Written by Eric Wise
The Middletown Zoning Hearing Board will issue a decision by August on the appeal of a zoning permit that would allow Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home to operate a crematory at their location at 208 N. Union St., under a schedule Solicitor David Wion announced following the conclusion of oral testimony on Thursday, May 26.
The appellants, a group of five property owners who are appealing a decision reached in June 2015 by former borough zoning officer Jeff Miller, will have until June 20 to submit written findings of fact and conclusions of law from the case. Representatives of the funeral home will then respond with their own findings of fact and conclusions of law, and the appellants will have the opportunity to respond to that by July 6, Wion said.
The zoning board – Chairman Jack Still and member Don Graham – will then meet in an executive session to review and deliberate the case. They will vote on the matter during a public meeting, the date of which was not announced, with a written determination to follow by Aug. 16.
The third night of the hearing began with the testimony of Travis Finkenbinder, who owns and oversees the company that controls five local funeral homes, which added the Middletown property, formerly Coble-Reber Funeral Home, in April 2015.
Finkenbinder described photos that provided a tour of the Middletown funeral home, including the renovated main building, where services are held, and the smaller building behind it where he plans to add the crematory, specifically the retort itself and a refrigeration unit. This building, described as a garage during the hearing, includes the business offices of the funeral home, a small sitting area and the selection and arrangement room, where the funeral director meets with survivors to explain services that are available and plan for a memorial and the disposition of remains.
“We do provide cremation services,” he said. “We currently use a third party.”
“Not having a crematory at one of our locations puts us at a disadvantage,” Finkenbinder said. For many, it is preferable to know that deceased person never leaves the funeral home, he said. “The chain of custody is critically important to the families,” he said.
He stressed the value in being able to "look in their eyes and say, 'Your mom is going to be with us the entire time.' "
Based on the company's current volume, Finkenbinder estimated two to four cremations per week would occur at the Middletown funeral home. He denied that he plans to accept bodies for cremation from other funeral homes.
Several additional people were allowed to testify about their objections to the crematory, despite objections by Finkenbinder's attorneys. They argued that there is a 30-day limit to filing a zoning appeal, and that additional people could not appeal because the deadline had passed.
“This is not something that needs to happen in a residential neighborhood,” said David Crow, who testified. “It's an industrial process.”
During his testimony, Finkenbinder said Hoover Funeral Home in Linglestown and Hetrick Bitner Funeral Home in Harrisburg operate crematories in residential areas.
Other residents denied Finkenbinder's “chain of custody” arguments.
David Lenker said he has not been convinced of the safety of a crematory for neighbors, and he lives next to the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home. “You hold our lives in your hand,” he told the board. If the crematory is permitted, Lenker said Middletown will experience an “exodus of this town of biblical proportions.”
Melvin Fager, a partner in the Middletown funeral home, bemoaned the appellants' concerns about property values and threats to people's health and the way the crematory opponents are “trying to scare people.” Because of the signs that have been posted around town, and brought into the hearing room by opponents, "as a community, we look like fools,'' Fager said.
About 40 people packed the Middletown Borough Council chambers for the hearing on May 26, which spanned three hours of testimony and at least 20 minutes of board solicitor Wion quietly discussing the next steps of the process with zoning board members and the attorneys for the parties and the borough.
Last Updated on Friday, 27 May 2016 12:24
Middletown, Highspire and Hummelstown will hold Memorial Day ceremonies.
A list of events:
Middletown's annual Memorial Day Parade will kick off at 9 a.m. on Monday, May 30, with a slight altering of the parade route due to the ongoing downtown streetscape work.
The parade will start at the MCSO Building at West Emaus and Catherine streets, said Skip Carnes, adjutant of American Legion Post 594. It will head up Catherine, turn right on Water Street, then left on Union Street and proceed across the square to the Middletown Cemetery on North Union Street.
The parade Grand Marshal will be Joseph Alton. Alton in 1945 enlisted as a private first class in what was then the U.S. Army Air Force. The Air Force became a separate military service in 1947.
Immediately following the parade will be the annual Memorial Day observance at the cemetery. Those looking to attend the event should be at the cemetery by 9:30 a.m., Carnes said.
Guest speaker at the ceremony will be Irv Strohecker, a veteran from Middletown and a former athletic director for Middletown Area School District.
The Middletown Area High School band will perform at the event.
Representatives of the Middletown American Legion Post 594 and Middletown VFW Post 1620 will attend a service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday May 29 at New Beginnings Church, 630 S. Union St., Carnes said.
A Memorial Day ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 30 at Memorial Park.
Hummelstown’s Memorial Day Parade will begin at 10 a.m. at West High Street and end at Hummelstown Ceremony, where a service will be held immediately after the parade.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 May 2016 07:13
Written by Dan Miller
Non-management employees of the Borough of Middletown are getting their first raise in more than three years, thanks to a new contract between the borough and Teamsters Local 776.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2016 15:21
Written by Eric Wise
A few faces and the organization of Lower Swatara Twp.’s police force will change over the coming months after actions taken by the township commissioners – even as the township continues to look into consolidating its police with another local department.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2016 15:20
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Area School Board has approved a 2016-17 budget that contains some good news for district taxpayers.
For the second year in a row, there will be no increase in the school district property tax. The school district is also not laying off any teachers, as some other districts in the region have had to do, Middletown Superintendent Lori Suski said as the budget was being presented during the board’s May 16 meeting.
The school district was able to reduce by nearly $500,000 the amount of expenses for next year compared to an earlier version of the budget; through staff retirements, negotiations with health insurance providers over the school district’s health insurance premium, a reduction in legal costs, and lower than anticipated costs for books and supplies. The district also eliminated an administrator position that was to have been added.
The total amount of assessed value in the school district for property tax purposes is projected to increase by about $33 million in 2016-17 — the second straight year of significant growth in the district tax base after six years of being flat, said David Franklin, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
The district will use its fund balance to close a $322,000 deficit that remains in the budget.
The board by 8-0 vote approved putting the budget on public display, with a vote on final approval to come in June.
Last Updated on Monday, 16 May 2016 20:56