Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Borough will sign a winter snow-plowing agreement that calls for the borough to plow state-owned roads in town and be reimbursed for doing so by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Middletown Borough Council will not reconsider a vote it took on Dec. 15 to sign the agreement with PennDOT, council’s three-member administration and personnel committee announced during a meeting on Monday, Jan. 12.
Councilor Anne Einhorn, a committee member, said she expected the agreement to be signed “immediately” by Borough Manager Tim Konek. At the least, Einhorn said she expects Konek to sign the agreement before the full council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 20.
The committee had two options regarding what to do about its Dec. 15 decision – either recommend to the full council that it reconsider the vote, or recommend that the full council “do nothing,” Einhorn said. The committee chose to recommend doing nothing.
“It’s not on the table at all” for Jan. 20, Einhorn said of the agreement. “The original vote stands.”
Council voted 4-2 vote on Dec. 15 to sign the agreement with PennDOT, amid concerns expressed by Mayor James H. Curry III and a number of borough residents that leaving the plowing of the state roads – Union, Main and Vine streets – to PennDOT would lead to safety hazards, because the roads would not be plowed as quickly as they would be plowed by borough employees.
Despite council’s vote, Konek did not sign the agreement. In an e-mail he sent to council three weeks after the vote, he asked that council reconsider its Dec. 15 decision.
The borough and several individual councilors have thus far refused to provide copies of the e-mail to the Press And Journal. On Thursday, Jan. 8, the newspaper hand-delivered to the borough a request for a copy of the e-mail to the borough under the state Right-To-Know law. As of Tuesday morning, Jan. 13, the borough had not responded to the request.
According to accounts regarding the e-mail from several councilors and from borough spokesman Chris Courogen, Konek was worried that the borough does not have enough manpower to plow the state roads in a timely fashion, while still being responsible for plowing the other roads in town. Konek reportedly was concerned that the situation could even put the safety of borough employees at risk.
“He (Konek) feels the decision was ill-informed and made without a full knowledge of all the issues involved,” Courogen said. He further pointed out that the snow-plowing agreement had not been listed on the Dec. 15 agenda for action, and that council chose to act following public comment and the issue being brought up by Curry. Konek did not attend the Dec. 15 meeting.
On Jan. 1, the borough lost seven employees who had been available to plow, as part of a council decision to lease the borough’s water and sewer systems to United Water, a for-profit company. Six of these employees became United Water employees under terms of the deal; a seventh decided to retire.
Konek and borough Council President Chris McNamara – who also opposed signing the agreement – have pointed to the loss of these employees as the major factor in why the borough should turn over plowing of the state roads to PennDOT.
“We now have half the staff in public works that we did before,” Courogen said. “We have only four drivers who can drive the large plow trucks now that can take care of borough streets, but in a significant snow event it is putting a lot of stress on four people.”
However, Curry and several councilors have said repeatedly that Konek had plenty of time and opportunity to make his concerns known to council. The borough was aware, or should have been aware, of ramifications of the lease deal for months.
Moreover, borough staff had made the decision internally not to sign the agreement as early as September, when word of that was passed on to PennDOT by the borough.
In subsequent public comments, McNamara characterized the decision not to sign the agreement as an internal operational issue that did not require council approval.
PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny made it clear in public statements that borough residents would be negatively impacted by the action.
“There definitely will be a slower response” regarding plowing the state roads, Penny told the Press And Journal. “People will experience a lower level of service and our response to getting there will be later or slower.”
Courogen contended that council in voting to overturn staff's decision and order the agreement be signed “succumbed to threats, misinformation, and bullying from PennDOT.’’
“What I don’t understand is why when PennDOT says they are going to shirk their responsibility, that the reaction was to blame it on the borough,’’ he said.
Penny countered that Courogen’s suggestion that PennDOT used scare tactics to influence borough council “is simply off-base and wrong.”
“When the borough decided not to renew its winter service agreement, PennDOT was committed to treating and plowing the state roads,’’ he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing this winter. To accomplish this, we have had to add the coverage of these roads to the established routes of other trucks. Those are the facts, and that’s the reality of the situation.”
During the Jan. 12 committee meeting, Curry again pointed out that even after the Dec. 15 vote Konek had the opportunity to apprise council of his concerns over the agreement at a second meeting – a council meeting on Dec. 29.
When pressed by the mayor as to why the agreement still had not been signed, Konek responded that he would take care of the plowing agreement after the closing of the water and sewer lease deal that took place on Dec. 30. It wasn’t until another week later that Konek finally sent out the e-mail to council asking that it reconsider the action taken nearly a month ago.
Councilor Ben Kapenstein said that he would have been open to Konek’s concerns had they been brought up earlier. Kapenstein also noted that he’s not convinced that Konek’s concerns are valid, based upon his own discussions with former and present borough employees.
“I have not heard one person except Tim Konek say that we don’t have enough manpower to get it done,’’ Kapenstein said. “I think it can be done, and it should be done.”
The administrative and personnel committee, chaired by Councilor Sue Sullivan, started its meeting with a closed-door executive session with Konek that lasted for an hour. After Konek emerged, the committee continued meeting in private the discuss the situation for another 20 minutes.
After the committee returned to face the public, several residents who had been waiting to offer comment said that Konek should either be fired or should resign for failing to carry out council’s vote on Dec. 15 to sign the agreement.
“I find this action as flouting authority, as insubordination and as disrespectful to council, the taxpayers, businesses, and residents,” said Kay Wealand. “He should be removed from his duty as borough manager. If he was instructed by the council president or council vice president, then they should be told to resign immediately. Enough is enough.”
Einhorn sought to defuse the situation, saying Konek did not actually refuse to sign the agreement but rather asked council to reconsider the decision. That didn’t get Konek off the hook with audience members – and Konek endured the public battering in silence while seated at the council table.
For example, resident Cathy Winter of West Water Street said she could see no difference between Konek asking council to reconsider and refusing council’s direction.
“How is that not refusing?” she asked.
Konek’s action in not signing the agreement was “unacceptable,” said Crystal McGuire.
“This is telling any other employee in the borough that they can do whatever they want and no action will be taken against them,’’ she said. “He (Konek) needs to not have a position any longer. The problem with these games is that they are risking people’s lives.”
After the meeting, Sullivan refused to comment on what the committee and Konek discussed during the executive session. Any decision regarding any action concerning Konek will have to be taken up by the full council, but behind closed doors because it is a “personnel matter,” Sullivan said.
It remains to be seen what the financial impact upon the borough will be of Konek not signing the agreement.
Under terms of the agreement, PennDOT would have paid Middletown just over $7,200 to cover the borough’s cost of plowing the state roads this winter. The borough would have been guaranteed to receive the money, regardless of what type of winter it was. In case of a bad winter, the borough could have received a supplemental payment from PennDOT – as was the case last winter when the state gave the borough an additional $1,410.
Penny has said that due to the borough’s delay in signing the agreement – and because of PennDOT having to deal with several winter storms in recent weeks – it would not be fair to other municipalities that participate in the agreement program that Middletown receive the full amount.
But instead of pro-rating the amount down to a lesser figure, Penny said the borough, if it signs the agreement, is eligible for a “pilot” program where PennDOT reimburses municipalities based on actual cost.
PennDOT has decided to offer the pilot program in response to concerns that have been expressed by other municipalities regarding the amount of money that PennDOT gives them to plow state roads, Penny said.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 15:33
Written by Jim Lewis
Bad weather has forced the cancellation of Middletown's Community Tree Lighting Ceremony and arrival of Santa Claus by fire truck that was scheduled for Friday, Dec. 5 at the Swatara Ferry House Landing at South Union and Ann streets.
Santa will arrive by fire truck at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13 instead, according to the Middletown Area Historical Society.
The Douglas fir that is decorated for Christmas will be lit without a formal ceremony.
Last Updated on Friday, 05 December 2014 14:54
Written by Dan Miller
Last week it was a bird, this week it may have been a squirrel.
In any event, Middletown residents early this morning experienced the second power outage within nine days.
Borough Communications Director Chris Courogen said the outage occurred at about 6:40 a.m. today.
He did not immediately provide details concerning where the power loss occurred. However, a person in the borough office earlier today said the outage appeared to be concentrated in the areas of East Emaus, Race and Rupp streets.
Judging by posts to the Press and Journal Facebook page, the outage also impacted portions of East Main and Adelia streets, a portion of the 600 block of Vine Street; and parts of East Water, Spruce, and Maple streets.
The outage lasted close to an hour and a half, as power was restored by 8 a.m., according to the Facebook posts.
Courogen said he couldn't say for certain, but suspected that a wayward squirrel may have been the culprit. Public Works Director Ken Klinepeter could not be reached.
On Tuesday July 15 borough residents and businesses lost electricity for about 90 minutes. That outage was blamed on a bird that got into the electrical equipment and led to a number of fuses being tripped.
While Middletown isn't the only place where the electricity goes out on occasion, Courogen said it does seem to be happening with more regularity of late - and that critters like birds and squirrels are a major reason why.
"I suspect that the (Middletown Borough Council) Public Works Committee will start looking" at what can be done to solve the problem, Courogen said.
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 13:08
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown residents will have the chance to see – and possibly meet – the two remaining finalists to become the borough's next police chief on Monday, July 21.
Middletown Borough Council's public safety committee will interview one of the two finalists behind closed doors at 4 p.m. in council chambers at the borough hall. The closed-door session will last about 30 minutes, after which the committee will present the candidate to the public and ask the candidate several questions in open session.
Then, starting at 5 p.m., the committee will repeat this same process for the other finalist.
If you cannot be at either the 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. session, your best shot to meet either or both of the two candidates could be at about 6 p.m.
By then, the committee expects to be done with its part of the process, said Councilor Scott Sites, public safety committee chairman. So from about 6 p.m. on, the candidates will be free to meet and mingle with residents, and answer their questions – if the candidates choose to do so.
Borough residents already have the scoop on one of the three finalists, John Bey of Susquehanna Twp. Bey could not make Monday's session, so the committee interviewed Bey and presented him to the public on Tuesday, July 15.
Bey took full opportunity of the chance to meet with borough residents in council chambers after the committee was done with him.
As for the other two finalists, who will be interviewed on Monday: One is from this area, while the other is from the Midwest.
The full council will meet during its monthly committee-of-the-whole session at 7 p.m. on Monday. However, council will not act on the top cop job at that meeting, Sites said.
The target date for council to choose the next chief is Monday, Aug. 4, Sites said.
Last Updated on Friday, 18 July 2014 15:46
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Borough Council will discuss a proposed $3 million line of credit that would be used to help pay for various capital projects during a meeting on Monday, July 21.
The borough is exploring the line of credit jointly with the Middletown Borough Industrial and Commercial Development Authority. The authority acted in favor of securing the line of credit during its last meeting on Wednesday, July 9, during which the authority also approved a sales agreement to acquire the Elks Building from the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp.
Authority Solicitor Salvatore Bauccio at the time said that the idea behind the line of credit is for the authority to have funds available while the borough waits to receive money from various government grants that are in the pipeline.
Essentially, the line of credit would serve as a "bridge" funding mechanism, allowing the authority to move forward on projects until the money from these grants becomes available to the borough.
According to language in a proposed ordinance before council, the $3 million line of credit would be issued through PNC Bank and would be backed by "the full faith and credit" of the Borough of Middletown. That means that if the authority spends any or all of the line of credit money and cannot repay the bank by any other means, the borough is on the hook.
Bauccio said earlier that the line of credit would enable the authority, should it ultimately acquire the Elks Building, to move faster with various improvements to the building, such as fixing portions of the ceiling and roof. The authority also hopes to refinance terms of the building's $500,000 mortgage which must be repaid to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
The ordinance does not mention the Elks Building by name, but says that proceeds from the line of credit are to be used for unspecified capital improvement projects, as well as "alterations, restoration and repairs" within Middletown that have resulted from flood damage.
In a July 14 meeting during which council's finance committee discussed the line of credit, Borough Manager Tim Konek identified two government funding proposals now in the pipeline that could be used as repayments for the line of credit.
Konek described as "forthcoming" to the borough $1.2 million in flood reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The stream is flowing," Konek said, referring to the FEMA funds.
Konek also noted that the borough has applied for a grant from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program – officials call it "R-CAP" – to pay for streetscape and infrastructure improvements in town.
The borough has applied for $2 million. The state could decide to award the entire $2 million, or something less than that, or refuse to provide the grant at all.
Jay Pagni, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett and the state's Office of the Budget, confirmed that the state has received the borough's R-CAP grant application and that it is still pending. He could not say when the administration will make a decision on the borough's application.
The authority could use other sources of funds to repay the line of credit. It is not restricted to repaying the money with grants that the borough may or may not receive.
Chris Courogen, the borough's director of communications, noted that one of the authority's goals in acquiring the Elks Building is to increase the cash flow that the building and its various tenants generate. That could also be a source that the authority could tap to repay the line of credit, Courogen said.
Read the proposed ordinance:
Last Updated on Friday, 18 July 2014 15:30