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Councilor resigns from ICDA

Middletown Borough Councilor Damon Suglia resigned from the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority on Saturday, April 30, citing “personal time constraints."suglia

Suglia’s resignation leaves the five-member ICDA with just three members: Mayor James H. Curry III and councilors Dawn Knull and Diana McGlone.

Former ICDA Chairman Matt Tunnell resigned from the authority in March.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 15:13

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Boro sued over record denial

Middletown has been sued in Dauphin County Court over the borough’s alleged refusal to comply with Right to Know requests filed by an attorney representing Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home, which wants to build a crematory on its property at 208 N. Union St.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 14:47

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Middletown council hears from three hoping to fill Wilsbach vacancy

Middletown Borough Council during its May 3 meeting Tuesday will choose from among three hopefuls to fill the Second Ward council seat vacated by Greg Wilsbach.

Council during a special meeting May 2 conducted a brief public question and answer session with the three residents who applied to fill Wilbach’s seat - Ed Egenrieder of the 100 block of Hillside Road, Leslie Givler of the 200 block of East High Street, and Ian Reddinger of the 200 block of East Main Street.

Wilsbach resigned because he has applied for the position of borough public works director. He was elected in 2015 to a four-year term.

Givler is a life-long Middletown resident who ran for council before and lost. She said she was approached by a resident to apply for the seat, and “wants to be involved.”

Reddinger is a business owner who believes his business experience would be an asset to council. He owns rental properties in Middletown and wants to be involved in the discussion now underway regarding whether to establish a mandatory inspection and licensing program for rental housing in the borough.

Reddinger planned to run for council in 2015 because he opposed then-Second Ward Councilor and Council President Chris McNamara. Reddinger changed his mind when he learned that Wilsbach was running, believing Wilsbach had the better shot and that he did not want to take votes away from him that would benefit McNamara.

Egenrieder has lived at the same address for 58 years and has been involved in the community.

“I totally believe that if you criticize then you need to get involved. You have no right to open your mouth if you are not going to help fix the problem,” he said.

Egenrieder said he did not run before because until January 2016 he had two jobs, one as president of the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) union for the City of Harrisburg. He is now retired and has the time to devote to being on council.

All three candidates were asked by Mayor James H. Curry III their opinion of the downtown streetscape, and of the decision by council and the borough authority in 2014 to lease the town’s water and sewer systems for 50 years to United Water - now Suez.

Givler said she “doesn’t like” the streetscape “but it is here.” She had worked as a secretary for the borough authority. She did not express an opinion on the lease itself, but called for “removing” the authority so that lease proceeds can go to the general fund. 

Reddinger said the streetscape has “pros and cons…I don’t think it will fit in with the rest of the town but I’m happy we are making progress.” He said he did not know enough about the water and sewer lease to give an opinion.

Egenrieder said that “the whole town” needs cleaned up, and that the $1.5 million loaned by the economic development authority to support the Tattered Flag craft brewery/distillery in the Elks Building is too much.

More of this money should have been used to benefit existing downtown businesses that instead are now suffering due to the prolonged closure of Union and Emaus streets because of the streetscape, Egenrieder said. 

While working tor the city Egenrieder said he had opposed the decision to lease Harrisburg’s parking authority to a private company.

“If a private entity can make that kind of money then why can’t the city?” he asked, comparing it to the water and sewer lease. “You really need to do your research” before making big decisions, he told the council.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 14:48

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Middletown police looking for burglar who stole cigarettes and charitable donations from Karns

Middletown police are looking for a man who stole two carton of cigarettes - and donations meant for victims of muscular dystrophy - from the Karns grocery store on South Union Street shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday.

    Police said the man got in the store by smashing two back door windows. Besides the cigarettes, the man stole two containers from the check out counters that held donations to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

    There was money in both containers, but the total amount is not known, Chief John Bey told the Press And Journal.

    Police are looking for help in catching the suspect, who is described as a black male 20 to 30 years of age, about 6 feet tall and wearing a black hoody, glasses, camouflage-style shorts, black socks and white mid-high sneakers. Police are analyzing video surveillance and forensic evidence collected from the scene.

    Anyone with information can call borough police at (717) 902-0627, or call the non-emergency number for Dauphin County 911, 717-558-6900.

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 April 2016 14:48

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Crematory hearing goes on for four hours with no decision reached

A hearing on whether to allow a crematory to be located behind the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home at 208 N. Union St. in downtown Middletown went on for four hours on Wednesday, April 27, with no decision reached. 

crematoryhearingPress And Journal photo by Dan Miller -- The crowd in council chambers awaits the start of the hearing on the proposed Fager-Finkenbinder crematory

The hearing will resume on Tuesday, May 10, at 6:45 p.m. in council chambers, the zoning hearing board announced when it decided to adjourn the hearing at about 11 p.m.

Five borough residents - Charles and Amanda Brenneman, who are husband and wife; Jo-Ann Lauffer, Connie Lauffer and Marjorie W.  Rhen, (by Michelle Allen, her agent under power of attorney) - are appealing a permit that was granted in June 2015 by former borough zoning officer Jeff Miller that would allow the crematory at the site as an accessory use to the existing funeral home.

 The hearing began with attorneys representing Fager-Finkenbinder succeeding in getting Tom Germak, one of the three members of the zoning hearing board, to recuse himself from the case.

One of the attorneys, Robert Max Junker, pointed out that Germak had attended a March 24 public meeting held by a group opposing the crematory, and that a sign opposing the crematory had been placed on the property of Germak’s business.

 Germak acknowledged being at the meeting, saying that he went “for informational purposes only.” He denied placing a sign opposing the crematory upon the property of his business.

 Junker called as a witness Middletown Borough Councilor Dawn Knull, who testified that she heard Germak say during the meeting that he would do “everything in his power to prevent this (the crematory) from going through.”

 Junker also called as a witness another Middletown Borough councilor, Diana McGlone, who testified that Germak during a phone conversation told her that he thought the crematory “was not necessarily needed for this town.”

After a brief period during which Germak huddled in an off-the-record sidebar with the two other board members - Chairman Jack Still and member Don Graham - and with the board’s solicitor, David A. Wion, Wion resumed the hearing by announcing that Germak would agree to recuse himself.

 Wion said Germak’s recusal was not because he felt he could not be “unbiased” in the case, but because the law suggests that even “the appearance of a predisposition or a bias” is to be avoided. 

“The board does not want to be in the position of having persons think there is a predisposition,” Wion said. 

Germak then left the room, however Wion said that the hearing would go on as scheduled because the board with two members had a quorum.

 “We are not going to request a delay” in order for borough council to appoint a third member, Wion said.

The hearing then began in earnest. Council chambers was packed, with some people having to stand in the hallway because all the seats in the room were taken.

Aaron Martin, an attorney representing the residents opposing the crematory, introduced his case by saying that the basis for the appeal is “not merely emotional” but “firmly grounded in the words of the borough’s own zoning ordinance.”

Fager-Finkenbinder seeks to extend an existing “non-conforming” use in a residential zone, where a funeral home is “not permitted by right,” he said.

Martin also pointed out that Miller has been subpoenaed to testify, and noted that the former zoning officer was seated in the back of the room.

The hearing however did not get to Miller Wednesday night. Testimony was heard from three witnesses - two of the appellants, being Charles Brenneman and Connie Lauffer; and Ron Salvatore, who testified on behalf of Fager-Finkenbinder as a representative of Matthews International, the company that is to provide the equipment to operate the crematory.

Brenneman and Lauffer both testified that they had no knowledge of Fager-Finkenbinder’s plan for the crematory until January of 2016 - almost three months after Fager-Finkenbinder applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for an air quality permit for the crematory, and almost six months after Miller approved the borough zoning permit.

Mark Dausch, another lawyer representing Fager-Finkenbinder, contended in his questioning of both Brenneman and Lauffer that media accounts that appeared in Pennlive provided notice of the funeral home’s plans. However, both Brenneman and Lauffer stuck by their testimony that they knew nothing of plans to build the crematory until January, when they learned of it from other nearby residents.

Brenneman, who lives in the 200 block of North Pine Street, said he has about “10 to 15 valid reasons” for not wanting the crematory to locate near his home. He said he is concerned about smoke and noise coming from the crematory, that the crematory could operate on a 24-hour 7 day a week basis, and that it will cause the value of his and other nearby properties “to plummet.”

He also expressed concerns over increased traffic and a decline in the quality of life for himself and his family.

Lauffer, similar to Brenneman, acknowledged that she has no scientific basis for her assertion that the crematory will lead to a decline in property values. But she held fast to her belief that that will be the case.

“Having a crematory next to historic buildings and in our little downtown district is going to turn people off to come to our restaurants and to move into our community,” she said. “The location of the crematory in relation to all of those things I think will negatively affect our community and I know our property values.”

Lauffer said that she herself would be moving out, if not for having broken ground on an addition to her house - just before she found out about the crematory.

However, the lawyers for Fager-Finkenbinder sought to defuse much of the concern over the crematory with Salvatore, who testified that he has been called as a witness in as many as “300 zoning hearing” proceedings on crematories before.

He said that the regulatory requirements imposed by Pennsylvania and New York to own and operate a crematory are the most stringent in the nation - even more so than in California.

The type of system that would go in the Fager-Finkenbinder crematory is “the smallest” that Matthews makes for human cremation. It typically supports “small volume operations” of 100 to 300 cremations annually, or two to three a week on average, Salvatore said.

He said that Matthews has “well over 100” of these types of crematories now operating throughout Pennsylvania - among them in Carlisle, Shippensburg, York, Susquehanna Twp. and in Hershey.

“This is not an unusual location,” Salvatore said, pointing out that most of the crematories are located in funeral homes. Crematories used to be located mostly in cemeteries, but Salvatore said that the trend during his 25 years has been for them to increasingly be in funeral homes - to satisfy the wishes of families that want to know for certain that their loved ones’ remains are always under the control of the funeral home.

When he started with the company only about 20 percent of its crematories were in funeral homes; now it’s about 85 percent, he said.

Fager-Finkenbinder’s permit to DEP suggests that the crematory could run continuously up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

However, Salvatore said that information is meant to satisfy DEP requirements regarding “the maximum potential to emit” but does not reflect the “actual potential” for how often the crematory will be running.

“In reality the unit cannot operate 24/7 - it’s not designed to do that,” Salvatore said. The 24/7 designation instead refers to the ability of the crematory to operate at any time, day or night, to suit the convenience of families.

 “It could be open 24/7 but it does not operate 24/7,” Salvatore said.

The noise that could be heard outside the crematory when it is running would be “a little louder than an air conditioner,” he said. 

He also contended that smoke would not be visible from the crematory under normal circumstances, although it is possible that “a puff of smoke” could occur at times, such as in the event of a power outage. 

He compared the amount of unburnt “particulate matter” coming from the crematory to that coming from a grill or furnace or any other type of appliance that uses propane or natural gas for combustion. In the case of cremation, the particulate matter comes not from the body but from “debris” coming from the casket or insert which encloses the body during the cremation process, Salvatore said.

DEP “typically regulates” particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions from crematories, Salvatore said.

Pennsylvania does not regulate mercury emissions from crematories, nor does any other state in the country, because “exhaustive studies” have shown that health concerns over mercury emissions from crematories are unfounded, Salvatore contended.

Martin has other witnesses he plans to call when the hearing resumes on May 10, including an expert on local land use law and regulations in Pennsylvania.

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 April 2016 17:50

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