Month: April 2018

Exploring Erie County: Our day in Corry

In March, we made our second stop in my new Exploring Erie County initiative. This time, we spent a beautiful, blue-sky day in Corry. Here are some highlights of the day’s adventures:

First stop

We started the day at Gigi’s Route 6 Diner for coffee and tea with a group of Corry residents who were interested in taking action to tackle drug addiction in their community.

We had an interesting discussion, and I appreciated hearing their voices. As an elected official, there is nothing more vital than hearing directly from citizens about the issues they face every day. And when it comes to an issue as damaging to a community as drug abuse, it does take a community-wide effort – elected officials and law enforcement, treatment providers and ordinary citizens – to fight back.

All too soon, we were off to our next stop: a tour of EnTech Plastics in the Corry Industrial Park. .

EnTech Plastics

EnTech Plastics is a well-known and long-established business in Corry, but it had its start elsewhere in Erie County.

Kevin and Sally Gearity launched their business in the City of Erie in 1996. When they soon outgrew their space, they began looking for new locations – and in 2001 they landed in Corry, where they remain an anchor in the Corry Industrial Park.

“Corry is a great place to do business,” said Skip Simmons, a partner in the company. He and Kevin Gearity point out the advantages, including assistance from the Corry Redevelopment Authority and ready access to local toolmakers and the resources of the Corry Higher Education Council and Penn State Behrend.

And EnTech has flourished in Corry.

As Kevin Gearity showed us around the facility, we could see that the company had far outgrown its origins with “two machines and two people,” as he described.

Today, more than 20 injection molding machines churn out plastic parts, and dozens of employees are hard at work on the shop floor.

The company makes and assembles injection molded plastics for a variety of industries, including lawn and garden, automotive, and medical. The company has about 50 permanent workers and also employs about 35 temporary workers.

Gearity said the hiring of temporary workers has helped EnTech to make better permanent hires, as some temporary workers are brought on to the permanent staff.

As we heard more about the business, it’s clear that the hiring adjustment is only one of several that has helped to change the company over the years.

Throughout our tour, Gearity pointed out various changes. An area of the facility has been set aside for blending work, a move that resulted in more efficient processes. The Quality department has expanded. The assembly work was added several years ago. EnTech has diversified its customer base. And now it is focusing on enhancing sales.

It’s part of a deliberate effort to continuously improve EnTech, Gearity said.

“We’re never satisfied with the status quo,” he said. “We always try to do better, to be better.”

Corry Public Library

After EnTech, we headed over to the Corry Public Library for my “Q&A with the County Executive” meet and greet.

I was thrilled to see that there were several Corry-area residents waiting to talk to me.

Over the course of the next hour, I had interesting conversations with several residents. Our topics included EMTA bus service and the still-incomplete Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, which would take bicyclists through Corry.

The trail is a particular interest of mine, as I am an avid cyclist. The trail, once complete, would start in the city of Erie, travel north along the lakeshore into New York State, and then cut down through the southeastern corner of Erie County on its way to Pittsburgh. It promises to bring plenty of bicyclists and tourists through the area, and I would love to see it linked to other routes across Erie County as well.

I was also pleased to have the opportunity to spend some time at the Corry Public Library, which is a bright and welcoming space. The Corry Public Library is an independent library – meaning that it is not one of the five branches of the Erie County Public Library. However, it is part of the Public Libraries of Erie County (PLEC) – which unites the Corry facility with the Erie County Public Library and five other independent libraries. This means that residents can borrow books and access materials at any of PLEC locations.

Once our time at the Corry Public Library was up, we headed out to another Corry library – the Library Bar and Grill.

Library Bar and Grill

The restaurant, located in the former home of the Corry library, still maintains a quaint historic atmosphere that would make any book-lover feel at home. Shelves line the walls, with plenty of both books and bottles on display.

We met up there with Corry Mayor David Mitchell for a quick lunch. Mitchell was a longtime Erie County Council member – he represented Council’s sprawling 6th District, which covers a large section of southeastern Erie County, from 1996 to 2009.

Mitchell shared some of what his visions are for Corry’s future, and also shared some memories of his past experiences with county government.

Before too long, it was time for our next appointment, and we headed out to Route 6.

Corry State Fish Hatchery

Our next stop was the Corry State Fish Hatchery, which is just outside Corry’s city limits in Wayne Township. At this time of year, the hatchery is busy stocking thousands of trout in creeks and streams across multiple counties.

The hatchery is one of 13 fish hatcheries across the state – including two others in Erie County – run by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. The Corry hatchery opened in 1876 and is the oldest continuously operating fish hatchery in the nation!

An informative visitor center at the site educates guests about the varieties of fish raised at the hatchery. Those fish – and there as many as 750,000 on site at any given time – fill various tanks and pools, depending on their size. Eggs are hatched in an indoor area. Once the young fish get to a specific size, they are moved outdoors to one of the dozens of concrete runs, sheltered by pavilions, that line the property.

Those long, rectangular pools are teeming with trout – including the spectacular golden trophy trout. As we walked, Dan Donato, the hatchery’s manager, pointed out the various sizes: fingerlings in one pool, medium-sized in another, and finally the big ones ready for stocking.

The fish that are stocked are generally 19-20 months old. So the trout that will be stocked into streams next year are already swimming around at the Corry hatchery.

One last stop

As our day in Corry drew to a close, we had one final stop to make. We were invited into a home to look at a sensory room that is being constructed for the family’s 9-year-old child, who is autistic.

Once completed, the room will have a variety of features and equipment, including soft surfaces and light panels, that can create a soothing atmosphere for an autistic child.

The work was made possible through Erie County Care Management, a nonprofit established by Erie County Council in 2006 that works to create a seamless system of care for children or adults in need of community services.

Have questions about the $5 vehicle registration fee?

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the extra $5 that Erie County residents will pay on their state vehicle registration. Here is some more information:

What is the $5 fee?

In December 2017, Erie County passed an ordinance that adds a $5 fee to the annual state cost of vehicle registration. While the regular vehicle registration money goes to PennDOT, all money raised by the fee will be returned to Erie County to be spent on local transportation projects.

Why did Erie County enact the fee?

Erie County had two incentives: First, the county will lose about $1.8 million in federal funding in 2020, which will reduce the county’s ability to repair our locally owned roads and bridges. In addition, PennDOT offered to give the county $2 million to be used for to repair structurally deficient locally owned bridges.

Do other counties do this?

Erie County is among 19 counties to enact the fee since the state’s Act 89 legislation, passed in 2013, made it possible to do so starting in 2015.

Who is exempt from paying the fee?

The fee applies to passenger vehicles, which includes RVs and trailers. Boats and ATVs are not part of this, as they are not registered through PennDOT. (Boats are registered through the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, and ATVs and snowmobiles are registered through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.) The fee is only for non-exempt vehicles – residents who currently do not have to pay for vehicle registration also do not have to pay the $5 fee. The list of those exempt from paying vehicle registration is spelled out in Chapters 13 and 19 of the state Vehicle Code.

What happens to the money?

The $5 fee is expected to generate about $1.2 million each year, and every cent of that goes back to Erie County. It must be used for local transportation projects.

Who decides how it will be spent?

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is the governing transportation body of the county, will decide which local transportation projects will receive funding. Erie County oversees the MPO, but the group consists of officials from municipalities across the county, as well as representatives from the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority, the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Erie Regional Airport Authority and PennDOT. For a current list of members, click here.

What is the first priority?

Structurally deficient locally owned bridges top the to-do list. In Erie County, roads and bridges are owned by either the state or by local municipalities. Bridge inspections show that about 36 percent of locally owned – that is, those owned by municipalities – are structurally deficient, and five are closed. By comparison, only 4 percent of the state-owned bridges are structurally deficient.

How will the registration fee help?

Locally owned bridges are costly for municipalities to maintain, repair and replace, so their conditions have deteriorated. The revenue for this fee will address that by giving our local cities, boroughs and townships financial support. If not for this $5 fee, municipalities would have to resort to raising property taxes (which would place the burden of repairing roads on property owners, rather than on everyone who uses the roads) or not being able to repair these aging, deteriorating bridges.

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