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Embrace Penn State Harrisburg; it plays key role for borough

The greater Middletown area has a huge resource in its midst, and it must do all it can to maximize the benefits it can provide.

Penn State Harrisburg welcomed its first class 50 years this fall, and it has transformed from a former Air Force base into a thriving institution of higher learning.

The futures of the area and the college are intertwined. While they don’t necessarily need each other to succeed, it would certainly be better for both if they worked together to do so. And Middletown probably needs Penn State Harrisburg more than Penn State Harrisburg needs Middletown.

Any lingering resentment that some residents have toward its students — that they are troublemakers, that they are lawbreakers, that they are more trouble than they’re worth — needs to be put in the past. We are happy to hear that it sounds like those old attitudes are starting to diminish.

There will 5,000 of them who will be in classes up on that hill across Route 230 this fall. That’s 5,000 people who are going to spend money on clothes, food, entertainment, gas, housing. There are areas of this country that would give anything to have such a resource in their community.

So the opportunity is here. We have a nearly completed streetscape project. We have a bridge that will lead students over Route 230 down Emaus Street into the heart of the borough. We have a growing brewery/still works. But do we have the businesses need to draw young people? Where are the clothing stores that cater to a younger crowd? Where is the bookstore/coffeeshop? Where is the place to see a movie or concert? In fact, where is even a bicycle shop, something that Middletown Borough Councilor Diana McGlone mentioned she hears from students?

Middletown is never likely to have a mall. It’s not going to offer dozens upon dozens of shopping options. But it needs to try.

How is the tougher question. There is a lack of available storefronts, and we need to have the entrepreneurs who will take the risk as well.

It won’t be easy. Penn State Harrisburg is quickly becoming its own little city. It has a coffeeshop. It has a place to eat. It has a new Student Enrichment Center that includes a theater.

But students will leave campus if businesses or other attractions provide a reason for them to do so.

What should happen?

If the Elks Theatre can become a multi-purpose location that includes movies and concerts, that would be a plus.

If the storefront at the southeast corner of Union and Emaus streets could be occupied by a business that caters to students, that would be great.

If the McNair House could house some unique businesses on the first floor of the building, that might draw students.

If the space that had been home to the Klahr Jewelry Store could offer a location for a small business or greenspace, that also would add to the downtown’s diversity. 

The former Bunky’s need to become something. The owners seem unwilling to make this happen. But that storefront property is a commodity that needs to be put to good use, and borough leaders need to pressure the owners as much as possible to sell it or develop it.

Students are coming not only from Pennsylvania and the United States, but from around the world. Soon, 20 percent could be from other countries.

So what would we have them, as well as the students from other parts of Pennsylvania and the United States, tell their families and friends when they go home? That Middletown was a sleepy little place that lacked anything to do and was suspicious of students? Or that it was a welcoming borough that made its students feel welcome and offered at least some cool shops and attractions?

The opportunities are there but so are the challenges. Our area has never shied away from trials, no matter their difficulty. The paths we may take could be debated ad nauseum — second guessed. But rest assured avenues must be traveled for the greater Middletown area to reach a bright and prosperous future.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 16:31

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We want you on the P&J editorial board

There will many changes to the Press And Journal by the end of the year, especially when it comes to the look of the newspaper and our website, pressandjournal.com. 

But also on the way are changes to what you read. We want you to be involved with one new and important improvement to our Viewpoints page. We are seeking a public member of our editorial board, to help us shape the opinions we express as a newspaper on the Viewpoints page. 

So what does that mean? 

The Viewpoints page is made up of opinions. Yours. Ours. Theirs. We have letters to the editor, regular columnists, guest columns and Facebook feedback, as well as the ever-popular Sound Off. 

The lefthand column until recently was labeled Editor’s Voice in the description at the top. It has been renamed, for now at least, as P&J Editorials.

The left column of the opinion page in most newspapers is reserved for editorials. Those are the pieces that don’t have bylines. They state the newspaper’s opinion about issues at hand in the community, state or world. They aren’t the opinion of any one person, but represent the views of the newspaper’s editorial board.

The editorial board of a newspaper is usually made up of key folks at the newspaper. The publisher. The editor. An editorial page editor (back in the old days, and if the paper was big enough). Maybe several other editors (again, if the paper was big enough). It might include someone from another department at the newspaper other than the newsroom.

In the last 15 years, or so, there has been a push to have reader voices as part of the editorial board.

So who are we looking for?

You must be a regular reader of the Press And Journal. You must be willing and able to succinctly, learnedly and convincingly state your opinions on the issues facing our area while being open-minded about the views of others. Being able to write is a plus.

We want someone who is engaged and wants to make a difference.

But we are not looking for someone who is an elected official or a borough employee or someone who would be on the editorial board simply to push for a pet project or the cause of a board on which they already serve.

We want someone who has a point of view but not an ax to grind.

We would meet once a week. For now, there would be four members. Along with myself, the editorial board would be made up of Publisher Joe Sukle and Company President Louise Sukle along with our public member.

We would meet for about an hour and discuss important topics of the day and what we feel the stance of the newspaper should be in an editorial on those topics.

So how do you get involved? Send us a brief resume and cover letter explaining why you want to be involved and why you would be a good fit. We will ask some of the best candidates in for brief interviews.

You can email information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or mail it to me at  20 S. Union St., Middletown, 17057.

We hope to have our public member in place by the fall. 

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Jason Maddux is the editor of the Press And Journal.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2016 15:40

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Regionalization of police should be explored, not feared

We are pleased that officials from Dauphin County, Middletown Borough and Lower Swatara Township sat down Friday and discussed an important but sensitive topic: regionalization of police. 

It’s a topic that is so touchy, no one really wanted to say which entity was the driving force behind the get-together.

But we believe residents of Middletown and Lower Swatara shouldn’t fear the possibility that it could happen. We would support it if certain key points are clearly addressed. In fact, it could be a benefit to residents and businesses of the area. 

Friday’s discussion centered on contracting for police services, not combining departments. That could be a first step toward further regionalization, or it might not. It also was not clear from the meeting whether Lower Swatara would contract with Middletown for services, or vice versa, if it were to proceed.

A similar arrangement is happening now in the county. Paxtang is buying police services from Swatara Township. However, this wasn’t a merger. Paxtang dissolved its department and purchased directly from the township in a five-year agreement.

For Middletown and Lower Swatara, we support a contract for services as a first step. We also would be open to even deeper regionalization.

Regionalization would mean a better pool of police candidates. Middletown only had one person apply for the last opening. Fortunately, that candidate was qualified and ended up being hired.

It stands to reason that more qualified candidates would want to work in a larger department. Larger departments could be better equipped, better trained, and better able to get grants. There would be more flexibility in staffing as well. Duplication of services could be eliminated. Specialization of services would also be possible.

How far would regionalization go? If we’re talking about combining only Middletown and Lower Swatara in terms of departments, that seems reasonable to us. Let’s be honest here. They work together regularly now, and there is a familiarity, a comrades-in-arms fraternity of support and respect.

County officials appear supportive of regionalization, to even a greater extent than just Middletown and Lower Swatara coming together. The Novak Consulting Group, on behalf of the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners, contracted with the Police Executive Research Forum in 2014 to examine the police organizations operating in the county and “provide alternatives,” including a countywide option, for delivering police services to its 40 municipalities.

The countywide option to us is simply too much. However, we could see supporting further regionalization that just Middletown and Lower Swatara coming together. Option 4 in the County’s study calls for a Southern Dauphin Regional Police Department. This option would combine five “small agencies” (Highspire Borough, Lower Swatara Township, Middletown Borough, Royalton Borough and Steelton Borough) into a single department, “with a focus on less redundancy and more effective policing,” according to the report.

This option could provide an approximate 9 percent cost savings. It estimates an expected first-year cost of $6,720,560, but the current cost for policing the region at $7,396,017, meaning the cost savings would be $675,457. The region serves about 26,500 people, with 52 sworn officers.

The study states that Highspire residents would go from averaging paying $371.51 a year to $253.94 for police services. Middletown residents would go from $285.46 to $253.94. Steelton would go from $325.86 to $253.94. But Royalton would go from $67.83 to $253.94, almost a 400 percent increase. Lower Swatara residents would go up slightly, from $235.91 to $253.94.

Costs for the municipalities themselves show similar changes: Highspire Borough from $891,254 to $609,205; Lower Swatara from $1,950,490 to $2,099,588; Middletown Borough from $2,540,876 to $2,260,333; Royalton Borough from $61,521 to $230,325 (again, almost a 400 percent increase) and Steelton Borough from $1,951,876 to $1,521,109.

This option was not discussed at Friday’s meeting, however. Maybe it should be down the line.

The study clearly points out that “cost savings presented in the report will take place gradually over several years due to personnel attrition” and that “officers will not be laid off. Rather, retirements will, over time, reduce the number of personnel in each option to proposed levels.” The models in the report “allow more efficient deployment of officers and are based on calls for service data.”

It also points out disadvantages to consolidation, including some possible increases in cost (as pointed out above), loss of “personalized” services, decreased upward mobility in departments, and pension issues.

It’s that loss of “personalized” services that gives us some pause. We would like to think we know the officers who patrol in Middletown and Lower Swatara, and that they know us. The entire point of Middletown’s highly successful National Night Out event is to strengthen those bonds. 

Would those community ties weaken if there were more officers who are less familiar with the borough or the township who would be patrolling?

Also, if regionalization did extend to Steelton and Highspire, you could argue that the policing challenges in those areas are much different than those in Middletown and Lower Swatara. Would that be a problem?

If there is a true merger, who is in charge of the department? One of the key roles of borough mayors in Pennsylvania is to run the police department. Would regionalization further reduce the statutory powers of Middletown’s mayor position?

We would be concerned by a loss of personalized services, but if it makes financial sense, and the police force that serves our region could actually be strengthened and not harmed, why wouldn’t it make sense to move ahead?

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 August 2016 15:42

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The time is now to get moving on the Elks Theatre

It’s time to figure out a plan for the Elks Theatre and carry it out, and it’s up to Mayor James H. Curry III and the Middletown Borough Council to do it.

The borough owns the theater, whether it wants to or not. Every day the theater sits without attention is another day it falls further into disrepair.

For a full year, the council has had before it a proposal from the Friends of the Elks. It’s a proposal on which it has not taken action.

The residents have made their voices heard. They want the theater restored. A response we have heard often from several Middletown Borough Council members in recent weeks is that they would listen to the will of the people when deciding how to vote on certain issues. This mostly applied to the issue of reducing the number of council members and changing how they are elected. We certainly hope this also applies to the Elks Theatre.

We were pleased to see that Second Ward council member Ian Reddinger put forth at least some plans to get the ball rolling, and the rest of council agreed with a key one Aug. 3: Money received from selling the McNair House property on the northeast corner of North Union and East Emaus streets, and the site of the former Klahr Building next to Roberto’s Pizza on South Union Street, will go toward Elks Theatre renovations. Money that the borough gets over the next two years from leasing a cell tower to AT&T — an estimated $50,000 — also would go for that purpose. If the borough recoups even only part of what it spent on the properties, and adding in the $50,000, that could mean a quarter of a million dollars toward the project.

Think about that: The borough’s vote committed potentially several hundred thousand dollars to a fund that can be used for only one thing. That’s quite a commitment in and of itself.

But that commitments leads to two crucial questions: What would the project be, and how much is the borough willing to spend?

The Friends of the Elks group says $500,000. Mayor James H. Curry III has said $1 million. Jonathan Crist, an attorney living in Conewago Township who operated the Elks Theatre from 1986 to 2005, estimated the figure at closer to $1.3 million during a July 21 public meeting. The fact is, at this point, no one knows for sure. That’s a problem, and it’s the first thing that must be addressed.

The owners of the Tattered Flag combined brewery/distillery/brew pub, who own the building except for the theater, seemed to offer a much-needed boost when they offered to have their contractors working on the building try to do an estimate for a project. But that, too, seems to have stalled.

Even putting a dollar amount on the renovation is problematic. Are we discussing a Rolls-Royce, all-the-bells-and-whistles project funded by the borough? Or are we discussing a basic, get-it-up-to-code project?

The plan put forth by the Friends of the Elks calls for the group to lease the theater for a dollar a year and operate it as a community-owned, not-for-profit, multi-function theater. It would operate primarily as a movie theatre that will show a continuous schedule of first-run films, classic films and host an annual film festival. It could play host to recitals by local dance schools and theatrical productions by local theater groups, including the Olmstead Players, Middletown’s community theatre. According to the proposal, the Friends of the Elks has been contacted by local individuals interested in producing events such as concerts and stand-up comedy shows. The plan calls for digital projection equipment.

Here is what we would like to see happen.

We are not convinced that the borough should be the long-term owner of the theater. However, the Friends of the Elks also don’t want to own it, and the council seems unwilling to sell it.

So if the borough is going to own it, then it needs to get a price for the bare-bones upgrades needed. In other words, get it up to code. Make sure the structure is sound. But it should not be anything fancy. Commit to spend those dollars.

Lease the theater to the Friends of the Elks for $1 a year. Let that group raise money for the bells and whistles it wants to see at the theater. The borough’s funding of the basics is the commitment it is looking for to move ahead. After that, it’s up to the group to get the fundraising, grant writing and donations it needs. Some sources it hopes to tap are the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Save America’s Treasures Program administered by the National Park Service, the Lewis J. Appell Jr. Preservation Fund for Central Pennsylvania of the National Trust of Historic Preservation, BonTon Stores Foundation, the Foundation for Enhancing Communities, and the George Frey Trust.

This can be done, but it’s going to take a concerted effort by the borough and the passion of the Friends of the Elks group to make it happen.

However, as we have stated previously, it is ultimately up to you. Those of you who care enough to speak out have shown support for the theater. Will you support it once it is open? If not, then this entire process could be for naught.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2016 12:15

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After vetting, reducing council members has our support

We never said we opposed switching the size of the Middletown Borough Council or the way in which its members are elected.

We only questioned the speed at which it was being pushed.

Now that it looks likely to happen, and that some of the questions have been answered, we are more comfortable with it moving forward.

When the topic was discussed at the Aug. 3 council meeting, there still seemed to be questions about how it would work, not least of which being what would happen to the current council members.

Since our initial trepidation, the Press And Journal clarified with Dauphin County election officials that the process likely would go very smoothly as long as the ordinance is worded properly. Council members would keep their seats and fill out their terms as if they change hadn’t happened. Voters would continue to go to the polls in the same location. The change to at-large would put Middletown in line with most other boroughs and townships in Dauphin County. Officials in Millersburg, the most recent Dauphin County borough to change from ward council members to at-large, reported no problems and in fact it seemed to help get good candidates. There seems to be little public opposition to the change, or at least none that has been voiced.

We still are worried that the First Ward might be underrepresented, but it is up to the residents there to make sure that doesn’t happen by finding good candidates to run.

We expect the ordinance will pass Aug. 16, and in the end, we support it.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2016 11:55

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