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Don’t be bored by budget process ... it affects your life

The term “budget process” probably isn’t going to make you buzz with excitement.

But the Middletown Borough Council soon will start deliberating the 2017 budget. And you should take notice for several reasons.

The council will hold two public meetings devoted to discussing the 2017 budget, on Thursday, Nov. 3, and Monday, Nov. 7. Both will start at 6:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

Keep in mind is that this is the most important thing that the council will do all year. They are setting out the financials for all of 2017. When you hear the phrase that says some potential expenditure is “not in the budget” for this year … this is the time those decisions are made.

As Dan Miller points out on the front page of today’s Press And Journal, these discussions go to the heart of the services the borough provides its residents. Does the borough need more police officers? Public works employees? Code enforcement staff?

That leads to the next issue: How to pay for these things. 

Council President Ben Kapenstein told us that the borough shouldn’t need an increase in the property tax or electric rate to get through 2017. But time will tell. Council raised the electric rate for residents and businesses by one cent to help budget the 2016 budget even though Kapenstein opposed it. 

There are several other changes happening to the budget process that we think are very important and will help Middletown residents understand what is going on more clearly.

The budget will be a “zero-based budget,” Kapenstein said. That means starting from scratch, instead of accepting everything in the 2016 budget as gospel and just adding money on top to cover inflation.

Also, Kapenstein said the goal is to be more transparent so that “people understand where their money is being spent.” Both he and Finance Director Bruce Hamer have ideas on how to accomplish that, including the use of charts and graphs as well as “narratives” that might be discussed at meetings or found on the borough website.

This year, the budget will be done in-house and is being called “staff-driven,” meaning department heads have a great deal of input on it.

Previously, because the budget was being done by outside consultants, even Kapenstein said he had trouble getting information. That should change this year. There won’t be a final document handed blindly to the borough.

We are very encouraged that the borough met with or solicited input from commissions and outside organizations that depend in part or wholly on money they get each year from the borough budget; like the Middletown Fire Department, and the Olmsted Regional Recreation Board, something that Kapenstein said he is not sure was done regularly in the past.

Yes, there are challenges. The borough’s health insurance premium is going up by 51 percent in 2017 — an increase roughly equal to $300,000. There is uncertainty over whether Middletown will become part of a regional police force. 

But this entire process should not be a mystery done behind closed doors, and it looks as though the borough is moving away from that model. 

Attend these meetings if you are so motivated. If you have arguments for or against some group receiving funds through the budget, state your case. Be clear and concise. Bring friends who support your point of view. 

This is your money being spent. Get involved. You can make a difference.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 October 2016 11:25

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Be kind: Everyone can do it, so make your sign

It’s a simple sentence offering up a simple suggestion.

It’s just two words.

Six letters.

But now more than ever we need to follow the sentiment it expresses.

“Be Kind.”

Be kind to your family, your friends, your neighbors.

Be kind to strangers. Be kind to the cashier at the gas station.

Be kind to that Trump supporter or Clinton backer who you can’t stand.

Be kind to everyone.

As Dan Miller reports on the front page of this week’s Press And Journal, the second-grade students in Holly Criniti’s class at Reid Elementary School are placing signs all over Middletown that share the simple two-word credo.

We suggest that everyone try to adhere to it.

It doesn’t take much effort, certainly no more than being short-tempered or mean to one another. Maybe it’s just flashing a smile at the postal carrier, or waving to a pedestrian at the stoplight, or paying for the coffee of the next person in line. Grand gestures are great, but so are little ones.

Despite the negativity of the current presidential campaign, despite the vitriol all too often present on social media, we refuse to believe that people aren’t good deep down inside. 

The kindness is there. Let it come out.

Criniti and her students hope the message catches on, and they encourage other people to make their own Be Kind signs for residences and businesses all over Middletown — and beyond.

You soon will see one at the Press And Journal offices. Make your own. It can be simple. It doesn’t mean it won’t be effective.

Let your sign be a daily reminder. 

Be kind.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 October 2016 16:34

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Crime meeting will help community know its challenge

Middletown Borough Council member Dawn Knull and Police Chief John Bey are working to set up a community meeting on crime in the coming weeks.

We think it’s a worthwhile endeavor that deserves the support of the community.

We need a dialogue about what ails the community when it comes to crime, not fear that talking about it will somehow make the perception of our borough worse.

Knull grew up here knowing everyone she saw on the street. Now, she says, “I can’t send my kid out the door and know he will be safe.”

A recent string of burglaries at vacant residences involving the theft of copper and brass also has some people on edge.

Crime growth is not a challenge unique to Middletown. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t open the door to ideas on fighting the problem.

We should not be afraid to quantify the challenges the borough faces, be it with drugs or with other crimes. Knull said we have “a severe sex offender issue,” although it’s unclear at this point how bad it is.

A community meeting will bring issues out in to the open, with key players in law enforcement present to discuss the issues.

One key topic of discussion at the meeting will be neighborhood crime watch groups, to help be the eyes and ears of police in their neighborhood when officers are not around. That is a promising building block. Middletown used to have an active neighborhood crime watch program, but that’s no longer the case, Knull said. 

Knull also wants to explore the use of cameras by residents to help identify suspects. She knows anecdotally of many Middletown residents who have security cameras installed at their homes. She would like to see a database created so police can know where these cameras are located at residences throughout the borough. Four residents signed up at National Night Out to be in the database, but she said more people are out there who have them.

We are curious where that idea goes, but a bit cautious about the potential for cameras being used around the borough and the potential abuse they could incur. Twenty years ago, it would have caused quite a stir to suggest that we use cameras to track people’s movements. It would have raised concerns of a police state with Orwellian overtones. But technology growth and a change in people’s attitudes when it comes to weighing their safety vs. their privacy has changed that.

One issue that should not be forgotten is this: Does Middletown have enough police officers? As the borough enters its budget face for 2017, it’s a topic that should be discussed.

We will continue to cover the crime issue in Middletown before, during and after the forum to try to give you context on how serious the problems are here.

As Knull told the Press And Journal in a recent story, borough residents want to know what they can do to help prevent crime, and how they can help police solve crimes after they occur. The meeting will give residents a place to start.

We appreciate the efforts of Knull and Bey to hold this event. It might be the first of many, and that would be a good thing for the community.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 October 2016 16:27

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We’re not trying to raise a stink about trash pickup ...

Trash and recycling pickup, like many things in our lives, isn’t something we think too much about unless there’s a problem.

We take it for granted that it will be picked up on its regular schedule so we can fill up our bags and bins again for next time and aren’t left with an overflowing, stinky pile.

Right now, both Middletown and Lower Swatara Township have put their waste collection contracts up for bid. Penn Waste provides services for both. Fortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any problems with the service. However, seeing what services are out there from other providers and what prices they provide is a good idea from time to time.

The monthly rate Middletown residents pay for trash collection probably will go up in 2017 for the first time since 2011, Middletown officials said. Just how much depends on the bids received from waste haulers for a new contract, and which services those haulers will provide.

Middletown residents since 2011 have paid $25.65 a month to have their trash picked up by Penn Waste.

Lower Swatara residents pay $55.11 per quarter for waste removal for four 32-gallon bags, one bulk item and unlimited recycling. Every other week from April to November, residents are permitted up to 10 bags of yard waste, which does not count grass clippings. Bags containing grass clippings are counted as trash. 

Years ago, trash pickup seemed to be an easy process. You would drag your metal trash cans to the curb on the assigned day and a big garbage truck would pick it up. You didn’t have to worry about recycling or a “curb cart” or which direction the cans were facing, and you could pretty much stuff whatever you wanted into the cans.

It’s more complicated now. As the trash pickup process has become more automated, with trucks able to dump garbage without a worker even leaving the cab, some companies require the curb carts. Many people hate them. They can be too big for some people who live alone, and too small for others who have big families. They can be hard for older people to maneuver.

In Lower Swatara, Commissioner Laddie Springer said residents would not be forced to use a toter or “curb cart” under bid requirements. As Eric Wise reported in a story on page A6, the commissioners have left open the possibility of allowing a smaller version of the toter for residents who have less weekly waste or those who struggle to move the larger toter. In any event, if a toter is ultimately included in the contract, it will be provided at the cost of the hauler.

On top of that, all trash collected from residents in Middletown and from all other municipalities in Dauphin County is required to go to the incinerator, under an agreement between the county and the owners of the incinerator, the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority. In 2017 the “tipping fee” that waste haulers must pay to take trash to the Harrisburg incinerator — now known as the Susquehanna Resource Management Complex — will jump from $80 per ton to $85 per ton. That likely will drive up prices unless providers get into a heavy bidding war.

We trust that officials in Middletown and Lower Swatara will strike the right balance in making decisions about future trash and waste pickup. No one likes changes in their routines, even when it comes to trash pickup. But sometimes, for the sake of cost, it can’t be avoided.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 October 2016 16:07

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Get out and support our Middletown Blue Raiders

That buzz around Middletown seems to be getting louder each week.

The Blue Raiders football team is 5-0 for the first time since 2008. That season, they lost their sixth game of the year to Steel-High.

With Friday’s 69-7 victory over Trinity, Middletown continues to roll along. 

This is a team that won only two games in 2011 and one in 2012 before making steady progress forward. 

Six wins in 2013. Four wins in 2014. Seven wins and a playoff spot in 2015.

Now, a team that is laden with seniors is having a season that — so far — the players won’t forget. Their closest game was against rival Lower Dauphin, and that was a 20-point win. The face-off with East Pennsboro, who beat Middletown in the playoffs last year, was supposed to be a big showdown but turned into a 50-14 rout.

The defense has given up only 34 points in five games. That’s less than a touchdown average for each game. Meanwhile, the offense is averaging almost 43 points a game. They are doing their job on both sides of the ball.

There is still much work to be done. Nothing is assured at this point. The season is only halfway over. But that means there is still time to catch a home game. They host Palmyra at 7 p.m. Friday. Homecoming is at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22. They close out the season hosting Steel-High at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4. Their road games aren’t far: at Camp Hill at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 and at Milton Hershey at 7 p.m. Oct. 28.

The team has earned the right to dream big. But it still must take it one game at a time. Looking too far ahead is when teams stumble. 

Looking too far ahead shouldn’t be a problem this week. Palmyra is also undefeated. This one will be big. This year, however, Middletown has matched every challenge put before it.

Get out and support your Blue Raiders. This could be a special team. Be a part of memories that might last you a lifetime.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 October 2016 15:09

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