TOWANDA -- It looks like there won't be an increase this year in the Bradford County property tax, a Bradford County commissioner said after Thursday's meeting of the commissioners.

At the meeting, the commissioners voted to put the proposed Bradford County budget for 2012 on public display for 20 days, starting on Dec. 5, and they also listened to a short presentation that Bradford County Prothonotary Sally Vaughn made on the effect that the natural gas industry has had on her office, which she characterized as "pretty huge."

Also at the meeting, a spokesman for the Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park Association asked the county to take responsibility for maintaining the association's planned park in Towanda.

In addition, the commissioners voted to hire Larson Design Group of Williamsport to do an engineering study at the Bradford County Correctional Facility that would evaluate the feasibility of converting the jail's gym into a housing unit.

When asked after the meeting if there would be an increase in Bradford County's county property tax for 2012, Bradford County Commissioner John Sullivan said: "It doesn't look that way."

After the public has had an opportunity to examine the budget, the commissioners will vote to adopt the budget on Dec. 29.

Noting that the planned Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park in Towanda will honor all county veterans, Bradford County Veterans Memorial Park Association spokesman Joe Doherty said it would be "the right thing" for the county to maintain the park after it is built.

Doherty said he would give the commissioners a specific list of items that would need to be maintained at the park, but he provided a general idea of what the items would be at Thursday's meeting.

Specifically, a bronze statue in the park will need to be cleaned and waxed once a year, he said.

The maintenance would also include emptying trash cans in the park on a regular basis, and the mowing of a very small amount of land, he said. In fact, if the association can sell all of the granite paver bricks for the park, there wouldn't be any grass to mow at all, Doherty said.

Doherty said he wasn't asking for a commitment at this time from the commissioners as to whether they would maintain the park.

While the commissioners did not make a statement at the meeting on whether the county would undertake the park maintenance, Commissioner Doug McLinko told Doherty he has been doing a good job making the park a reality.

The park will be located on land owned by Towanda Borough.

Vaughn said she was motivated to attend the commissioners' meeting on Thursday after a company in the natural gas industry filed 30 proposed condemnations of properties with her office that same morning.

She estimated it would take one of her staff two weeks to take care the filing of the 30 proposed condemnations.

"I don't think we've ever received 30 condemnations all at once," she said.

Vaughn said she had not had a chance to review the condemnations in depth, but said they probably involve a gas-related company seeking to acquire the right-of-ways for the installation of pipelines. Bradford County Commissioner-elect Daryl Miller said the condemnations involve acquiring rights-of-way for the installation of interstate gas transmission lines, since gas companies cannot obtain rights of ways by eminent domain for gas gathering lines.

It appeared that most, if not all, of the proposed condemnations were filed by Central New York Oil & Gas, Vaughn said.

The condemnation process for pipeline rights of way starts when the landowner refuses to accept the gas company's monetary offer for the right of way, Vaughn said. As part of the condemnation process, the gas company is required to set aside an amount that it will use to acquire the right-of-way, and Vaughn said she will now have to open and maintain 30 different bank accounts containing those funds, which will also take up her time.

Another impact of the natural gas industry on the Prothonotary's Office has been the title searchers who use the computers in the Prothonotary's Office, which has also added to the office's workload, since the staff has to explain to them how to use the computers, she said.

After the meeting, Vaughn said she could use an additional full-time staff person just to handle the needs of the public who use the Prothonotary's Office, which includes explaining to people how to use the computers and maintaining equipment that the public uses, including a printer.

Larson Design Group of Williamsport will be paid $16,400 to conduct the study at the Bradford County jail, the commissioners said.

The study is needed to "see if the gymnasium (can be used) as a housing unit," Sullivan said.

The study will look at "how to get showers put in (for the new housing unit) and things like that," McLinko said.

The Bradford County Prison Board, which runs the jail, has been considering converting the gym into a housing unit in order to address recent overcrowding at the jail.

No decision has been made yet on whether to create the housing unit, Sullivan said. A number of factors will need to be taken into account when that decision is made, including whether the prison population stays high, the cost of sending excess prisoners to the Tioga County prison, and the impact of Act 81, which is a new law that is expected to increase the number of offenders that will be sentenced to state prison, instead of serving their time in the county jail.

The length of time that FEMA's Disaster Recovery Center will remain open in Towanda was also discussed at the meeting.

No date has been set yet for closing it, said Mike Wade, a spokesperson for FEMA.

The deadline for registering with FEMA for assistance related to Tropical Storm Lee has been extended to Dec. 14, he said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com