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Derry Area approves tentative budget with 2-mill tax increase

Derry Area School District property taxes are projected to go up this coming school year, but not as much as initially expected.

At Thursday’s regular meeting, the Derry Area School Board adopted the district’s tentative 2020-21 budget, which includes a 2-mill hike in property taxes. The spending plan was approved via a 6-3 roll call vote, with Kevin Liberoni, Mark Maloy and Sean Kemmerer casting the dissenting votes.

A copy of the tentative budget will be available for inspection on the district website.

The millage rate represents a change from the spending plan Derry Area Administrative Assistant for Business Affairs Joe Koluder presented to school directors last month, which called for a 3-mill tax increase.

According to budget figures, the district was able to chop a mill from initial spending projections by making $258,939 in reductions.

Under the tentative budget, those decreases include cuts to principals at the district’s three buildings — $15,200 at Grandview Elementary School, $10,400 at Derry Area Middle School and $14,500 at Derry Area High School.

Additional savings were made by making cuts in the following departments: EWAVTS ($119,962), special education salary/benefits ($99,727), summer/special ($11,640) and athletic director ($9,690), respectively.

The budget changes also include a $22,080 bump in workers’ compensation insurance.

Under Thursday’s approved tentative budget, the proposed increase would raise the tax rate to 91.8 mills, according to budget figures provided to the Bulletin. The school board last spring approved a final budget with a 2-mill increase in property taxes. Before that, the board moved forward with a 5-mill tax increase in 2018-19, a 2.8-mill increase in 2017-18 and a 2.5-mill bump in 2016-17.

Each mill is projected to generate $135,258 in 2020-21, compared to $135,318 for the current fiscal school year. A 2-mill increase would cost the average residential taxpayer within the district an additional $24.58 in new taxes.

The tax increase, district officials said, is required largely because of a lack of educational funding from the state. According to budget projections, Derry Area is expected to receive $20.4 million in funding from state sources for the 2020-21 school year, a decrease of $58,880. Basic education and special education are the two main subsidies the district receives from the state.

The tentative budget also shows a sizable increase — 57.3% — in federal funding. Derry Area is projected to receive $1.2 million at the federal level for the coming school year compared to just over $780,000 in 2019-20. Also projected is a slight drop in local sources at 0.2%.

The tentative spending plan calls for a $98,074 decrease, or a drop of 0.4%, in salaries and benefits for the upcoming school year. The budget also includes additional spending in special education (an increase of $443,875) and transportation ($76,480), along with a small hike in plant operations ($3,665).

The district’s debt service is projected to be $63,500 less, totaling just over $2.75 million, compared to the current fiscal school year.

The district’s fund balance is projected to be nearly $4.4 million for the upcoming school year, a total that represents a 5.6% increase over 2019-20. The fund balance includes items such as budgetary reserve, textbooks, cyber/charter school funding, equipment, repairs, capital improvements, supplies, fees, contracted services and professional services.

For 2020-21, Koluder said another $1.65 million must be used from the fund balance to ensure a balanced budget. That total includes $1.07 million in unassigned fund balance and additional $600,000 allotted for a jump in retirement costs, the latter of which is projected to rise from a rate of 34.2% to 34.5%.

To cut costs over the past decade, the district has eliminated staff through attrition without eliminating programs. According to district figures, Derry Area will have eliminated 31.5 teaching positions and three administrative positions between the 2010-11 and 2020-21 school years.

According to tentative budget figures, the district is planning for the retirement of five teachers and the elimination of five teaching positions in 2020-21. Additionally, the district is not expected to replace a retiring maintenance supervisor while it plans to replace one of two retiring custodians along with a retiring maintenance employee.

The district’s tentative budget shows $38.2 million in expenditures, up from $37.6 million in 2019-20. Listed expenditures include $22 million for salaries and benefits, $5.6 million for special education, $2.3 million for transportation, $1 million for plant operations and $2.7 million for debt service, along with the fund balance.

In November, the school board approved a resolution to operate within the Act 1 index during the 2020-21 budget cycle.

The cost-of-living index caps any property tax increase at 3.6%, or 3.23 mills, Koluder said previously.

The school board must pass a final spending plan by June 30.

In other business, the board approved to authorize the administration and district’s food service director to continue the preparation and distribution of free breakfast and lunches through June 30 under the current coronavirus emergency waiver summer option.

The motion also called for the preparation and distribution of breakfast and lunches through Aug. 31, provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the state department of food and nutrition “assures the district full reimbursement of costs at the current rate of program at which the district qualifies. Should the program costs exceed the reimbursement rate, the program should cease due to the lack of full funding.”

Kemmerer said he has pushed for the continuation of the meals, and thanked the board and community members for their support.

“I’m glad my board members and I have found a way to keep this program in house — we get to feed kids for the summer,” he said. “... Maybe we can do some other things in the future to help those less fortunate.”

Also, the school board approved to rescind motions made at the April 23 regular meeting related to the district’s participation for proposed capital improvements to Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center (EWCTC) in Derry Township.

According to Thursday’s meeting agenda, the move to rescind the motion is tied to uncertainties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including “tax revenue collection, the bond market, school schedules and possible state legislation impact budgeting requirements.”

The decision to rescind, the agenda stated, will give the board “additional time to appropriately assess the overall financial and educational requirements facing Derry Area School District, both in the near and long terms, thereby allowing the board to reassess its participation in the (EWCTC) capital project at a later date when the current situation has stabilized.”

In other business, the school board approved:

  • Resignation of Georgia Letosky as lead custodian, effective May 12;
  • Change in status for Charlette Hall from a seven-hour custodian at Grandview to an eight-hour high school afternoon custodian, retroactive to May 11;
  • Change in status for Don Bittner from an eight-hour outdoor custodian to an eight-hour flex shift maintenance II position, retroactive to May 11;
  • To employ David Irvin as maintenance supervisor at a salary of $69,500 and all other benefits per the Act 93 supervisors agreement, effective July 1;
  • A one-year agreement with Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit for payroll/fund accounting software at an approximate cost of $20,500;
  • Logan Kabala and Frank Eckenroad as additions to the bus drivers and aide list;
  • Letter of collaborative agreement with Merakey for the 2020-21 school year;
  • Grandview as an English language arts pilot with Savvas Learning Company for the 2020-21 school year, at not cost to the district;
  • Reappoint Ned Nakles Jr. as district solicitor for the 2020-21 school year at a retainer of $6,000 and a rate of $135 per hour. Both rates are unchanged from the current school year;
  • Reappoint these depositories for district funds for the 2020-21 school year: Ameriserv Financial for general fund, payroll and activity accounts; S&T Bank for food service accounts; Pennsylvania Local Government Investment Trust for state subsides and PLGIT ARM, and PA School District Liquid Asset Fund account for capital improvements and debt service;
  • Appoint Ameriserv Financial, Dertown Federal Credit Union, First Commonwealth Bank, PA Local Government Investment Trust, PA School District Liquid Asset Fund account, Pittsburgh National Bank, S&T Bank, Ameriserv (for Caldwell Memorial Library fund), and Dollar Bank as alternate depositories for district funds for investment purposes for the 2020-21 school year;
  • To name Ameriserv Financial Bank as district treasurer for the 2020-21 school year;
  • Reappoint Dr. George Gavin, Dr. Robert Davoli and Dr. Jose Mejia as medical examiners for the 2020-21 school year at a rate of $2.50 per pupil exam. The rate is unchanged from the current school year;
  • Reappoint Excela Health Chestnut Ridge Family Medicine as school doctors for the 2020-21 school year at a cost of $20,000. The rate is unchanged from the current school year;
  • Reappoint Dr. Scott Salancy as dental examiner for the 2020-21 school year at a cost of $5 per exam. The rate is a $1 increase compared to the current school year;
  • Westmoreland Casemanagement Supports student assistance program for the 2020-21 school year;
  • Grandview Elementary program of studies for the 2020-21 school year;
  • Special education comprehensive plan for the period of July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2023;
  • A three-year contract with E. Henigan Studios for the 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years for high school yearbook photos and high school/middle school sports. The pact is for the same amount as the most recent contract;
  • A three-year contract with Confidential Secretaries for the 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years;
  • Extension agreement with Guttman Energy for the 2019-20 diesel fuel bid;
  • Memorandum of understanding for the Title III Consortium for the 2020-21 school year;
  • Activity reports as of March 31.

Local
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Palmer airport to resume full operations to three cities June 25

Arnold Palmer Regional Airport will resume full operations from the Unity Township facility to three cities next month, airport officials announced on Thursday.

Westmoreland County Airport Authority Executive Director Gabe Monzo said full service to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale in Florida along with Myrtle Beach in South Carolina will begin June 25.

Travelers wishing to book a flight out of the airport should go to www.spirit.com or download the Spirit Airlines mobile application to handle travel plans.

“It’s good to see Spirit Airlines return to operations at the airport,” Monzo said. “Our staff is excited and has been working very hard to make our airport compliant with the latest CDC and FAA regulations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is (the staff’s) effort sanitizing and disinfecting all public areas of the airport that have allowed to us meet the standards to reopen. Additionally, we are committed to operating our airport at the highest standards required in order to support Spirit Airlines flight operations.”

Airport officials said travelers will be required to wear appropriate face coverings over the nose and mouth when inside the airport terminal or traveling with Spirit Airlines. Young children are exempt from this requirement, officials added.

To make flight reservations at the airport in person, call 724-539-8100 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday to make an appointment.

Orlando flights returned May 3 following a nearly month-long shutdown of commercial service at the airport because of the pandemic. The current flights — which are available on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays — have used a circular route using airports in Unity Township, Pittsburgh and Orlando. Monzo said flights to Orlando the past two Thursdays, May 14 and 21, were fully booked.

Spirit Airlines spokesman Field Sutton said previously that direct flights from Unity Township to Orlando will begin June 11.

As a result of halting commercial flights in early April because of virus concerns, Arnold Palmer Regional Airport had just 423 passengers last month, according to authority figures. In the first three months of 2020, the airport recorded more than 65,000 passengers.


Local
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Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation sets June 9 as tentative date for farmers market

With many of its programs having been cancelled or postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Latrobe-GLSD Parks & Recreation has set June 9 as a tentative start date for the Latrobe Farmers Market.

The popular summer market is slated to begin the second Tuesday in June from noon to 4 p.m. at Legion-Keener Park in Latrobe.

Latrobe-GLSD is following guidelines provided by the Pennsylvania Recreation & Parks Society, which allow farmers markets to open during the yellow phase of the state’s reopening plan.

The guidelines mandate that vendors operate at a minimum of 10 feet apart, and patrons observe social distancing while wearing masks and gloves.

Latrobe-GLSD director Craig Shevchik said the market will be set up encouraging one-way traffic, where patrons enter one way and exit another.

Shevchik also announced a tentative start date for My First Kick soccer for June 10, though he noted it could be pushed back to June 17.

Park restrooms are able to open under state guidelines, provided they are sanitizatized daily and display required signage. Latrobe-GLSD park restrooms remain closed, however, as furloughs limit the staff’s ability to properly sanitize them.

Shevchik said he’s seeking bids to make park bathrooms “touchless,” adding that total cost would roughly be $10,000.

Playgrounds remain closed during the yellow phase, and will remain so until Westmoreland County enters the green phase.

Shevchik reminds Latrobe residents that dogs are not allowed at park facilities or paths.

In his finance report, Latrobe-GLSD commission treasurer Dan Hennessy said the park is “significantly behind on budget,” adding that it is behind on total income by 10-12 % to date. However, given the extended furlough of park employees, he noted that expenses are about 20% below budget.

“We have a positive net income so far … $10,000 better than planned, which is pretty remarkable,” Hennessy said.

Latrobe-GLSD is still looking to host Play Camp this summer. State guidelines allow for outdoor camps to open, with some restrictions.

“We will do the best that we can to make sure these kids have a fun summer,” Shevchik said.

In other news, Shevchik said the swimming pool was drained Thursday, adding that there are plans to get the pumps and filtration system working next week. Pools remain closed during the yellow phase, but Shevchik said it’s necessary to keep them cleaned and operating at this time.

“A lot of municipality pools, even if they don’t open, are going to be running filters so they don’t sit for two years,” he said. “We have to clean the bottom of the pool or it will be stained. It will be ready to go if for some reason we get out of the green (phase).”

In other business at the Latrobe-GLSD meeting:

Shevchik said two picnic tables were recently vandalized at Legion-Keener. The assailants were captured on surveillance and the video was sent to the Latrobe Police Department;

Shevchik said he met with El Grande Industries to discuss a paving project at Legion Keener Park. Work is set to begin in mid-June. Last month, a bid for $109,000 was awarded to the Donora-based company to pave the parking lot at Legion-Keener, and for $5,800 to pave the walking trail.

The commission agreed to meet in-person at the June meeting, allowing for those who wish to attend the meeting remotely to do so via GoToMeeting.


Local
DASB votes to formally 'disapprove' of board member

Citing a number of alleged infractions, the Derry Area School Board on Thursday voted to formally “disapprove” of Sean M. Kemmerer as as a school director.

Kemmerer, a school board newcomer who earned a four-year seat in November’s general election, was accused of failing to adhere to a number of board principles. In a statement read during Thursday’s regular meeting, school board president David Krinock said those alleged failed principles included: Not promoting open, honest, respectful dialogue among the board, staff and community; not protecting board confidentiality, and not honoring the sanctity of executive session.

The statement of disapproval read by Krinock also claimed that Kemmerer breached the confidentiality of the board and administration on several occasions, posted confidential information on social media, had publicly stated he contracted with an outside vendor as an agent of the district, and did not abide by the majority decision of the board by holding a public meeting this month on the same date and time as a canceled school board meeting.

The statement concluded that while Kemmerer “may retain all of the rights and privileges afforded a duly elected representative, (he) does not speak for the majority of the Derry Area School Board or its administration, and (he) is not a spokesman of the Derry Area School District.”

Kemmerer himself seconded the motion and then addressed the matter through an online video chat.

“I’m disappointed with the board’s decision, but I do respect the majority coming to that conclusion. I’m disappointed we don’t have an opportunity to work in a more collaborative environment,” Kemmerer told the board. “... What I walked into is a school board that runs a million dollar-plus deficit, a school board that’s about to raise taxes for a community that is losing money year after year and is cutting programs year after year.

“What I’ve tried to do in my six months on the board is partner with people in the community. We’ve done some really nice things, and I wish there was an opportunity for me to do that in a more collaborative manner with my colleges on the board. Unfortunately, I’ve not been afforded that opportunity as of yet — I do want to reach out to my colleges to express my desire to work together moving forward.

“I apologize that I’ve ruffled some feathers along the way, but I assure you it’s (being done) with the desire to do good with those who have elected me. I accept your motion of disapproval and I will wear it proudly, and hope it further differentiates that I’m trying to do versus some of the things we don’t agree on. But I’d still like to work together.”

The motion of disapproval passed in a 7-2 roll call vote, with Kemmerer and Kevin Liberoni casting the lone dissenting votes. Liberoni told the board that Thursday was the first time he had learned of the planned motion to disapprove of Kemmerer.

“I’m kind of shocked by it, to be honest, and disappointed. Even embarrassed,” Liberoni said. “There are some things I don’t agree with (with) Mr. Kemmerer, but he is part of this board and this resolution is absolutely wrong.”

“It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Krinock said after the motion passed.

After the meeting, Krinock told the Bulletin that the motion of disapproval was done as a symbolic measure, as Kemmerer will continue to have all the rights afforded other board members.

“It’s symbolism, but it had to be out there because of all the stuff that has been going on,” Krinock said in a phone interview. “The reason it’s so hard for me is that I don’t have it in me to discredit someone, but the professional side of me (thought) it had to be done, and it was very difficult. It was a collaborative thing (amongst board members) ... I didn’t sleep well last night, I can tell you that.”

Krinock claimed the “last straw” that led the board to take action regarding Kemmerer was an alleged social media post about “contacting third-party distributors to work out of our cafeteria.”

“His vim and vigor is wonderful — to have someone who has that much excitement be on a school board. But if it’s not channeled in the right way, it can be very destructive,” Krinock said of Kemmerer.

“Since the (coronavirus) shutdown, all the (things) Mr. Kemmerer is doing — and I’m not saying it’s bad, he’s doing it with a goal in mind, and the goal is applaudable — he’s caused a lot of angst and anxiety in our administration. He’s caused inferiority complex in our administration and in some of our employees, because people who are paid big money to do very important things in our district feel Mr. Kemmerer makes them feel inept. It had to stop.”

Krinock said he hopes Kemmerer and the rest of the board will be able to work together more effectively going forward.

“If he can stay within the parameters of being a board member, Sean has a lot of great ideas and has a lot of excitement for what he’s doing. He truly does,” Krinock said. “But we can’t have it (like) he wants to do it. He’s an elected official — just do what you were elected to do.”


Covid19
Refunds planned for in-person "Mamma Mia!" ticket purchases

Those who purchased tickets to the March 13-15 Greater Latrobe Senior High School performance of “Mamma Mia!” and were not able to attend the show because of coronavirus (COVID-19) attendance restrictions can now claim a refund for their in-person ticket purchases. Refunds for in-person ticket purchases will be available in the Greater Latrobe Senior High School auditorium lobby on the following schedule:

• 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, and Thursday, June 11;

• 1-3 p.m. Thursday, May 28, and Tuesday June 9.

Those seeking refunds for in-person ticket purchases should bring their purchased tickets. Those who paid with cash will receive a cash refund while those who paid by check will have their checks returned.

Refunds will be processed following CDC social distancing guidelines. Those arriving should remain in their vehicles and pull up to the sign posted in front of the auditorium lobby doors and await instructions from a Theater Boosters representative to enter the building. A mask will be required for entry into the building.

For those who purchased tickets and wish to have their purchase donated to the theater program rather than refunded, email latrobetheaterboosters@gmail.com with the subject “Donate Mamma Mia” in the email subject line. The body of the email should include name, ticket information (show date and seat information) and the amount being donated.

Those desiring a receipt of the donation for tax purposes should state that in their email and include a mailing address or request a tax receipt at one of the in-person refund dates.


It’s that time of year again when herds of white-tailed deer welcome new fawns. On Tuesday morning, this little newborn was spotted under a car in the driveway of Bulletin contributing writer Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller of Greensburg. It hung around all day between her yard, a neighbor’s yard, and went across the road several times to another neighbor’s yard. It even ended up on Eidemiller’s front steps. The fawn’s mother came by several times to check on her baby, and the two eventually disappeared. A herd of deer lives in the woods bordering the Saybrook Village neighborhood.


Covid19
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Local Memorial Day services undergo changes, cancellations

The day for cookouts, family gatherings, and honoring those who died serving the United States, will be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local Memorial Day services have been altered amid lockdown restrictions, while others have been cancelled altogether.

Though the annual Memorial Day parade in downtown Latrobe will not take place this year, Latrobe Legion Post 515 is holding a nonpublic service Monday, May 25, in a coordinated effort with Latrobe VFW Post 3414 and No. 738 Rolling Rock Detachment of The Marine Corps League.

The service will be recorded and later broadcast online, according to post commander Barry Novosel.

“We are limiting it to officers of the three organizations,” Novosel said, so the gathering does not exceed 25 individuals in accordance with state guidelines.

The nonpublic service will include a firing squad, Novosel says.

On its Facebook page, the City of Latrobe posted the following message relating to Memorial Day: “The City of Latrobe Administration and Transfer Station will be closed for business on Monday, May 25, in observance of Memorial Day.

“Sadly, this year we cannot come together as a community to honor and remember those who lost their lives while securing our freedom. Please take a moment in silence to remember those brave soles and remember their sacrifice.”

Post 515 is also planning to reschedule a service — which normally takes place the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend — where the names of veterans who died in the past year are read aloud. Novosel said that service could take place in July.

Additionally, to honor veterans who have passed away, Post 515 Cemetery Detail recently placed flags and markers at gravesites in Latrobe cemeteries. Novosel said veterans were honored from Saint Mary, Unity and Saint Vincent Cemeteries, along with several smaller ones in the Latrobe area.

The Youngstown Volunteer Fire Department announced that its Memorial Day services for Baggaley in Unity Township and Youngstown have been cancelled.

Firefighter Anthony Matusky said the department opted to cancel the traditional services due to “concerns for the safety of our members and the community.”

Matusky added the department “hopes to see everyone next year.”

In Ligonier, American Legion Post 267 posted on its Facebook page that its Memorial Day service is cancelled “due to the current situation.”

At St. Vincent College, archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, OSB, will celebrate an online Memorial Day service at 9 a.m. Monday, May 25, from the Mary Mother of Mercy Mausoleum Chapel located on the Unity Township campus.

The service, college officials said, “will honor those who have died while serving our country.”

The service will be available online at https://vimeo.com/user109924459 , on the St. Vincent Archabbey and Seminary Facebook page or on the Archabbey YouTube page.

Derry Borough officials earlier this month announced that because of the county’s yellow status banning large groups, the annual Memorial Day parade will be canceled.


Local
No Bulletin on Memorial Day

The Latrobe Bulletin will not publish on Monday, May 25, in observance of Memorial Day. The paper will resume publication on Tuesday, May 26.


Local
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Police: No human remains found in Cassandra Gross search

Investigators found “a few items” that are being sent out for further analysis, but did not uncover any human remains while serving a search warrant Wednesday and Thursday at a Unity Township property owned by the estranged boyfriend of a woman who has been missing for more than two years, state police spokesman Tpr. Steven Limani said.

State police, aided by an excavator, volunteer firefighters and area college professors specializing in biology and anthropology combed a wooded area of the property owned by Thomas George Stanko, 49, for evidence related to the April 2018 disappearance of Unity Township woman Cassandra Gross. Stanko’s mother, Almira Stanko, lives at the home along White Fence Lane, adjacent to Unity Cemetery, where the search effort focused this week.

Limani said around 20 troopers and volunteers were focused on a wooded area of the White Fence Lane property to assist with the search, including heavy equipment operators ready to break ground if evidence warranted.

State police had previously searched the property, and were at another Unity Township home owned by Stanko to serve a search warrant nearly a year ago.

Investigators were seen entering a home on Macey Road near Baggaly and searching the surrounding property throughout the day July 16.

Police did not reveal any additional information about the results of the search at the Macey Road home.

Stanko has been a person of interest in the disappearance of Cassandra Gross since the days after she went missing on April 7, 2018. He has been in Westmoreland County Prison since shortly after Gross’ disappearance on unrelated charges.

Citing concerns that public disclosure of the details supporting more than a dozen search warrants related to the case could interfere with the ongoing investigation, prosecutors have pushed to keep the records sealed.

The search warrants include “sensitive investigative details not otherwise released to the public,” according to last month’s court filings, as well as the identities of people who have provided information to police.

A Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas judge in January 2019 declared Cassandra Gross legally dead in response to a request from her son, Brandon Diebold of North Carolina. Judge Chris Scherer ruled Gross the victim of homicide and heard testimony behind closed doors from Tpr. James McKenzie, the state police lead investigator in the case.

Gross would have turned 54 in May.

Family and friends quickly rallied after her disappearance, organizing candlelight vigils, search parties and fundraisers, and offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to a resolution of the case.

Her mother has continued asking anyone with information to contact her at 724-539-9553 and said those providing tips can remain anonymous. She told the Bulletin she has forwarded several tips to state police, but has become frustrated her daughter still hasn’t been found.

The last time Kathe Gross talked to her daughter was around 3:30 p.m. April 7, 2018, as Cassandra was heading home to her apartment in Edgewater Village in Unity Township after having lunch with friends at the Parkwood Inn restaurant in Southwest Greensburg.

Gross was reported missing April 9, the same day her dog Baxter was found walking alone along Beatty County Road near Red Barn Road, heading in the direction of Lloydsville.

On April 10, investigators discovered Gross’ red 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander SUV burned almost beyond recognition in a wooded area of Hempfield Township along Norfolk Southern railroad lines near Twin Lakes Park.

Police said it appeared the SUV was taken to the location and set on fire.

In the days that followed Gross’ disappearance, police searched the White Fence Lane and Macey Road properties owned by Stanko.

Stanko has maintained he had no involvement in Gross’ disappearance. He has not been charged in connection with the case.

State police and specialized search teams conducted multiple searches over the spring and summer of 2018 in the area in and around Unity Cemetery, but investigators have remained unable to resolve Gross’ disappearance.

Police have asked anyone with information on Gross’ whereabouts or anyone who saw Gross’ SUV (license plate HLP-1411) in the area of Twin Lakes Park on April 7 to contact lead investigator Tpr. James McKenzie at 724-832-3237.


Covid19
AP
Governor eyes lifting of many more pandemic restrictions

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Some counties in Pennsylvania could see practically all of the state’s pandemic restrictions on business activity and gatherings lifted in the coming days, other than social-distancing and health-monitoring guidelines that are in place to help stop the spread of the coronarivus.

Thursday’s announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf — that some counties could get to move to the least-restrictive “green” phase of his three-color traffic-signal reopening plan stages — could become official on Friday.

“So I’ll be announcing a whole range of counties tomorrow moving from red to yellow and the hope is that we’ll also be making some counties that might even be moving from yellow to green tomorrow,” Wolf told reporters on a conference call.

With the number of new infections slowing, Wolf has been easing social distancing restrictions and allowing many businesses to reopen in lightly impacted areas of the state.

It is not clear, exactly, what restrictions, if any, will remain in place in the green phase.

Wolf’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said the Health Department will soon release criteria for moving a county into the green phase of Wolf’s reopening plan.

“As we release the metrics to go into the green zone, we’re also working on what life in the green zone would (look) like, especially for businesses, restaurants, etc.,” Levine said Thursday at a video news conference.

On Friday, 12 already-announced counties — Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York — will move from red to yellow and join 37 other counties.

Eighteen mostly eastern Pennsylvania counties that are home to 60% of Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million residents — including Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs — have yet to receive word as to when they will leave the red phase.

Wolf’s stay-at-home order still applies in the red phase, as do many restrictions on business activity that lift in the yellow phase.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Thursday:

———

DRINKS TO GO

Drinks to-go are now legal at Pennsylvania’s bars, restaurants, hotels and other liquor license holders.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Thursday that lawmakers passed overwhelmingly as a way to provide some outlet for bars and others to make money while they are shut down or limited during the state’s pandemic restrictions on in-house dining and drinking.

There are limits on the drinks.

The drinks must be sold as mixed drinks in quantities no larger than 64 ounces in a sealed container, and not after 11 p.m.

To sell the drinks, hotel and restaurant licensees that offer meals to-go must have lost at least 25% of their average monthly sales due to coronavirus restrictions.

Licencees can continue selling the drinks after the state’s disaster order if they are operating at less than 60% of their normal business.

Wolf said he didn’t necessarily think the legislation was a good idea, but noted its overwhelming support in the Legislature as a lifeline to bars and restaurants.

Meanwhile, bars and restaurants in counties that have been minimally impacted by the coronavirus are asking to be allowed to seat customers again, at least outside.

Those bars and restaurants should be able to open decks, patios and courtyards, at up to 50% of the outdoor maximum seating capacity and with tables at least 6 feet apart, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association said.

Parking lots also could be used to offer limited seating, roped off with a single entry point, while the bars and restaurants could offer live entertainment, with restrictions on noise levels, the group said.

As the virus continues to ebb, the association said it wants establishments to be able to seat patrons inside, with the same social-distancing rules as outside.

———

POLLING PLACE REDUCTIONS

Pennsylvania’s Department of State approved Philadelphia’s plan to consolidate some 850 polling places into 190 polling places for the June 2 primary election that will be conducted while the city is likely to still be under the governor’s coronavirus stay-at-home order.

Allegheny County, the state’s second-most populous county behind Philadelphia, received state approval to set up 211 polling places, down from about 830. Montgomery County, the third-most populous county, is planning to set up 140, down from 352.

The fear of infection has made it difficult to recruit polling workers, and state and federal health guidelines have made it difficult to find polling places that can accommodate the demands of social distancing, local election officials say.

———

CASES

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday reported 102 additional deaths linked to COVID-19, raising the statewide total to 4,869.

Two-thirds of the state’s deaths have been among residents of nursing homes and other facilities that care for older adults.

State health officials also reported that 980 more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The state has recorded fewer than 1,000 new cases for 11 consecutive days.

Since early March, infections have been confirmed in more than 65,000 people in Pennsylvania.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania. Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak