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Ordinance for at large elections and reducing size of council gets nod from Middletown Borough Council

A proposal to change how Middletown residents elect members of borough council was given tentative approval by the council during its Aug. 3 meeting.

Council voted 5-2 to have the borough solicitor prepare and advertise an ordinance to get rid of Middletown's three wards as the current basis for how each of council's nine members are elected.

Instead, all nine councilors would be elected by all residents of the town on an "at large" basis.The ordinance would also reduce the size of borough council from nine members to seven.

A second vote will have to be taken at an upcoming council meeting in order to give final approval to the proposed ordinance.

Borough council had moved up the start time of the Aug. 3 meeting to hear from residents regarding how they felt about the proposed change.

For the most part, those who spoke up before council's vote were the same people that the council usually hears from in public meetings.

One exception was Rodney Horton, a former borough councilor who was the president of Middletown Borough Council from 2008 to 2010.

Horton said he had fought against getting rid of the wards while he was on council, and that's a decision he now regrets.

Not getting rid of the wards "caused major issues for the borough down the line," Horton said. "This community, like the country, is very divided. It's us versus them, below the tracks above the tracks, and at some point in time we have to just be one ward, one Middletown, one community."

"I wholeheartedly encourage you to do what I failed to do…which I think has caused this community to be in the divided situation that it is," Horton said. "I failed and I hope you don't make the same mistake that I did."

Getting rid of the wards in favor of at large elections and reducing the size of council was proposed by Mayor James H. Curry III during council's July 19 meeting.

The nine-member council currently has two vacancies - one from the First Ward and one from the Third Ward. Making the change now and reducing the size of council would mean that neither vacancy has to be filled, said Curry. Reducing the size of council would also make borough government more efficient, the mayor contends.

Voting to draft and advertise the ordinance to get rid of the wards and to reduce the size of council were Council President Ben Kapenstein and Vice President Damon Suglia and fellow councilors Dawn Knull, Diana McGlone, and Ian Reddinger.

Opposing the move were councilors Anne Einhorn and Robert Reid.

McGlone had said that while she favored getting rid of the wards she wanted  more time to hear how residents feel about the issue.

She and Einhorn had also both called for residents to decide the issue through a ballot referendum. However, Dauphin County would likely not allow such a referendum as it would be non-binding, in that the borough code gives council authority to make the change on its own by adopting an ordinance, Curry said.

"They don't waste time on a non-binding referendum," Curry said, adding that he had discussed the matter with Dauphin County Director of Elections and Voter Registration Gerald D. Feaser Jr., and with borough solicitor Adam Santucci, who was not present at the Aug. 3 meeting.

Reid, the borough's former long-time mayor, said he could support reducing the size of council. However he adamantly opposes getting rid of the ward system, saying he sees no need for change and expressing concerns that residents in his First Ward would no longer be adequately represented.

Einhorn favored filling the two vacant seats and allowing more time for council to hear from residents and to consider "alternatives," such as a compromise where one councilor would be elected from each of the three wards but the remaining four would be elected at large.

However, Knull predicted that voters will eventually petition the borough to redraw the wards so that they are balanced in terms of population - which is not now the case.

Such a challenge could cost the borough $20,000 to $30,000 when all the court costs and attorney's fees are added up, Knull said, whereas she estimated the ordinance to get rid of the wards and reduce the size of council would only cost about $2,000.

Borough residents also favor the change, based upon polls conducted on Facebook and in person, Knull and Curry said.

Results of an online poll on the Middletown Residents United Facebook page was that 142 residents favored abolishing the wards, and of those 97 favored reducing the size of council, Knull said. Seven people opposed getting rid of the wards, two opposed reducing the size of council, and 15 needed more information.

Another online poll responding to a video Curry had posted promoting the change yielded 41 people in favor, three against and two who wanted to know more, Knull said.

Curry handed Kapenstein a petition with signatures of 325 residents supporting the change that the mayor said he had gathered going door to door over two and a half days.

As a result of acting to draft and advertise the ordinance, council did not go forward with appointing one of six residents who have applied to fill the First Ward vacancy created by the resignation of Robert Louer Sr.

Council also did not interview anyone from the Third Ward applying to fill council's most recent vacancy, the one created by the resignation of Edward Shull.

In any event there was no one to interview. No residents from the Third Ward applied to fill the seat - supporting Curry's contention that the ward system makes it harder to attract interested residents to serve on council, and to give all voters a choice of candidates when it comes to elections.

"Give the decision to them," Curry said of borough residents. "Let them walk into a voting booth and say there are 15 people that have applied to serve this community and I want those top seven, and be done with it. You need to pick as a people the people that you want here, not someone who gets it by default" as a result of the ward system.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 23:48

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Daily non-stop flights between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh starting in October

    Starting in October you'll be able to fly nonstop from Harrisburg International Airport to Pittsburgh International Airport every day of the week.

    Daily flights between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh for the first time since 2008 were announced Tuesday during a press conference in Pittsburgh by Southern Airways Express.

    Southern will offer the new route with three non-stop flights each weekday and one flight each day on Saturdays and Sundays, according to a press release from HIA issued Wednesday morning.

    Tickets for the new Harrisburg-Pittsburgh service will be available for purchase at starting Aug. 15, with an introductory one-way fare of $99. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 1-800-329-0485.

    "We are thrilled that Southern Airways will provide nonstop service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh this fall," said HIA Executive Director Timothy J. Edwards. "Having  our two airports once again connected by air will be extremely beneficial to those traveling between our regions. We are thankful for the partnership and support of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, the Pittsburgh business community, regional elected officials, and of course Southern Airways for making this service a reality."

    Southern currently flies dozens of flights each day in the mid-Atlantic region between Pittsburgh and various communities in Pennsylvania, in addition to locations in Maryland and New York.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 12:13

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Speak out Wednesday on the way council is elected

Borough council will consider a change in how Middletown residents elect its members during its next meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Council normally meets Tuesday, but the meeting has been changed to Wednesday because Tuesday was National Night Out.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 August 2016 15:19

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3-year-old drowns in area pool

A 3-year-old child wandered away from a home near the 2000 block of West Harrisburg Pike and drowned in a swimming pool at 120 Wayne Ave., Lower Swatara Township police said.

When police arrived at 9:23 a.m. Sunday, July 31, the child did not have a pulse, said Detective Robert Appleby of Lower Swatara Police Department. “It appeared she was already deceased, but there were dedicated efforts to save her,” Appleby said. She was declared dead at the Hershey Medical Center.

Police are continuing to investigate the drowning, he said. Due to the investigation, police and the Dauphin County Coroner’s office refused to release the name of the child.

The child had been staying with family when she apparently wandered off and found the pool, Appleby said. He estimated that it was a 3-minute walk from where she was staying. There were no adults at the pool at the time of the incident, he said.

The pool is an above ground pool that is about three or four feet deep with no fence, Appleby said. “There are wooden steps that went right up to it,” he said.

“It’s a complete tragedy,” Appleby said. “There is something very unsettling about it.”

Lower Swatara Township has an ordinance in effect since 2000 that requires a building permit for any pool that is more than 2 feet deep. Local ordinances require that the pool must be built to the standards of the appropriate building code.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 August 2016 15:07

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Pineford area residents lost power for about five hours Sunday

    Residents in the Pineford area of Middletown were without electricity for about five hours Sunday.

    The outage was caused by a faulty switch somewhere in Pineford, but it took borough crews a few hours to isolate the problem, said Greg Wilsbach, Middletown public works director. Eventually a crew member saw sparks coming from one particular power pole.

    The outage was confined to residents of Pineford and of the surrounding Hoffer Street area, Wilsbach said. Residents were without power from about 10:30 a.m. to about 3:45 p.m. before electricity was restored to everyone.

Last Updated on Monday, 01 August 2016 17:33

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