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HIA traffic increases year over year, thanks to weather and Rose Bowl

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Passenger traffic at Harrisburg International Airport for January totaled 91,709, which is an increase of 19.2 percent vs January 2016. 

This change in percentage is due to the benefit from a calmer winter (the January 2016 blizzard shut down air travel for two days) and return charters from the Rose Bowl game in which Penn State played, according to a statement from HIA. 

Overall, taking out the impact of the January 2016 blizzard and charter-related traffic, total passengers were up nearly 12 percent.

Enplanements for the month were 45,459, up 16.3 percent versus January 2016. 

Individual airline passenger traffic includes: American Airlines up 22 percent, Air Canada up 28 percent, Delta Air Lines up 14.4 percent, Allegiant up 25.8 percent, and United was nearly even.  

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 February 2017 10:24

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Middletown council gives police talks with Lower Swatara another 90 days, but says borough must fill vacant positions in the meantime

Middletown will pursue talks toward creating a new regional police force with Lower Swatara Township, but the borough in the meantime must move forward with filling vacant positions within the department, borough council decided during its Tuesday, Feb. 21 meeting.

Council set a 90-day time limit on the talks with Lower Swatara, which were launched in December by Mayor James H. Curry III and Council President Ben Kapenstein.

The talks are aimed at seeing if the borough can save money on the cost of providing police services compared to now, either by the borough contracting with Lower Swatara for the township to provide police services to Middletown, or by combining the police departments of the two neighboring municipalities into a new regional force.

Besides saving money, any proposed deal that is reached through the talks must also provide Middletown residents with the same or better level of police services compared to now. Any deal would also have to “protect” the police officers who are currently employed on the Middletown force, Curry and Kapenstein have also said.

One added wrinkle that emerged during the council meeting is that the Borough of Steelton has expressed interest in becoming part of the talks, Curry told the council.

The Middletown police department currently has two full-time vacancies; one being a new position that council authorized as part of the 2017 budget. The other was created as a result of the recent retirement of Sgt. Richard Hiester, who was a detective.

Patrolman Adam Tankersley, a part-time officer, had been approved by the borough Civil Service Commission to fill the new full-time position that council created.

However, Curry has held off on promoting Tankersley to the full-time position, as well as filling the position vacated by Hiester, as filling these positions now would add “complexity” to the discussions underway with Lower Swatara.

Council Vice President Damon Suglia supported giving the talks another 90 days to see where they might lead, but he said it could be a year or more before an alternative policing arrangement is in place, if it happens at all. That is too long for the Middletown police department to remain understaffed, Suglia said.

While acknowledging Curry’s concern over the two full-time positions muddying the waters in the talks, Kapenstein agreed with Suglia that leaving the positions unfilled much longer could potentially put public safety at risk.

Following a closed-door executive session, council emerged to approve promoting Tankersley to the full-time position. Council also acted to move forward with filling the other vacant full-time position, and to hire a new part-time officer to replace Tankersley.

The department going into the Feb. 21 meeting had a force of 15 full and part-time officers, including interim Police Chief George Mouchette, whom Curry swore in on Jan. 5 to replace former Chief John Bey, who resigned effective Dec. 31 to accept a position with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

A number of residents spoke out against the borough getting rid of its own police force during a meeting that council held on the issue on Feb. 15.

Curry during the Feb. 21 meeting acknowledged that the idea may not be popular, but that borough officials have a responsibility to taxpayers to explore an alternative policing arrangement, if it can save money and meet the two other objectives regarding the level of police services and protecting the borough’s own officers.

Curry and Kapenstein both said during the meeting that fully staffing the department according to recommendations received from Mouchette will result in “a substantial tax increase,” as Kapenstein put it.

“We are talking several hundred dollars a year” in a property tax increase for a property assessed at $100,000 to fully staff the department, Curry said.

Earlier this week, Curry detailed for the Press And Journal recommendations from Mouchette for adding seven new full-time positions; including a newly-created executive officer lieutenant position, three new sergeants, a second detective, and two new full-time patrol officers.

Filling all those new positions would mean an estimated tax increase of $250 for a Middletown resident with property assessed at $100,000, based on preliminary figures Curry said have been provided to him by Kapenstein. The $250 could be less or it could be more, the mayor has indicated.

For example, eliminating part-time officers and fully staffing the department could all but eliminate overtime costs, which could potentially ease the burden on taxpayers somewhat.

Curry acknowledged that council could choose to phase in the new positions - and the tax increase - over a period of years, instead of all at once. But this would leave the department short-staffed at least to some extent over this period of time, the mayor has said.

Curry said that the staffing recommendations from Mouchette are in line with those included in a report done for the borough by outside consultants in 2015, as well as with the recommendations of former Chief Bey.  

By pursuing the talks with Lower Swatara, Curry and Kapenstein hope to at least be able to bring to residents a viable alternative to the onerous tax increase needed to fully staff the department.

Friends of The Elks submits letter to buy Elks Theatre for $1

In other matters, the nonprofit organization Friends of the Elks Theatre has put in writing its intent to accept an offer from the borough to acquire the Elks Theatre for $1, in order to transform the historic 106-year old movie house into a regional center for the performing arts.

Friends, the successor group to the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corporation which once owned the Elks Building and operated the Elks Theatre, has submitted a letter of intent to the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, which owns the theater. The ICDA acknowledged receipt of the letter during its own Feb. 21 meeting held just before the council meeting.

Details of the letter were not immediately available.

The Elks Theatre was closed by the authority for renovations in April 2015, and has not reopened.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 February 2017 13:33

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Highspire group takes court action to get decision on moving students to Middletown district

The group of Highspire residents seeking to transfer their students to Middletown Area School District has filed a petition with Commonwealth Court, requesting the court direct the Pennsylvania Department of Education to make a decision on the matter.

“We understand relocating Highspire students requires careful consideration,” Ken Becker, a spokesman for the Highspire Education Coalition, said in a statement issued on Tuesday, Feb. 21, accompanying the coalition’s filing of the petition with the state court.

“Historically, the department takes about 15 months from when it first receives a request like this to make a decision. We are approaching 30 months and the only response we received from the department is that they continue to evaluate the educational merit of the move without any assurance of when we can expect a decision,” Becker said.

The coalition in 2014 conducted a door-to-door campaign seeking support throughout Highspire for the transfer of students from schools in Steelton-Highspire School District to those of Middletown Area School District. The coalition believes that the students will get a better education by transferred from Steelton-Highspire to Middletown.

Ninety-three percent of the people that the coalition spoke with during the door-to-door campaign favored the transfer, leading the coalition to submit its request for the move to PDE through Dauphin County Court in August 2014.

“Pennsylvania law requires the department to assess the ‘educational merit’ of the move,” Becker said. “All of the information requested by the department to assess educational merit was provided to the department by March 2015. Nearly two years later we are still awaiting the department’s decision. The department’s inaction keeps these students trapped in a failing school district.”

Issues cited in the request by the coalition justifying the transfer include Steelton-Highspire School District students “continually significantly underperforming on standardized tests and state assessments,” according to the coalition statement.

The coalition statement also noted a Pennsylvania Auditor General report finding “significant noncompliance” with various state laws, regulations, contracts, grant requirements, and administrative procedures; and PDE placing the district on Financial Watch Status in 2013 as a result of the district’s general fund deficit exceeding $2.6 million.

Commonwealth Court can order the department to make a decision within a specific period of time, Becker said. The department has 30 days to respond to the coalition’s petition filed the state court.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 February 2017 16:23

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Middletown man arrested after fleeing police; he had warrant out for his arrest

Lower Swatara Township police on Wednesday arrested a Middletown man who had a warrant out for him on a prior robbery charge.

Howard Carnell Pease III, of Middletown, was charged with flight to avoid apprehension, resisting arrest, false ID to law enforcement, operation of a vehicle while under suspension, and other summary offenses. He was taken to the Dauphin County Judicial Center for arraignment. On Wednesday, Lower Swatara police stopped a vehicle for an equipment violation in the 1300 block of South Eisenhower Boulevard. The driver provided false information to the officer, according to police. As the officer was attempting to confirm the operator’s identity, he got out of the vehicle and ran. 

Officers followed the suspect and took him into custody without further incident. His identity was confirmed as Peace. He told the officers he ran, because he knew there was a warrant issued for his arrest. Officers confirmed that Lancaster County had a warrant in relation to a prior robbery charge. 

Lancaster County was notified of the arrest and will be filing a detainer to take custody of Peace should he be released from Dauphin County. 

Anyone with information on this incident is asked to call Lower Swatara Township police via Dauphin County Control at 717-558-6900, contact Dauphin County Crime Stoppers at 800-262-3080, or visit their website at and click on the “submit a tip” link. 

Last Updated on Monday, 20 February 2017 07:36

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Residents take dim view of regional policing in Middletown, but it is "premature" to say if it's good or bad, Kapenstein says

Middletown residents want to keep the borough police force as it is, if tonight’s Feb. 15 meeting held by council to discuss police regionalization is any indication.

But council only heard from nine people, two of whom do not live in the borough.

Close to 50 packed council chambers for the meeting, some of whom had to stand because they couldn’t find a seat. Among those attending were 12 of the 15 full and part-time officers now with the Middletown Police Department - including interim Police Chief George Mouchette. None of the officers addressed council.

Councilor Diana McGlone also spoke out against regionalization, calling it an unjustified diversion from what should be the borough’s real objectives.

But after the meeting Council President Ben Kapenstein said it is “premature” for anyone to say whether the borough entering into some kind of regional police arrangement will be good or bad for the town, because not enough is known.

“We don’t know anything about what the specifics are,” Kapenstein said, referring to meetings that he and Mayor James H. Curry III have been holding in recent months with representatives of Lower Swatara Township. “I can’t tell you if I am for it or against it at this point until I see terms of any deal. Do I think we should explore it as a potential cost savings while keeping the same or better level of service? Yes. I would continue it if it is up to me. We will see if that is what council wants to do.”

No further meetings have been scheduled between the borough and Lower Swatara to discuss the issue, Kapenstein said. He sees the next step as council having “a discussion” - possibly during its next meeting on Feb. 21 - to decide whether to continue exploring police regionalization.

Curry, who as mayor is head of the police force, was not at the meeting due to what Kapenstein called “a work conflict.”

Otherwise, all of council’s other members - except former long-time mayor, Robert Reid - were present, including Vice President Damon Suglia and members Anne Einhorn, Dawn Knull, McGlone, and Ian Reddinger. Solicitor Adam Santucci was also present.

Kapenstein opened the session with a brief Powerpoint presentation talking about why the borough is exploring entering into a regional police arrangement, and what the benefits to the town could be.

The chief factors driving regionalization include the rising cost of the borough having its own force, the lack of adequate supervision within the department, and the cost to borough taxpayers of adding more police officers, Kapenstein said.

Every new full-time officer costs about $120,000 in salary and benefits, which costs just under $48 a year in property taxes for a resident with a property assessed at $100,000, Kapenstein added.

On the other hand, the borough becoming part of a larger force could lead to better police coverage than now, better supervision, better working conditions, more opportunities for officers to advance up the ranks, and cost savings that the borough apply to other things like paving streets, improving parks, and the like, Kapenstein said.

Of the two potential models - the borough contracting with Lower Swatara to provide police services, or forming a new regional force - Kapenstein said that to him contracting out could be the better option. A regional force would require establishing a regional commission that “by the nature of it gets highly political,” he said.

The borough’s three objectives that must be met in going into any regional police arrangement are to have the same or better level of service than now, cost savings, and to protect the officers who are now with the Middletown force, Kapenstein noted.

In addition, there would have to be officers physically present in Middletown at all times in order for Kapenstein to go along with any deal.

“This council would not vote for any agreement where there are not going to be officers in Middletown” at all times, he said. “The only difference is there would be a Lower Swatara uniform” on the officer.

But several residents spoke of what they see as the advantages of the borough having  its own police force, and what could be lost if the town opts for a regional alternative.

“There is alot to be said for police officers having a personal connection with the community,” said Dan Valley, suggesting that officers who aren’t as familiar with the town would lead to longer response times.

“We need to keep our police,” said Karen Clark. “If you get rid of our guys and bring in strangers that don’t know the people, when they go to a domestic they don’t know what they are walking into. Our police know this borough inside and out. When you send somebody strange into these houses their lives matter, and so do ours.”

Having a police presence in the community “is priceless. There’s really no price to put on that,” said Jo Ruch, who credits Middletown police officer Jeff Weaver with saving her son’s life.

Ruch and her husband Kevin live in New Cumberland, but she said that her son while 7 years old was coming to Middletown for visitation to a parent who no longer has custody. The child did not feel safe, and wanted to see a borough police officer, she said.

Weaver had the boy take off his shoe, so that Weaver could write his home phone number inside of it.

“That little boy really needed a police officer and he needed a good one,” Jo Ruch said. “He got lucky. He got that...I’m not sure he would be here today if it wasn’t for Officer Weaver.”

Middletown becoming part of a regional force could potentially “compromise the safety” of borough residents, added Kevin Ruch, who said he was director of the West Shore Council of Governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and also in charge of the West Shore Law Enforcement Center.

Regional policing in the West Shore has not been of benefit to the residents there, according to Ruch.

“When they went to a West Shore regional department things were sacrificed, that’s just the facts,” he said. “There were a lot of promises made but there’s a big gap between promise and performance from my perspective. (The borough) should look at other alternatives to save costs. Do not compromise safety. West Shore regional was a great theory but in practice it did not work out so well. I would hate to see the residents of Middletown suffer a similar fate.”

Resident and former borough councilor Rachelle Reid said she would gladly pay an additional $47 in property taxes if that’s what it takes to keep the Middletown force as is.

The one voice urging council to continue pursuing a policing arrangement with Lower Swatara was Joseph Hoover, a former borough police officer who left the department in 1968 to join the state police, from which he is now retired.

Former township Police Chief Richard Brandt leaving presented “the perfect opportunity” for Lower Swatara and Middletown to merge police departments, but the window has reopened with the departure of former Chief John Bey from Middletown in December, Hoover said. He suggested council keep Mouchette as interim chief but not make him permanent.

“Now you have the time to sit here and intelligently make decisions and get together with the people from Lower Swatara Township, and then let’s see some transparency,” he said. “We have the basis right here. You have the basic Middletown police and you have your experienced Lower Swatara police. It works, if you just sit back and look at it, it works.”

“You people will be the biggest” obstacle to a combined force not succeeding, Hoover said, referring to the elected officials in Middletown and Lower Swatara. “If it doesn’t work it will be on your shoulders and Lower Swatara Township’s shoulders.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 23:16

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