Bellefonte, county leaders hold town hall meeting

Wednesday kicked off what officials hope will turn into a semiannual town hall meeting between the Bellefonte Borough Council and representatives of the Centre County government.

The council, minus President Gay Dunne due to health reasons, and the county Board of Commissioners met in the Courthouse Annex for a joint discussion about several topics of interest, including the progress on the Temple Court project, waterfront redevelopment and the Bellefonte business incubator program.

The round table also delved into issues affecting the community itself, including the need for affordable housing. Human Services Administrator Natalie Corman said several county departments deal with housing issues on a daily basis.

“Housing is a basic need we look for and strive to meet for all of our residents,” she said.

Corman likened housing to a ladder, reaching from homelessness at the bottom to an individual’s final goal of housing at the top. When housing is lost in the county, the ladder loses a rung, and some fall to a lower type of housing.

In Bellefonte, the community and the county have had to respond to different housing crises, she said, like the fires that consumed housing at both the Hotel Do De and Cadillac Building. Housing is lost in numerous ways, she said, including the closure of mobile home parks and when affordable apartments are converted to student housing.

Since 2009, she said, 420 affordable units have been lost in the county. In the same amount of time, 230 have been built, including 32 units under construction in the Bellefonte Mews project.

“We have strived every time to find the variety of housing needed in the community,” Corman said. “We feel we will continue to add to the ladder of affordable housing.”

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart took time to talk about the recent action taken to end fluoridation of the borough water. Though the Borough Council did not agree, the decision was made to end fluoridating the water served through the borough’s distribution system.

Through an appeal process, a settlement was reached between the council and the borough authority, which sets the regulations and policies for the water system, Stewart said. The agreement establishes two actions.

First, he said, the borough will provide a free supplemental fluoride program for families who otherwise have no insurance coverage or no medical means to get fluoride supplements, he said. The program would be open to children aged 6 months to 16 years old.

The program would only be available to residents who were served through the borough’s water distribution program, he said. Applications are available for parents to participate in the program, which would reimburse costs for fluoride supplement prescriptions through an area dentist.

Second, he said, the borough authority would help initiate a children’s dental health task force. Volunteers would come together and look at children’s needs in the borough and beyond, filling gaps where they are identified.

The borough is in final negotiations with a professional facilitator, Stewart said, and there was a strong likelihood that the task force could begin to meet in 30 days or less.