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August 25, 2022
PROPERTY TAX REBATE: Did you or someone you know get a property tax or rent rebate from the state in recent years and learn you no longer qualify? We want to hear from you. Your stories will fuel our reporting on the steady decline in the number of households getting help from a lottery-funded program that’s meant to help older or disabled Pennsylvanians with housing costs. Reach out to Spotlight PA reporter Charlotte Keith at ckeith@spotlightpa.org.
Inside this edition: North-central Pennsylvania lacks in-person abortion providers, fire companies consider teaming up, and a government transparency win.
 
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Abortion access
Heather Khalifa / The Philadelphia Inquirer

Real quick: Costly regulations and smaller populations relative to urban areas have prevented any abortion providers from opening since one in State College closed after a series of scandals, Ashad Hajela reports.

A bit more: Even though abortion is legal in Pennsylvania, Abby Minor, a Penns Valley resident, said she was shocked by how difficult it was to have the procedure done during the summer of 2013.

She called local health providers around Centre County, but none of them were helpful, she said. They didn’t even tell her where she could get one.

An internet search revealed that one of the closest clinics was in Harrisburg. “It felt illegal,” she said. “What other medical thing are you suddenly on your own Googling for?”

Her partner, Kevin Sims, drove with her to Hillcrest Women’s Medical Center. It was scary when they pulled into the parking lot, Minor said. Protesters were yelling profanities and “abortion is murder,” she recalled. Others were praying. Sims said he was struck by the aggression of the protesters.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade left abortion access in the hands of the states. In Pennsylvania, abortion is legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy.

But for people living in north-central Pennsylvania like Minor, it’s at least an hour drive to the closest abortion provider. And the reason lies in the state’s history of abortion restrictions, regulatory laws that make it difficult to financially sustain an abortion clinic in lower-population areas, and a series of troubles that led what was the region’s only provider to close in 2010.

The full story: Read more here.

Fighting fires: better together?

Volunteer fire companies face many common stressors in funding and staffing. Is there strength in numbers if some choose to tackle the issues together?

That’s a central question five fire companies in Centre County’s Nittany Valley Region are asking, as they plan on participating in an upcoming pro-bono study by the state Department of Community and Economic Development. 

The companies — Logan and Undine fire companies in Bellefonte, Pleasant Gap Fire Company, Howard Fire Company, and Walker Township Fire Company — are run entirely by volunteers, like 90 percent of fire departments in Pennsylvania. That means they are independent organizations operating on their own, even though many receive taxpayer funding, and mutual aid agreements among companies are commonplace.

Over the past few decades, the business of volunteer fire companies has become harder to sustain. Volunteerism declined. Donations grew less reliable, and many traditional fundraising activities were paused during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. More stringent requirements deterred recruitment and retention. 

To some, including Floyd Wise, who worked in fire and rescue services in Harrisburg and is now a consultant for the DCED’s Regional Fire Services Assistance Program, fire companies can solve those challenges through better collaboration among neighboring departments and getting more support from local governments.

“Fire companies are one player in a big game,” Wise said last week, during a meeting with representatives from fire companies in the Nittany Valley Region. 

A new fire truck these days can cost upward of a million dollars, Wise said, meaning fire companies will need to budget years ahead to make such essential purchases. 

Costs are “only going to get higher,” he added. Wise said local governments will likely have to take on some of those financial responsibilities soon, which could mean tax increases. 

Fire companies must “deal with it collectively,” he said.

Wise will identify inefficiencies among each company, inconsistencies in policies governing them, and make improvement recommendations. 

Fire companies will ultimately decide whether to adopt any recommendations out of the study. 

While representatives said the economy of scale is an appealing aspect of a collaborative relationship, fire companies are reluctant to consider the more drastic potentials of a “regionalization” plan, like mergers and consolidations, because of logistical issues and the loss of individual company identities. 

“Relationships of sharing,” he said, are going to be crucial for many fire companies, but success can also come from better understanding of what it takes to run volunteer fire companies successfully within the communities they serve. 

Min Xian, local accountability reporter

📝 More From Spotlight PA
» Wolf administration explores using federal aid to help stretch Pa.’s limited monkeypox vaccine supply

» Commonwealth Court orders Pa.'s health department to release data on medical marijuana program in response to Spotlight PA request

» Pa. lawmakers are set to get huge raises next year. They can return them, but almost nobody does.
📷 Local Gem
Summer flowers — via State College bureau editor Sarah Rafacz. Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
📰 In Other News
» Penn State working on plan to sell alcohol in Beaver Stadium for 2022 season, sources say (Centre Daily Times)

» New details released after Philipsburg man charged with stabbing death of Centre County man (Centre Daily Times)

» Penn State University Park reports its first case of monkeypox (WPSU)

» No charges filed against teen driver in death of State College cyclist, police say (Centre Daily Times)

» More details emerge after judge's order to vacate row homes (The Express)

» Another 12-Story High-Rise Is in the Works for Downtown State College. It Might Be the Last (StateCollege.com)
📅 Events
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Aug. 25-28: Enjoy live music and camping at Old Time Music Festival Crooktop 2022 in Bradford.

» Aug. 27: Kirtan Fest 2022 is a "nonstop live music meditation extravaganza" in Boalsburg.

» Aug. 27: HavanaFest brings "Latin-Caribbean tastes, sounds, and smells to Happy Valley."

» Aug. 28: The Little League World Series final is played in Williamsport.

» Aug. 30: 3 Dots Downtown hosts its Pugh Street Shutdown, featuring punk rock, ice cream, a beer garden, and more.
🧩 The Puzzler
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, "spotlight" also forms "stoplight."

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

N I G H T
 
Good luck!

Last week's answer: Peach

Congrats to Kathy B., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: Warren D., Gordon F., Donna D., Jacki S., Steve B., Tish M., Linda A., and Jay G.
Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.
 
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