The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

June 7, 2014

George Hancock | Pondering Johnstown's troubling trends

JOHNSTOWN — Green leaves once more grace the ridges of Greater Johnstown. The leafy, green foliage was a tad late this year. Our long extended winter season stunted spring’s growth cycle.

Front-to-back hedges border my property. Those hedges were not cut until recently. I have lived in Scalp Level Borough for 21 years. That hedge trim was the latest initial cut in 21 years.

Greater Johnstown’s weather always presents troubling trends.

An early-morning run is the perfect time for mulling Greater Johnstown’s troubling trends. The late spring weather presents ideal running conditions. The morning runner can run for miles without cumbersome impediments.

Well, sometimes the local news presents a hurdle.

Recently, I observed several troubling trends across the Greater Johnstown landscape. These trends frequently produce mouth-gaping bewilderment.

-- Local weather is always a harbinger of troubling trends. The Tribune-Democrat’s Back Page has a daily weather almanac. Readers can peruse the forecast and weather trends. One persistent trend is the local precipitation totals.

I frequently find myself running in the rain. Yet, the weather almanac shows May’s rainfall was below average. And, our precipitation totals for the year are nearly 3 inches below normal.

-- Once again, Greater Johnstown’s outmigration rate rears its ugly backside. USA Today recently published a story about the fastest shrinking cities in the United States. Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was the fourth-fastest shrinking city. Johnstown lost 2.21 percent of its population since the 2010 census. Johnstown’s population peaked with the 1940 census. Johnstown has witnessed a seven-decade population decline. This is a terrible trend.

This population decline has a nasty ripple effect. Our region continues to lose educated, skilled workers due to the poor local economy. Most recent college and technical-school graduates will join this exodus. Too many find gainful employment and a good life elsewhere.

-- One aspect of our continuing population decline is our growing number of empty homes – homes for sale, homes for rent and closing business locations. My morning run in any direction finds me passing these forlorn structures. My street has six empty housing units. This is a sad trend.

Empty houses create numerous concerns. One scenario continually plays out across the Greater Johnstown region. An older loved one passes away. The family tries in vain to sell that property. The desperate family resorts to renting that home. Sometimes this property remains vacant.

Renting property is difficult in this region. Finding good tenants that respect your property is a time-consuming task.

Johnstown’s Moxham neighborhood is frequently in the news. Drug activity, drug violence and shootings create disturbing headlines. Many communities are experiencing these drug-related woes.

My own Mine 40 community has potential drug issues. Several rental units have a constant stream of activity. Cars continually pull up to these houses. Individuals exit their vehicle with furtive glances at the neighbors. These individuals then leave in mere moments. Some neighbors witness some type of exchange. No one is certain about what transpires in these clandestine meetings.

Some neighbors report their suspicions to the local police. Other neighbors are afraid. These neighbors fear retaliation by the bad guys. However, despite our declining population, the good people of Scalp Level and Greater

Johnstown vastly outnumber these drug pushers. It’s time to reclaim our neighborhoods.

Recently, several state and local leaders announced a new program aimed at hindering Greater Johnstown’s troubling drug problem. State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan, local police departments and the Cambria County Crime Stoppers launched the Push Out the Pusher program.

This is an aggressive campaign aimed at identifying and halting drug activity in our local communities.

Wozniak had yard signs printed, and they are available at his Geistown Borough office. These signs ask residents to report drug activity. Local residents can call 1-800-548-7500 to report their suspicions. The Cambria County Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of these drug pushers.

An active, alert community helps our law enforcement officials. Please report suspicious activity to the local police. We can reverse this troubling drug trend.

George A. Hancock of Scalp Level Borough is an occasional contributor to the editorial page.

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