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Council gives final approval to 2016 budget that includes 1-cent electric rate hike

 Middletown Borough Council during its Feb. 9 meeting gave final approval to a revised 2016 budget that includes a 1-cent increase in the electric rate for residential, business, and industrial customers.


The increase will cost an additional $12 a month on average for the residential electric customer based on usage, or up to $144 more a year, according to figures provided by the borough’s finance advisor Mark Morgan.


The electric rate increase will not go into effect until after borough council gives final approval to a separate ordinance. That ordinance should be ready for final approval during council’s March 2 meeting.


Council voted 6-2 for final passage of the budget. Council President Ben Kapenstein and Councilor Robert Reid voted no, both citing opposition to the electric rate increase.


Voting for the budget and the electric rate increase was Council Vice President Damon Suglia and fellow councilors Ann Einhorn, Dawn Knull, Robert Louer, Diana McGlone and Greg Wilsbach. Councilor Ed Shull was absent.


Reid after the meeting said he would have preferred a tax increase to increasing the electric rate. Residents can budget for a tax increase throughout the year because they know exactly what they will have to pay, Reid said.


He also contended that increasing the electric rate will hurt large commercial and industrial users, and deter new businesses from coming in at a time when the borough is trying to revitalize itself.


Kapenstein - who had earlier proposed a 2016 budget with no increase in either the tax or electric rate - said that he did not believe that the electric rate hike was necessary.


“There was not enough information to justify” raising the electric rate, Kapenstein said. “I feel that we were rushed into it.”


The former council had approved the 2016 budget in December, but the new council coming in decided to reopen it in January because of so many new members coming on board after being elected in November.


The former council put the 1-cent electric hike in the budget that was adopted in December.


Mark Morgan, the borough's present financial advisor, has said that the borough’s residential electric rate is on average about two cents per kilowatt hour lower than that being charged to residents living in other area municipalities that are served by private utilities like PPL and Met-Ed.


But Morgan in recent years has suggested that the better course of action would be annual increases in the property tax roughly equal to the rate of inflation, as a means of gradually lowering the borough's long-running dependency upon electric rate revenue. However, council has not heeded Morgan’s advice on taxes in recent years.


The 2016 budget includes a number of changes, most of them personnel-related and reflecting priorities of the new council.


The budget includes a $10,000 contribution to support the Olmsted Regional Recreation Board - something that the former council had included in its version of the spending plan.


The budget also includes $10,000 to restore the borough’s contract with the Humane Society to give police a place to take stray and loose animals, and another $10,000 to re-establish a planning commission. 


The budget also adds a full-time Class A lineman to the electric department, increases to full-time the civilian secretary position at the police department - seen as a way of improving customer service at the station - and adds $10,000 to the public works seasonal labor budget for interns.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 February 2016 07:25

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Council to consider rental inspections

A proposal to license and inspect rental housing in Middletown will be unveiled by Middletown Borough Council at its next meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

In addition, a series of three public meetings will be held to gather input on the proposal from tenants, landlords, property owners and anyone else wanting to comment, said Councilor Diana McGlone.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:27

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Council votes to study parking in business district


A renewed look at parking issues in downtown Middletown is in the works.

Middletown Borough Council voted 9-0 on Tuesday, Feb. 2 to direct the police department to study parking problems on side streets in the downtown business district such as Brown, Poplar and Mill.

Results are to be presented to council in May, said Councilor Robert Reid, who made the motion to conduct the study.

Businesses and residents in the area identified by Reid have complained that key parking spaces are routinely tied up for days and even weeks at a time by commuters using the Amtrak train station on Mill Street.

Among options that police should consider in the study are a two-hour time limit on parking in some locations and a permit parking system for residents, Reid said. Part of the problem could be alleviated right now just by putting up a sign directing people to the free parking behind Borough Hall, suggested Councilor Diana McGlone.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:24

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Reinstated cop sues councilors, mayor over firing

Dennis Morris, the Middletown police officer who won his job back in court after being fired by the borough in 2014, is now seeking more than $75,000 in federal court, alleging in a lawsuit that the borough violated his right to due process under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

The suit, filed on Tuesday, Feb. 2 in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg, names as defendants the Borough of Middletown, Mayor James H. Curry III, and all nine Middletown Borough Council members in office when council voted to fire Morris on Feb. 18, 2014: current councilors Benjamin Kapenstein, Robert Louer and Anne Einhorn and former councilors Christopher McNamara, Sue Sullivan, Victoria Malone, John Brubaker, Scott Sites and Thomas Handley.

The suit also names former Middletown police chief Steven Wheeler as a defendant. Wheeler was Morris’ boss at the time of the firing.

In November, a Dauphin County judge rejected the borough’s attempt to set aside an arbitrator’s ruling that the borough did not have grounds to fire Morris. The decision rendered by arbitrator James M. Darby was prompted by a grievance that was filed on Morris’ behalf by the Middletown Borough Police Officers’ Association.

In response to the county court’s ruling, council quickly moved to reinstate Morris with back pay in wages and benefits since his firing in 2014.

Morris has been back on the job with Middletown police since the start of 2016. The borough has not publicly said how much money it owed Morris in back wages and benefits – only that the amount would be funded from the 2015 budget.

Borough Solicitor Adam Santucci declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying that the borough does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Morris alleges in the lawsuit that his firing was retribution for his reporting to the Dauphin County District Attorney and state Attorney General that Wheeler, hired in 2013, was not certified as a police officer and therefore “did not have any law enforcement authority under Pennsylvania law,” according to the lawsuit.

As such, council’s hiring of Wheeler “violated the Borough Code and other state law,” according to the lawsuit.

Morris contends that the borough twice singled him out for unfair treatment after he took three days of sick leave, once in August 2013 and again in November 2013.

On Feb. 18, 2014, Morris was summoned to a “pre-disciplinary hearing” at 8:30 a.m. that day even though Wheeler knew Morris had just completed a night shift and had been awake for 20 hours, the lawsuit said.

Wheeler was also aware that Morris had taken “a narcotic medications (sic) and was in need of sleep,” according to the lawsuit.

“The plaintiff (Morris) was denied adequate time to prepare for the pre-disciplinary hearing, and he was not given adequate notice of the charges against him prior to or during the pre-disciplinary hearing,” according to the lawsuit.

After the hearing, Wheeler and Curry recommended to council that Morris be fired, and all nine council members voted that same night to terminate Morris, according to the lawsuit.

The borough and the officials named as defendants are liable “for all injuries and losses suffered, back pay, interest, compensatory damages, all counsel fees and costs incurred by” Morris “for the deprivation and violation of his civil rights,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Sylvia Rambo.


Dennis Morris v Borough of Middletown et al

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:19

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Man gets ARD for nude pics scheme on Facebook


A 20-year old McConnellstown man has received two years of probation for orchestrating a scheme where he used a fake Facebook account to pose as a woman to lure fellow Penn State Harrisburg students into sending him nude photos of themselves.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 February 2016 15:04

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