax

Blair County will sign another contract with the Altoona Area School District for collection of county real estate taxes from property owners who live in Altoona.

Commissioners agreed Tuesday to update the county’s 1997 contract allowing the school district to retain a commission at 0.70 percent for collection of real estate taxes between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020. That’s the same commission the school district charged the county in 2019, Controller A.C. Stickel advised commissioners.

Stickel, during Tuesday’s commissioner meeting, said he started in late 2019 to explore options for the county’s collection of real estate taxes. He also said he wants to continue exploring the options this year, hoping to identify one that saves the county some money.

In Blair County municipalities other than Altoona, Stickel said, tax collectors receive a fee per parcel instead of a percentage commission.

Intercom cost increases

Blair County commissioners are being asked to approve an expenditure of $5,687 to set up an intercom system for visitors asking to enter the county’s human resources department.

The commissioners, in September, approved the project at $5,151, but information reviewed Tuesday indicated that the cost has gone up by $536.

The county identified $2,143 in grant dollars to put toward the project, an amount made available by Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool insurance program or PCoRP. The remaining $3,543 would have to be paid for with county tax dollars assigned to the human resources department.

A decision on the purchase rests with commissioners. Empire Communications is the company that providing the prices.

County-owned bridge to be replaced

Blair County is working with PennDOT to replace a county-owned bridge on Evergreen Road in Friesville, Greenfield Township.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to direct PennDOT to hire Wen-Brook Construction of Three Springs, Huntingdon County, to handle the construction work.

The cost of the bridge replacement project will mostly be covered by federal and state transportation dollars. The county’s costs associated with the project, typically 5 percent, are to be covered with revenue from Marcellus Shale resources.

Family Services asks for endorsement

Blair County is being asked to endorse Family Services Inc.’s pursuit of a $75,000 state grant for demolishing a vehicle ramp and renovating the second floor of a proposed homeless shelter at 2300 N. Branch Ave.

The building is the site of a former car dealership and trucking company, both of which made use of the ramp to access the second floor.

Family Services Inc. intends to seek the grant through the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund, also known as PHARE. Commissioners are being asked to sign a sub-recipient agreement allowing the grant, if awarded, to be used toward the shelter project. Family Services has a waiting list of about 200 homeless people.

Blair adding protective amendment

Blair County is adding an amendment to its contract with TextBehind Inc. to protect the county from patent infringement. The company which screens and copies inmate mail to reduce the potential distribution of harmful substances.

Commissioners voted Oct. 15 to approve a contract with the Phoenix, Md., company in November, based on a presentation and request presented in September by prison Warden Abbie Tate.

The amendment, solicitor Nathan Karn said Tuesday, will protect Blair County from any claims that may develop or result from accusations of patent infringements. The Florida-based Smart Communications company, which also provides inmate mail services, recently notified another county, Karn said, that TextBehind Inc. is operating in violation of its patent.

While TextBehind’s attorneys disagree, Karn said he recommend that TextBehind and the county sign the amendment so that the county is protected. TextBehind has already agreed, Karn told commissioners on Tuesday, when they voted in favor of signing.

DA office wants new software

Blair County commissioners are being asked for approval for the purchase and installation of Prosecutor by Karpel, a computer software case management system, at $79,750. It would be payable in two installments.

The district attorney’s office is recommending the software to replace an outdated and poorly-operating system, First Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks told commissioners Tuesday.

It’s capable of organizing information about pending cases and providing attorneys with updates and notifications that should lessen the workload on the support staff, Weeks said.

Karpel also offers the option of off-site storage of information on its computer system, at an initial cost of $25,000, then at a cost of $100 per year per user with access to off-site storage. The alternative would be for the county to maintain storage, security and access on its system.

Airport to use county truck

The Altoona-Blair County Airport will borrow a county truck for clearing snow from the airport runway.

The airport’s snow plowing truck recently caught fire, County Administrator/Chief Clerk Nicole Hemminger told commissioners.

While the county isn’t charging a fee for the lease, it is asking the airport to assume all costs associated with the truck’s usage. The agreement is to remain in place through May 1 or until the airport gets a replacement truck.

— Compiled by Kay Stephens

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