PLUMVILLE — Pension reform, protection from liability and the looming countywide property reassessment are among the issues local farmers are thinking about, Indiana County’s legislative delegation learned on Thursday.
Gathering for the Indiana County Farm Bureau’s annual Legislative Agribusiness Tour, legislators heard from bureau President Dave Kimmel, who said the state needs to undertake public pension reform.
Kimmel told legislators that Pennsylvania’ unfunded pension liability of more than $45 billion simply cannot stand.
In response, Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, said the bureau will hear no arguments from him on that matter. He said he is frustrated that the General Assembly did not come to terms on a reform plan before recessing for the summer, especially considering Republicans control the House and the Senate and that the governor’s mansion is occupied by a Republican.
“If ever there was a Republican issue, this is it,” White said. “For us not to do anything on this in a Republican-controlled Harrisburg is criminal.”
White was supporting a plan in which newly hired state employees would be enrolled in a defined-contribution plan, something similar a 401(k).
He told attendees that he was asked to rustle up the 26 votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate. He said he had lined up 25, then ran into a brick wall. White said he intends to continue pushing for pension reform in the fall.
On another front, Kimmel asked the delegation to support legislation protecting farmers from civil liabilities arising from so-called agritourism and agritainment activities, such as corn mazes and pick-your-own-pumpkin patches.
Kimmel said these sort of profit-making activities are becoming more commonplace as farmers look for additional ways to profit from their land.
Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, noted that such protections are contained in House Bill 397, which would grant limited immunity to liability arising from accidents involving personal injury or death. Pyle said the House is close to passing the bill, which currently is before the House Rules Committee.
“It’s not far away,” he said. “All that really needs is a little nudge.”
Those who attended the tour also heard from Frank Sisko, Indiana County chief assessor, who spoke briefly about the upcoming property reassessment, which begins Aug. 20.
Sisko said the county plans to kick off the project with a public meeting that day at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex, where officials will be on hand to explain the steps in the process.
Sisko said that as part of the reassessment, representatives of the company performing the work will be visiting every property in the county, all 48,288 of them.
Pyle, whose home county is undergoing a reassessment of its own, urged county officials to communicate clearly with residents.
Kimmel said farm bureau members are worried about reassessments causing assessed values to soar, but at the same time understand the need for a reassessment. The last one was in 1968 and, since then, values have become grossly out of line with current market values.
Kimmel said the bureau wants to work with the county to ensure the reassessment is conducted fairly and that new values are within reason.
This year, the tour was held at Kimmel’s farm in South Mahoning Township, which he owns along with his wife, Shannon, and his brother, Mike. They grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa and maintain a herd of dairy cattle. They bought the farm from their parents in 2007.