LEWISTOWN - The Mifflin County Commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday to reject an offer by a private entity to purchase the SEDA-Council of Governments Joint Rail Authority and turn the operation into a private enterprise.
Jeff Stover, the authority's executive director, was on hand during the commissioners' bi-weekly business meeting to provide details of the offer and to present a history of the Joint Rail Authority and its benefits to many area industries.
Stover said the authority was approached in December by Moran Industries Inc., a warehouse and distribution services company based in Watsontown, with an offer to purchase the authority's assets for $12.5 million.
After his presentation, Stover asked the commissioners to reject the offer, noting that for any sale to be completed, approval must come from all eight counties the authority serves. Last month, it was reported that the Northumberland County Commissioners voted in favor of the idea, however, that county was the only one that voted for the transaction.
"We have been made aware of the $12.5 million offer," Commissioner Mark Sunderland said. "I've been contacted by several local companies that use the rail lines including Standard Steel and Trinity Packaging. They indicated to me that we (should) not mess with this. They feel this service is working just fine the way it is."
"The $12.5 million offer is well below even scrap value," he said. "Most of our customers say it's working very well and they're very happy with the service."
He later estimated the authority's value at approximately $85 million.
Stover said the authority was formed in 1983 with its primary mission to preserve essential rail freight service and further economic development and job creation in the region through improvement and expansion of rail infrastructure. He said the authority owns the track lines and associated real estate, with a private operator running the trains. It receives its funding by charging a 10 percent fee on the operator's gross freight revenue as well as tracking rights to other carriers and license agreements and easements.
"We are not funded by taxpayers' dollars," Stover added.
Following the discussion, the other two commissioners made their feelings known in voting down the measure.
"I feel this is a public asset to our area and I make a motion to reject the offer," Kevin Kodish said.
Commissioner Otis Riden then said, "Most definitely, I second the motion."
In other business Thursday, the commissioners gave their approval for the Mifflin-Juniata Human Services Department to send out a needs assessment survey to 3,000 Mifflin and Juniata County residents as part of an effort to determine specific needs in terms of human services.
"This (survey) is very important and I want to report that it is legitimate," Allison Fisher, the department's director said. "It's very important that those who receive the survey fill it out and get it back to us in a timely manner."
Fisher said the last time a survey such as this was done, 2005, the Human Services Department partnered with the United Way of Mifflin-Juniata. This time around, she said Lewistown Hospital has asked to be a partner in the effort, so health questions will also be a part of the survey.
"This is very important," Fisher said. "The Mifflin-Juniata Human Services Department and the United Way use this information for the next five years to determine the use of grant funding that comes in. So we'd really like to get a good response to this."
In other business Thursday, the commissioners:
Approved the 2012 Tax Claim Bureau fees.
Approved the annual memorandum of understanding between Mifflin and Juniata counties for the shared associate planner position.
Approved the hiring of Bernadette Mullen as part-time corrections officer effective Jan. 19.
Approved the transfer of John Stewart from corrections officer to maintenance laborer effective Jan. 11.
Approved the hiring of David Barron as assistant district attorney for a three-year term at a salary of $28,300.
Approved the reappointments of Lisa Stalnaker and William Gomes, both of Lewistown, to three-year terms on the Mental Health-Mental Retardation Advisory Board.
Approved a purchase of service agreement for use, if needed, by Children & Youth with LifeSpan Family Services of PA, Punxsutawney.
Approved the following Community Services Block Grant agreements for the period Jan. 1 to June 30: $13,870 to the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11 for Self-Sufficiency case management; $3,904 to Mifflin-Juniata Human Services for grant administration; $13,870 to Shelter Services Inc. for case management; and $7,400 to Shelter Services Inc. for rent and utility payments.
Approved the following re-appointments to the Mifflin County Board of Assessment Appeals for three year terms: Wilda Fisher, of McVeytown, Freda Hook, of Lewistown, and Nicholas Soccio, of Lewistown.
Accepted an offer of $1,000 for a parcel located in Lewistown Borough that is currently in repository for unsold properties.
Accepted a Mifflin-Juniata County Criminal Justice Advisory Board coordinator grant in the amount of $12,536 for grant writing.
Approved a purchase of service agreement with Mark Remy, esquire, as assistant district attorney in the amount of $24,750.
Approved the creation of a task force to establish a county-wide public access channel on the three cable companies that service Mifflin County.
Approved the appointment of Carl T. Smith to a five-year term on the Mifflin County Solid Waste Authority.
Approved Gannet Fleming Inc. to provide consulting services for Phase I and Phase II projects of the Mifflin County Comprehensive Plan upon county solicitor approval and approval of the contract.