Written by Dan Miller
Do the council chambers in the Middletown Municipal Building need some fixing up?
A majority of borough council thinks so, and council following a spirited discussion on Dec. 6 voted 5-1 to put $20,000 in the 2017 budget toward making improvements to council chambers, which is located on the second floor.
Not everyone said they were happy with the decision.
Councilor and former longtime borough mayor Robert Reid was so adamant against putting any money aside for fixing up council chambers that he decided to vote against the entire 2017 budget.
In Reid’s mind, it’s a classic case of if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix it, and any dollars set aside to improve council chambers is a waste of money.
“If I vote against the 2017 budget I’m voting against things that are dear to my heart that I’d like to see done, but I also (don’t) like the idea of just spending money just because we have it,” Reid said. “I see nothing wrong with these tables, I see nothing wrong with the walls.”
The idea of putting money in the budget to improve council chambers came from Council Vice President Damon Suglia.
Suglia had called for new furniture, including new chairs for councilors and for replacing the large wooden table that councilors for years have sat at during public meetings in the chambers.
According to Suglia — who was elected in 2015 — “the last several councils have cast a negative persona on Middletown” and improving the look of council chambers is one way to change that perception for the better, Suglia told the Press And Journal afterward.
“If we want to change and show people we are moving forward as a town then we need to start with something like this to make things more modern for the people,” he said. “I want to make it look like Middletown is moving forward, not stuck in the same stagnant position that it has been stuck in for the past number of years.”
Council President Ben Kapenstein agreed, at one point saying during the meeting that the wooden gate that separates council from the audience in the room should be removed.
“Maybe it’s just me personally but I look in here and I think of bad things — what happened in the past,” Kapenstein said.
Reid countered that the “bad things” had nothing to do with the room itself, but with the people who occupied the chairs at the council table.
Mayor James H. Curry III sought to broker a compromise by suggesting that council focus the effort on technological upgrades in the room that would benefit the public.
“How many times do we get 100 people and they are out in the hallway and they leave because they can’t hear?” Curry asked. “The microphones are pointless.”
Actually, it is very seldom when a council meeting draws more people into the chambers than the number of folding chairs that have been set up for the audience.
When council does anticipate a large crowd, it usually holds the meeting in the MCSO room downstairs. But the acoustics in the MCSO are so bad that during the last meeting there, even one of the councilors sitting at the end of the table couldn’t hear what was being said at the other end.
Curry during the meeting also said that council should make it possible for its meetings to be live-streamed from the chambers to the public via the Internet.
In recent months the mayor has been live-streaming the meetings on his own by using his smart phone. But the borough can and should do better, he said.
“I shouldn’t be holding up a telephone to live-stream to the public. This is ridiculous. I’m running out of battery,” he said. “If we had a web cam here I could hook the borough Facebook page up and just do the live-stream with the borough web cam instead of somebody holding up a telephone.”
Technological upgrades to council chambers are overdue, agreed Councilor Ian Reddinger.
“I would like to see some updating where we don’t need to use a stick to pull the screen down,” Reddinger said, adding that the borough should also buy some cables and other gear that would make it easier for guest speakers and residents to make presentations to council and to the public.
Moreover, Reddinger suggested that upgrading council chambers is a wiser use of tax dollars than council wanting to commit $10,000 from the 2017 budget for Hoffer Park holiday decorations that “are going to spend nine months out of the year in a box.”
At one point Councilor Dawn Knull suggested lowering the amount to $5,000 and starting with technological upgrades.
Council had a chance to improve the technology in the room for the benefit of residents earlier this year, but chose to pass on it.
During council’s first meeting of 2016, Kapenstein had proposed that the borough purchase a program that would allow council agendas and backup attachments to be posted on the borough website, and to be viewed by the public on a screen in the room as each council meeting proceeded.
Council instead voted 8-0 to reject the item, saying that the estimated $4,000 cost was too expensive.
Councilor Anne Einhorn said she could favor council spending money on upgrades that would clearly be of benefit to the public. But she said she would oppose spending any money on new furniture.
“I’m not going to hold the budget up, but $20,000 is $20,000 and if we want to talk about wants and needs, which we talk about a lot, new furniture is a want, technology is more of a need,” Einhorn said. “I don’t want to spend $10,000 on a new table, or a new set up for a new table.”
Einhorn did end up voting for the budget with the $20,000 for improvements to council chambers included, after Kapenstein provided assurances that any proposed specific expenditures of the funds would be subject to council approval.
“When it comes back to that and they say, ‘Let’s get furniture,’ I’m going to say no,” Einhorn said.
Councilor Diana McGlone was not present for the discussion or the vote on Dec. 6, having left the meeting at the end of a long closed-door executive session.
However, she would have joined Reid in opposing the $20,000 for upgrades to council chambers, McGlone told the Press And Journal afterward.
McGlone noted that a few weeks ago Curry and Knull characterized restoring the Elks Theatre as a want and not a need, during public discussions on whether to accept a $500,000 state grant that would have gone toward the theater. Council twice voted to reject the grant, with McGlone dissenting both times.
“Their priorities are mixed up in my opinion,” McGlone said. “Clearly $20,000 to renovate a council chambers that gets used sporadically is not a need or a want. That $20,000 could be allocated for more essential things.”
“We have a theater that needs renovated and can generate revenue and transform the entire town, yet that’s a want. However, $20,000 to redo council chambers appears to be a need. I don’t understand that.”
Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 December 2016 16:41
Written by Press And Journal Staff
Approximately 4.55 million vehicles are expected to travel the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s 550-miles from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day, according to its officials.
Typically, the Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year. About 90 percent of all holiday travel is by car. Most of the traffic is expected to be spread out over the holiday week. The heaviest days are anticipated to be Dec. 23 and Dec. 27-30 with about 550,000 vehicles projected each of those days.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike expects good weather for most of the holiday period. However, a wintry mix of variable precipitation consisting of rain, freezing rain, sleet, or snow is slated early the morning of Dec. 24 in the region of the Laurel Highlands and the Northeastern Extension. Turnpike maintenance and the State Farm Safety advisors — made up of Turnpike vehicles staffed by Turnpike workers — will patrol the roadway assisting motorists as needed.
During the holiday all construction and maintenance work will be suspended to allow full use of the road; all lanes will be available starting 5 a.m. Dec. 23 until 11 p.m. on Jan. 2, except in the case of emergencies, according to the turnpike. Additionally, State Police Troop T, the division in charge of Pennsylvania Turnpike patrols, will deploy additional patrols to stop drunk drivers, speeders and aggressive motorists.
Pennsylvania's “Steer Clear” law requires drivers to slow down or move over when they encounter an emergency scene, traffic stop or disabled vehicle. Drivers must move over or slow down for all responders, including police, fire and ambulance as well as stopped tow trucks and maintenance vehicles.
To report an accident or other emergencies on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, dial *11 on your mobile phone. To learn more about Pennsylvania Turnpike conditions or to contact us, use one of these resources:
On the turnpike
• Variable and digital message signs — nearly 100 signs along the turnpike
• Highway Advisory Radio — 1640 AM (tune-in near interchanges)
• Turnpike Roadway Information Program (toll-free) — 866-976-TRIP (8747)
• Customer Assistance Center (toll-free) — 800-331-3414 (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
On the web
• TRIPTalk — free, travel-alert smartphone app; download at www.paturnpike.com/travel/trip_talk.aspx
• Travel Conditions Map — live, inactive conditions map; view at www.paturnpike.com/webmap
• Waze — a crowd-sourced navigation app that provides real-time traffic conditions with input from other drivers; download at www.waze.com
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2016 16:00
Written by Press And Journal Staff
Pennsylvania’s estimated population has grown by 81,370 since 2010, according to the 2016 National and State Population Estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The state now totals 12,784,227 people, remaining the sixth largest state in the nation behind California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.
The commonwealth’s growth rate of 0.6 percent over the six-year period was about half that of the Northeast region’s 1.5 percent and well behind that of the nation’s 4.5 percent. Pennsylvania ranked 30th in numeric change (81,370 people) in population between 2010 and 2016 and 44th in percent change (0.6 percent).
International migration has been a significant source of Pennsylvania’s population growth. Between 2010 and 2016, Pennsylvania ranked eighth nationally in terms of total population growth from international migrants with the state adding 195,038 people from international migration.
Conversely, domestic migration alone resulted in a loss of 183,614 people. Taken together this
resulted in a net migration gain of 11,424, which ranked Pennsylvania 32nd nationally.
Pennsylvania saw a slight decline in population from 2015 to 2016 (-0.1 percent). Other states experiencing losses during this period include West Virginia (-0.5 percent), Illinois (-0.3 percent), Vermont (-0.2 percent), Connecticut (-0.2 percent) and Wyoming (-0.2 percent).
Four states experienced an overall decline in population from 2010 to 2016; West Virginia, Illinois, Vermont and Connecticut. The lowest numeric and percent population increases were generally found in the New England states and in the Midwestern states.
Growth rates varied greatly among the nation’s 10 most populous states from the last decennial census in 2010 to the July 1, 2016 population estimate. States in the South: Texas (10.8 percent), Florida (9.6 percent), North Carolina (6.4 percent) and Georgia (6.4 percent) had the largest percent increases in population over the last six years. California representing the West region was not too far behind at 5.4 percent. With the exception of New York (1.9 percent) the most populous states in the Midwest and Northeast regions had growth rates below 1.0 percent: Ohio (0.7 percent), Pennsylvania (0.6 percent), Michigan (0.4 percent) and Illinois (-0.2 percent).
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2016 15:39
Written by Jason Maddux
In a meeting with the Press And Journal on Thursday, Dec. 15, Sen. Mike Folmer expanded on comments he made earlier in the week about using medical marijuana, calling it “a decision that I had made between myself and my God.”
The Republican who represents the 48th Senate District (which includes Middletown, Royalton, Highspire and Steelton as well as Lower Swatara and Londonderry townships), told the York Daily Record on Tuesday that he used medical cannabis when he was being treated for low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma between two and four years ago.
He told the Daily Record he had to travel to another state to do it, and he used it in conjunction with his chemotherapy. He did not elaborate on how many times he had done it or how he obtained it when asked on Thursday by the Press And Journal. He said only that he took “various extracts.”
Use of medicinal marijuana, or medical cannabis, would not have been legal in the state at the time Folmer used it. He was the prime sponsor, however, of Act 16 of 2016, which allows the use of medical cannabis in Pennsylvania for certain medical conditions. Gov. Tom Wolf signed that bill into law in April.
“It was a question that was asked of me, and I just wanted to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t want to lie. It was a decision that I had made between myself and my God. I took it very seriously. It wasn’t something that was done haphazardly, because it was banned. So I made that decision. That was the basis of the answer that I gave. I wasn’t trying to be callous. I wasn’t trying to say I’m better than anybody else. Health care is very personal. My fight with cancer was very personal. ... I just wanted to be honest.”
So far, he said, the feedback has been “overwhelmingly very positive” since the story came out. “On that note, I’m not trying to be a hero, either. I was just trying to make the best decisions, as I’m making decisions for my personal health, and causing no harm to anybody, and causing no harm to myself. It was just a decision that I made, and my wife and I talked about it, and it was supposed to be very private. But when the question came up, I didn’t want to be coy, I didn’t want to give a political answer.”
He continued: “I’m kind of frustrated. I’m frustrated, and the reason I worked on the bill so hard, because there are a ton of people out there who are self-medicating, not because they’re trying to get high, not because they want to party, but because they’re suffering, and they’re really, really hurting, and they’re being made to feel like criminals, and all they’re trying to do is use a nontoxic organic plant in various forms to relieve their pain and suffering and have a quality of life. So I wasn’t going to lie about it, because it’s not dirty. I think it’s a bad law to forbid it. It would be like ... blacks not being able to use the same bathrooms, or going into a restaurant, or having to sit in the back of the bus. Those were bad laws. This law is dumb.”
Folmer said he is about a year and a half cancer-free.
Under the legislation he sponsored, he said he would have been able to use the medical cannabis legally.
“I would have been able to apply for my card, and I would have been able to go to a permitted dispensary and get a quality medicine under the proper regulations and such. That’s what the whole bill does, so that people don’t have to feel dirty, so people don’t have to feel like they’re sneaking around. The vast majority of the extracts that the people are using, you couldn’t get high from if you wanted to. That’s what really dumbfounds me, because I just read that the DEA has now made all extracts — that includes hemp oils, that are 0.03 percent or less THC — they made it Schedule 1. So they’re telling me, the federal government, that an organic oil extract that is loaded with Omega 6 and Omega 3 and a variety of great attributes that could help human health is worse than heroin, is worse than cocaine, is worse than LSD. And you couldn’t get high from it if you wanted to. This is ridiculous.”
(Editor’s note: Heroin and LSD are Schedule 1 drugs, according to the DEA website. Cocaine is Schedule 2. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence, according to the website).
He said some Pennsylvanians are frustrated with the speed at which the process to distribute medical cannabis is going, “but we want to make sure we do it right, so that there’s no legality things and things of that nature that could possibly hold it up. So I think we’re heading in the right direction, about as fast as we can go.”
Folmer’s chief of staff, Fred Sembach, said they are anticipating in the first quarter of 2017 that Pennsylvanians will be able to apply for processor and dispensary permits.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2016 14:28
Written by Jason Maddux
Sen. Mike Folmer plans on running once more, in 2018, and then he’s done, he told the Press And Journal on Thursday.
“I would rather be a greeter at Walmart, no offense about being a greeter at Walmart. But it will be four more and I think we will be able to get done and focus on what we want to do,” said the Republican from Lebanon who represents the 48th Senate District (which includes Middletown, Royalton, Highspire and Steelton as well as Lower Swatara and Londonderry townships).
His decision to run again was complicated by the fact that he supports term limits at 12 years for state elected officials, as part of his “Promise to Pennsylvania.” The end of his current term would be 12 years in the Senate, so running again and winning would mean 16 years in office.
“The reason we announced so early was ... I wasn’t going (to run again). There was a lot of doubt out there,” he told the Press And Journal.
“Twelve years seemed like at the time when you’re running from the outside seemed like a good number. But once you get on the inside, you realize how deliberate the system is and how long it takes. It took me eight years to get the committee I actually wanted (as chairman),” he said.
Folmer is chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, which is responsible for matters such as legislative and election reforms; state procurement and contracts; and government spending.
Act 16, his medical cannabis bill that Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law in April, is a key reason for running again, he said.
“In all due respect, I worked my butt off on this bill and took a lot of crap for this bill. I just want to make sure as we move forward with this bill that it’s done the way that I wanted it to be done. Safe, compassionate access and moving along with the research and make the medicine that I know can help thousands of people be what it’s supposed to be.”
He also wants to work more on making hemp a cash crop.
“Hemp is going to bring so much and has so much potential. Canada is eating our lunch. Our brothers north of the border ... their farmers have a cash crop. They have new manufacturing. They are eating our lunch and it’s crazy, especially in Pennsylvania, with eight townships named Hempfield and two high schools named Hempfield. I just don’t get it.”
Here are some other key topics Folmer discussed during his visit.
“For us to do anything to help any township or municipality or borough or so forth, we’ve got to get the pension question answered, and answered correctly, and done correctly. Because if we don’t, we aren’t going to have any money to do anything.”
“We have to sit down and talk serious and I mean quality pension reform and that’s going to mean stopping the bleeding going forward, and then how do we deal with those unfunded liabilities going forward. Every day that we don’t, we’re adding approximately $10 million, a little over $3 billion a year, to the already huge red ink number of $60-plus billion in unfunded liabilities. We’ve got to do that for our credit rating for the state, for just fiscal soundness.”
Closing the budget gap
Triblive.com reported last week that the Wolf administration has pledged to cut agency spending before turning to tax increases.
“On that arena, I think we can start building a bipartisan effort. That’s not a Republican or Democrat issue. We’ve got to be looking at every department and making sure that each dollar being spent in those departments is being spent the way they ought to be spent and are we getting what we’re paying for?”
“We need to cut out waste, fraud and abuse. There’s not doubt about it. Whether that’s Medicaid, whether’s that’s in the Department of Corrections, whether that’s even in education. I’m very pro-education. But presently we’re spending a little over $900 a second from kindergarten to 12th grade. We have to ask ourselves, are we doing the best we can?”
“We’re going to be going into a new session. Guys are going to get sworn in on the first Tuesday of January. The governor will give his budget address. Then they’ll have what I call the annual rites of passage, the appropriation hearings, where the people come marching in, and from a 30,000-foot level, you’ll get to question the various secretaries. They’ll be very aloof with their answers and why we need to do this. We need to change that. We need to go, hey, you came in here with ‘X’ amount of dollars in your budget. You’re asking for a 4 percent increase. No. 1, why should we even give you what you got? And secondly, why do you deserve the 4 percent increase?”
“I’m hoping we can put politics to the side and start doing policy. If it’s good policy, regardless if it’s Republican or Democrat, let’s work on it, if it’s going to benefit Pennsylvania. We’ve got to get pension reform under control. That’s a priority. And that’s where I’m hoping we can build some bipartisan initiatives. Because it’s necessary.”
“I’m a fiscal conservative. I’m a right-to-work guy. Now the governor and I, when I mention right to work, (he says) ‘No, no, no, no, no, no.’ Or paycheck protection. I think those things are important to make Pennsylvania better situated to keep our existing jobs here and to attract new jobs. But on the same token, we have respect for each other. And we have a good working relationship. He has been very gracious in moving forward and using our advice for the regs on medical cannabis and on some other issues.”
“We need to make sure there are lines of communication. Somebody from the left isn’t going to get everything they want. Somebody from the right isn’t going to get everything they want. We’ve got to start thinking what’s best for 80 percent of Pennsylvania and keep in mind the pocketbooks of those citizens, that disposable income. Those folks who right now are probably wondering how they’re going to put heating oil in their home, buy Christmas presents, and put gasoline in their car. We’ve got to start there.”
“No one ... thought Mike Folmer would have worked with Sen. Daylin Leach (a Democrat from the Philadelphia area) on medical cannabis and actually become friends. Now Daylin still thinks I’m a wacky conservative ... but we respect each other. When you can have that line of communication and that understanding, then there’s hope.”
On Trump as president
Folmer supported Republican Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator. Both have libertarian principles.
As for Trump:
“I hope the new thinking is going to be along the lines of getting the federal government out of our face and reverting back to the 10th Amendment, and understanding that the federal government ... the only reason they have powers is the powers the states give them.”
Folmer said he hopes the federal government gets away from the idea that “the states are these 50 administrative units at the beck and call of the federal government.”
“In reality, we are 50 independent states, each with our own problems, each with the ability to deal with those problems, whether it’s education, health care and so forth, aka cannabis.”
“How well has the war on drugs really worked? Are we going to sit here and continually think we’re winning this war when we’re not? And that we can arrest our way through this scenario and load up our prisons? Rather than looking at addiction and things of that nature?
“It’s a little scary having, for instance Jeff Sessions (a current U.S. senator from Alabama) as attorney general. I saw some of his clips, and I don’t know how new they were, but they weren’t good. And we’d be going backwards as far as cannabis goes. People should not have to feel dirty because they want a better quality of life. I’m a little concerned there.”
Property taxes and school funding
“I’ve had calls from folks who are losing their homes, not because they overspent, they’re now retired and the home that they paid for outright and paid all their bills and did everything they were supposed to do, now they can’t afford.”
“And they don’t even have a mortgage anymore. It’s that scenario. I don’t think there should be a tax that would tax somebody out of their home.”
“We are continually shrinking the base of those folks who are paying the property taxes. I’ll use this as an example, and it’s necessary right now, Clean and Green (a state preferential tax assessment program that bases property taxes on use values rather than fair market values, aimed at farmland). We need Clean and Green. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be doing Clean and Green. But here’s the unintended consequences that come out of Clean and Green. In order to help that farmer stay on the farm and farm that farmland, let’s say his property taxes were like 40 grand but now under Clean and Green they’re $5,000. Who is making up the $35,000? It’s now falling on the shoulders of the other folks. We’re shrinking the base. I’m looking for a way to expand that base. We need to come up with a more modern way that would be fair.”
“I know there’s a lot of folks out there from the manufacturing associations and the chamber and so forth about expansion of the sales tax and increase to the PIT (personal income tax). And I never said this was a tax elimination. This is a tax shift. We’re going from one tax to another. I get that.
“I’m not saying the governor agrees with how we get to our solution on eliminating (property) taxes, but he’s now seeing the reason for instead of just partially reducing, to totally eliminating. We just have a difference on how to get there.”
Size, scale of Legislature
“Article 2, Section 8 of the State Constitution basically reads as though we should be a part-time legislature. We’re supposed to be paid for sessions and special sessions and mileage and no other compensation whatsoever. Which tells me that technically we never really officially went to a full-time legislature. We kind of evolved into a full-time legislature. So I do believe we should be a part-time Legislature.”
“As far as the size of the Legislature, as chairman of the state government committee, I ran both those bills out of my committee because they’re constitutional amendments. ... I think the people have the right, according to Article 1, Section 2, to make that decision because it’s their government. Actually, they should have been able to make the decision on whether or not we became a full-time legislature, but they never got that shot. We just kind of went there, which is wrong.”
“But it’s not the size that’s the problem. The problem is that we’re full time. By not being full time, I think you’d have a bigger turnover. I would argue against downsizing. ... I would vote for those bills to be able to be put out in a referendum form although I’m opposing them. Because the people have a right to make that decision.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2016 11:51