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Time will tell if water, sewer lease is good call

Middletown certainly won’t be the first central Pennsylvania municipality that would depend on a private company to provide water service if Borough Council signs a 50-year lease with United Water of New Jersey and its financial partner, KKR & Co. L.P. of New York. A lease was approved by council and the Middletown Borough Authority during a special meeting on Monday, Sept. 29.


Other municipalities live with water service provided by private utilities whose rates are monitored by the Public Utility Commission.


But the decision to lease the water and wastewater systems was a difficult call, for borough leaders as well as residents. The borough has had absolute power over the rates charged to water and sewer customers; giving up that power, to any degree, is a monumental step.


And a risky step, opponents would argue. Sure, the borough stands to gain money up front in the lease deal with United Water – about $43 million to pay off roughly $37 million in borough debts and pension benefits, plus annual payments negotiated with United Water, officials say.


And, true, the lease agreement freezes rates until 2019 – assuming the lease begins on Jan. 1 – while capping future annual rate hikes at 2.5 percent above the Consumer Price Index, but it also allows United Water to raise rates higher than that for what Councilor Ben Kapenstein calls “big projects’’ with council’s approval.


The water system is a profit-turning enterprise, an asset with which the borough should not part, opponents said during a special joint meeting of council and the borough authority on Monday, Sept. 29 at the MCSO Building.


And while it's nice to be debt-free, we suspect that can't last for 50 years. Middletown will incur debt when it needs to, just as common folk incur debts – a mortgage and car payment, for example – as life unfolds. There will be debt – it's how the borough manages its debts that counts.


Kapenstein was one of seven councilors who voted in favor of the lease. He lauded the deal. Councilors Tom Handley and Anne Einhorn voted no.


Four of five borough authority members also approved the lease deal. Member AB Shafaye was the lone no vote.


Mayor James H. Curry III said he favored the lease deal over raising real-estate taxes or rates on electricity sold by the borough to town customers.


It certainly is a tricky issue, with good arguments on both sides. Monday’s meeting reflected that: While the lease agreement had proponents and opponents stating their case with civility, many who attended still seemed to have questions about the lease arrangement rather than a position for or against it.


It will provide immediate benefits. Whether it works in the long-run or not, only time will tell.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 21:10

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Yes, Dorothy, there is no place like home

Highspire reveled in its small town warmth, relived its small-town memories, and celebrated its small-town joys to mark its 200th birthday on Saturday, Sept. 20. Too often we lose a sense of community, and of home, in a society nowadays that seems busier, more transient and less concerned about its roots. In Highspire, residents past and present realized the value of place, of home – and some even looked forward to a similar celebration 50 years from now, God willing.


There was a parade down Second Street – Route 230 to those of us who are not locals from the borough – which is a great feat considering how busy the artery gets. There was the opening of a time capsule, buried in Memorial Park in 1964, which revealed nifty mementoes from the past. A 45 rpm record – vinyl discs that played music, for those of you too young to know – of the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better,’’ released in the summer of 1964, was among the items in the metal capsule. And a copy of the Press And Journal – the hits just kept coming! – in surprisingly good condition for a 50-year-old paper. A baseball signed by three friends who played for the local youth baseball team 50 years ago – and all three were present on Saturday to see it.


That is perhaps the most impressive thing about the Highspire celebration. It drew a number of people who had left, but returned for the festivities – because their hearts remain with the town.


Take Polly Shepler Barlow, for example. She was crowned the Sesquicentennial Queen in 1964, and rode on a float in a similar parade 50 years ago. She returned all the way from Woodstock, Ga., on Saturday to participate in the Bicentennial Parade. “I was just honored to be invited,’’ she said, “and I really, really enjoyed it.’’


Residents reminisced about streetcars and neighbors, about the now-defunct Highspire High School. There were members of the first graduating class of Steelton-Highspire High School, the Class of 1959, a merger formed with neighboring Steelton long ago.


Parade-goers even chanted the name of former mayor Wayne Shank as he rode down the street in the procession. The love of hometown made Shank a rock star.


The celebration was the result of hard work by a dedicated group of volunteers who make up the Highspire Bicentennial Committee, and Highspire Borough Council. Their hard work evoked the love Highspire natives have, and still have, for their town. It was a tremendous success, and left many who attended hoping they are around for the town’s 250th anniversary.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 19:30

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We should explore what an overlay zone will do

The replacement of old storm sewer and water lines in Middletown’s business district is moving along. It’s not too early to think of what will happen after the work is done, and the revitalization of the downtown begins.


That’s because Middletown has the potential to be transformed during the next decades by development sparked by the growth of Penn State Harrisburg. With the university’s enrollment growing, and the number of privately-owned dormitories increasing in the borough and neighboring Lower Swatara Twp., it’s prudent for borough officials to look ahead, and for the town to decide what it wants.


Perhaps Middletown would like to preserve those striking Victorian mansions along Union Street. Perhaps Middletown would like to see taller buildings in its business district, with retail on the first floor and apartments above.


Future development is likely to come from outside – by out-of-town developers. If Middletown wants some control, it must act.


That’s what is intriguing about a rather unspecific proposal to create a revitalization overlay zone for Middletown’s downtown, something that would create more rules for future development than the usual zoning ordinances.


Middletown Borough Council voted to apply for a grant from the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission to draw up a proposal for the new overlay zone. Some councilors voted against it – one saying he did not have enough information to make a decision. We’re not sure if it’s because it’s difficult nowadays to get some borough officials to talk publicly about their plans and ideas, or because there simply are no specifics yet as to what is desired.


As Tim Reardon, executive director of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, notes a revitalization overlay zone can allow for regulations that are specific to certain types of properties, such as historical structures – and there is no cookie-cutter overlay zone. “It’s locally driven,’’ he said. “They can decide what requirements they want to go into the overlay district.’’


With Middletown perched on the edge of an uncertain future, it makes sense to explore the options available to the town to preserve the quality of life it wants. As long as the public’s voice is heard, it’s a worthy pursuit.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 19:12

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Editor's Voice: Christmas arrived early for the Elks and Middletown

By Jim Lewis

Perhaps it was the Christmas spirit that moved a record number of people – 200! –  to buy tickets for the Middletown Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes on Dec. 8 and 9. And maybe the 224 people who paid to see the

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 December 2012 22:53

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Editor's Voice: At Steel-High, an unusual and inspiring civics lesson

If you’re an American, and value your right to vote, you probably remember the first time you voted – the thrill of walking into the voting booth, the excitement of casting a ballot. The candidate for whom you voted.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 18:25

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