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Borough plans $50,000 in savings by changing its IT services provider

Middletown expects to reduce its annual information technology costs by about $50,000 in 2017 as a result of borough council hiring another company to provide IT services to the borough on Nov. 15.

Council approved a one-year contract with Intermix IT of Harrisburg to provide IT services to the borough for $4,268.35 a month in 2017.

Intermix IT comes on board on Dec. 1 to begin replacing 2K Networking, also of Harrisburg, the company that has been providing IT services to the borough since mid-2012.

The borough had been paying 2K Networking about $8,800 a month on average, according to Finance Director Bruce Hamer. So council in July voted 9-0 to rebid the contract for 2017.  2K Networking was one of five companies that bid on the borough contract. Staff recommended going with Intermix IT.

Council on Nov. 15 also voted to hire PFM Group to manage the borough's pension investments. PFM was one of three firms that submitted a proposal and made a public presentation before borough council. The others were Wells Fargo Advisors and Morgan Stanley.

Council President Ben Kapenstein is employed by PFM Group and recused himself from the proceedings and the vote.

Councilors Dawn Knull and Diana McGlone both voted against hiring PFM. 

“I do not feel that we should be hiring any firm connected to a council member,” Knull said.

McGlone also objected to hiring any firm that employed a councilor. McGlone further stated that she felt Morgan Stanley “was better suited to be the overseers of the borough's investment profile.”

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 November 2016 12:34

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Garbage removal costs to increase in Lower Swatara

Residents of Lower Swatara Township will pay about $30 more per year for trash removal under the new contract approved unanimously by township commissioners Nov. 16.

The commissioners solicited bids based on their specifications, with the low bid coming from Lebanon Farms Disposal. Under the deal, the residential rate is $62.48 per quarter for the next five years (about $250 per year), an increase from the old quarterly rate of $55.11. 

Residents will also have to adjust to pickup days of Monday and Tuesday to Thursday and Friday, due to the hauler’s schedule.

Residents with the regular service are permitted four bags or one toter along with one bulk item per week. Toters, sometimes called curb carts, will be distributed at the expense of the waste hauler under the contract. However, residents may continue using their own bags and cans if they prefer. In addition to the cost of the carts, haulers must also absorb the higher incinerator tipping fees that are anticipated for the coming year, Township Solicitor Peter Henninger said. 

Removal of yard waste, on alternating weeks from spring to fall, will not change. Customers may pay $6 per additional cans or bags and $25 for additional bulk items, over the one bulk item permitted weekly. 

The township’s current waste hauler, Penn Waste, bid $70.70 per residence per quarter. Ed Ward, Penn Waste’s manager for municipal contracts, said the township should rebid the waste contract. During the bid period, Penn Waste had clarified the township’s $2 per quarter administrative fee should be added in the bid. Ward said Lebanon Farms had not followed the bid protocol regarding the $2 fee and must be rejected. 

Ward complained that the township had increased its own costs by requiring the toters, which are to be provided with a township logo on each side, in the colors specified. 

“I don’t have a problem using your logo on the carts,” said Joe Barry, president of Lebanon Farms. “I am the low bid and I will stand behind it.” 

Henninger said when he received Lebanon Farms’ bid and confirmed with them that the $2 fee had not been included in the initial bid of $60.48, the company had agreed to have its bid considered with the fee added. 

“Everyone had a fair chance to bid,” said Commissioner Todd Truntz, who said he did not believe the township needed to solicit bids again. 

The new contract will begin in January. 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 November 2016 12:24

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Middletown graduates pulled from fiery crash on way back from game

11 30 vigil WEBPhoto by Bill Darrah -- More than 400 attend a prayer vigil Sunday for Joey Keating and Scott Shaffer at Smith’s Tree Farm in Swatara Township, where Shaffer was employed. At left is the tree adorned with special ornaments and bows for Keating and Shaffer.

 

Joey Keating and Scott Shaffer — the two recent Middletown Area High School graduates who were pulled from the wreckage of their burning car on Friday, Nov. 25 — are in stable condition in the Lehigh Valley Hospital Burn Center as of Tuesday, Nov. 29, a hospital official told the Press And Journal.

KeatingJosephWEBKeating

Hundreds of people from the Middletown area gathered on a hilltop at the Smith’s Tree Farm in Swatara Township on Sunday night, Nov. 27, to hold a community prayer vigil for Shaffer and Keating.

Keating, who graduated in 2016, and Shaffer, a 2015 graduate, were pulled out of their car as the vehicle was becoming engulfed in flames following a single-car crash shortly after 11 p.m. along the 300 block of Stoner Drive in Lower Swatara Township on Friday, Nov. 25.

Mavis Dixon and her daughter Jennifer Dixon of Middletown are being credited with saving the life of one of the two young men. The other was saved by two other men who arrived at the crash shortly after the Dixons: Aaron Young and Rick Cruz, both of Lower Swatara Township.

 

The Dixons and Keating and Shaffer were all on their way home from the Middletown Blue Raiders’ 40-13 triumphant football win over Scranton Prep in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals in Bethlehem on Friday night. 
ScottShafferWEBShaffer

The car driven by Shaffer was the only vehicle involved in the accident, according to a news release from Lower Swatara Township police. The crash remains under investigation, police said.

Keating and Shaffer both sustained “severe burns to the lower extremities” and were air-lifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital Burn Center, according to police.

“Our prayers are focusing on their healing,” said the Rev. J. Richard Eckert, pastor of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Middletown, who spoke and led prayers at the vigil.

The vigil

Shaffer worked at Smith’s Tree Farm.

“Scott has been one of the most amazing employees and could run this tree farm with his eyes closed,” Sherri Smith posted on the tree farm’s Facebook page. She owns the farm with her husband, Steve.

Hundreds showed up for the impromptu candlelight vigil, even though the Smiths had only announced it on their Facebook page Saturday night. So many people showed up that organizers of the event ran out of candles to give away. Organizers estimated about 400 people attended.

Fire police and other first responders were out in force directing traffic and parking vehicles in the fields across the street from the tree farm entrance on 80th Street in Swatara Township, just off Fiddler’s Elbow Road.

The Smiths decorated one of their large Christmas trees with special ornaments and bows in honor of Scott and Joey. The word “Hope” was hung at the top of the tree.

People from all over the Middletown area community were invited to place their own personalized ornaments on the tree. Crowds of people stood around and near the tree holding lit candles, holding hands, praying and softly singing hymns like Amazing Grace.

“What a statement to the families, what a statement to these two young men,” Eckert said. “I do believe although they may not see us tonight they are feeling the power of your love and grace here on this hilltop that they love.”

‘We gotta get him out’

Mavis Dixon and her daughters, including Jennifer, were also at the vigil. 

The car had flipped over on its side, Mavis said. Jennifer kicked the car window three times to bust it out. 

One of the two boys “reached back with his one arm. He was crying ‘I’m on fire’ and Jennifer said, ‘We gotta get him out,’” Mavis said. 

The two men, Young and Cruz, then arrived from another vehicle and rescued the other young man, Mavis said. Mavis’ granddaughter Jocilyn Koser called 911.

“I don’t think I would be able to sleep if I heard those two boys died that day,” Jocilyn said.

Jennifer has always had “the instinct” to help people, Mavis said, adding that Jennifer as a 16-year-old lifeguard once saved the life of someone drowning in a pool.

Eckert lauded the rescuers as well as the paramedics, police and firefighters who responded to the crash.

“There is no doubt that those four people who responded, and if there were others, their actions were the actions of heroes, their actions were the actions of bravery, their actions were the actions of stepping up and stepping forward and reaching out to help two wonderful people in need and that’s what they did, and we give thanks for what they did,” Eckert said.

People who could not make Sunday night’s prayer vigil were encouraged to come to the tree farm “anytime” to see the tree and to place their own ornament upon it for Shaffer and Keating, one speaker said.

Keating and Shaffer

Keating was part of the 2015 Homecoming Court. He had played football on the Blue Raiders’ varsity squad until his sophomore year, when he had a brain tumor removed and was no longer allowed to play, school district spokeswoman Jody Zorbaugh told the Press And Journal. But he remained with the football team, serving as a student coach in his senior year.

Joey had just started at Penn State, said Michael Swartz Jr. of Middletown, who was at the vigil with Jamie Rishar and the couples’ young daughter.

Keating is the son of Swartz’s cousin. 

“My mom wanted me to get some pictures of all the people here, to give to (Joey’s mom) to show all the support that people are giving,” Swartz said. “He (Joey) has already been through a lot to begin with.”

Rishar said she is close friends with Joey’s parents Rachelle and Brian Keating of Lower Swatara Township. Brian Keating had just been appointed to Middletown Area School Board on Monday, Nov. 21, to replace a school board member who had resigned in October.

Joey is a “very kind” boy who was “very popular” in high school, Rishar said. “He is not your typical 18-year-old kid. He was a little wise beyond his years and very caring. I think that is probably why all these people are here.”

Shaffer is a year older at 19 and graduated from MAHS in 2015. He played soccer and was on the track and field team. Shaffer was also part of the Homecoming Court in the fall of 2014.

Shaffer was also one of eight seniors who competed in the high school’s Mr. Middletown Pageant in 2015, a fundraiser for the high school’s Mini-THON which goes toward fighting childhood cancers at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Donations accepted

A Go Fund Me page has been set up on the web to accept donations to help the families of Scott and Joey meet emergency expenses. 

In addition, a Go Fund Me page has been set up for Jennifer Dixon by one of her friends, Christine Gantz.

Dixon herself was injured and briefly hospitalized for burns she suffered as a result of the rescue, Gantz said. Dixon has two children and is missing time from her job working at the Army depot in New Cumberland, Gantz said. 

“She put her life out there for these boys and she didn’t have to do that,” Gantz said. 

Donations for Dixon can be made through an account set up for her by Belco Federal Credit Union, Gantz said in a post on her Facebook page.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 November 2016 16:41

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Five members appointed to serve on business association board for Middletown

Five people have been appointed as board members of a new business association in Middletown by borough council and the Industrial and Commercial Development Authority.


Appointed on Nov. 15 were Carol Kupp, co-owner of Kuppy’s Diner; Robin Pellegrini, owner of Alfred’s Victorian; Scott Miller, deputy director of business development and strategic marketing at Harrisburg International Airport; Scott Sites, branch manager of Members 1st Federal Credit Union in Middletown; and Joe Sukle, publisher of the Press And Journal.


Efforts to start a business association in the borough have been underway for the past few years. In December 2014, articles of incorporation to create the Middletown Business Association were filed by the authority with the Pennsylvania Department of State.


Although it was created by the authority, the new business association is to be an organization that is independent of borough government, borough councilors have said in recent months.


However, it is likely that the borough will provide a liaison to the association, and Councilor Diana McGlone has spoke of the need for the association and the borough to act in a “collaborative” fashion.


The next step is for the new board to meet and “reorganize” although no date has been set, said Pellegrini, who has been among the most vocal in advocating for creating the business association.


“This is a temporary board” created to get the association moving, she said. Once the association can attract new members it will likely add more members to the board, she added. The association also needs to craft its own bylaws.


“It’s a positive move,” Pellegrini said of council and the authority appointing the five board members. “We can move forward.”


Sites is a former borough councilor who also serves on the Middletown plannng commission.


— Dan Miller

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2016 15:41

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Borough budget adds services, not taxes


Middletown’s proposed 2017 budget is good news for borough residents, who can expect to receive more services from borough government without having to pay more.

The 2017 budget that borough council tentatively adopted on Nov. 15 adds one new public works employee and one new police officer; without increases in the  property tax, the electric rate, or the trash rate. 

The borough can add these two new positions without raising taxes or rates largely thanks to reducing spending by about $160,000 in 2017 by bringing financial administration in-house, and by cutting spending on information technology, said borough Finance Director Bruce Hamer.

The borough had been paying outside consultants a little more than $200,000 a year to handle financial administration. This year, council decided to bring financial administration in house by hiring Hamer. The net savings after accounting for Hamer’s salary and benefits is about $105,000 a year.

Council also expects to save at least $50,000 this year by hiring a new outside company for IT consulting services in 2017 to replace the one that had been costing the borough about $8,800 a month in recent years.

Parks can also expect more attention in 2017, as the budget increases funding for maintenance and repair of parks from $15,000 to $75,000. Most of this increase is for the borough to hire an outside firm to mow the grass in the parks, freeing up more time for borough employees to attend to the parks themselves, Hamer said.

The budget also sets aside money for a list capital improvement projects, with paving Ann Street at the top.

The list also includes replacing an air-conditioning unit at the library, buying a new dump truck/snow plow, new equipment for repairing potholes, improvements to borough hall, money for holiday decorations, and funds to install video cameras in police vehicles.

Residents can inspect the tentative budget by going to the Municipal Building. The borough hopes by midweek to have the tentative budget posted on the borough website, www.middletownborough.com.

Council is expected to give final approval of the budget at its Dec. 6 meeting.

The borough budget consists of the general fund budget, the electric fund, the police sinking fund, and the liquid fuels budget. The police sinking fund is the capital improvement fund for the police department, while the liquid fuels budget is for money that the borough gets from the state each year for road improvements. 

General fund

The general fund is funded mostly through the property tax and other local taxes. It also includes an annual payment of $725,000 from Suez under terms of the borough’s 50-year lease of its water and sewer systems to Suez. 

The general fund covers everything in borough government that does not come under the electric fund — which is the fund that covers everything related to the borough’s system of distributing electricity to residents and businesses. 

The general fund proposes spending $5,809,050 in 2017 — less than the $5,812,054 to be spent this year.

The biggest part of the general fund — $2.9 million — goes for public safety, including $2.47 million for the police department compared to $2.37 million in 2016.

Public safety includes about $237,000 for code enforcement and planning and zoning. The 2017 budget adds no new positions in codes and planning and zoning — maintaining the same staffing complement of one full-time codes and zoning officer and two part-time officers for property maintenance.

The full-time codes position has been unfilled for close to a year, and only one of the two part-time positions is filled. 

The budget sets aside $26,000 to continue paying an outside firm, Commonwealth Code Inspection Service of Manheim, to assist the borough with code enforcement. 

The amount going to Commonwealth Code could end up being less in 2017 if the borough succeeds in hiring its own full-time code enforcement officer to replace Jeff Miller, who resigned in December 2015. The borough is advertising the position for about $55,000 a year, Hamer said.

The general fund also includes contributions to various outside bodies and commissions such as $150,000 to the fire department, $50,000 to Middletown Public Library and $10,000 to the Olmsted Recreation Board.

Electric fund

The electric fund proposes revenue and spending of $8.3 million for 2017, a drop from the $8.9 million being spent this year. The new five-year contract for the wholesale purchase of power that council approved in October reduces the amount of money expected to be spent to buy electricity in 2017 from $5.2 million to $4 million.

Electric fund revenue comes from the bills that residential, commercial and industrial users pay to the borough for electricity they use through the year. 

As in previous years, an amount of money — $1.3 million for 2017 — is to be transferred from the electric fund to the general fund, to help balance the general fund budget. The electric fund also proposes setting aside another $150,000 for capital improvements tied to the electric distribution system.

It will not be necessary to transfer any funds from the electric trust to the electric fund in 2017, Hamer has said. 

The trust is the account that was set up in 1999 as a result of a 1998 court settlement with Metropolitan Edison regarding the price that the borough was paying Met-Ed to purchase electricity for many years. The trust was created to cushion the blow to residents over the borough having to charge higher electric rates as a result of the settlement. Close to $10 million remains in the trust.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2016 15:03

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