Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Borough Council tonight voted 5-1 to publicly advertise all four options for the 2016 budget that have been proposed by the borough’s financial consultant, Mark Morgan of Susquehanna Group Advisors, who wrote the borough’s Early Intervention Plan in March 2013.
Each option proposes different strategies to close what Morgan refers to as a “structural deficit” of close to $2 million in 2016.
One option, the one Morgan is recommending, would increase the property tax by one-half of a mill and increase the electric rate by a half-cent.
The tax hike would increase the borough real estate tax bill by $58.50 a year for a property valued at $117,000, the median value of a house in Middletown. The half-cent rise in the electric rate would cost $6 a month for the average residential customer, or about $72 a year.
The rate Middletown now charges residents for electricity is about two cents per kilowatt hour less than that being charged to residents of other communities in the area that are served by private power companies such PPL and Met-Ed, Morgan has told council.
A second option raises neither the property tax nor electric rate, but would require transferring $1.29 million from the electric trust fund to balance the general fund budget.
A third option would reduce the electric by 1 cent, passing onto residents savings the borough is now experiencing by having extended the contract with the borough’s wholesale electricity supplier by another year. However, this option would require transfer of just under $2 million from the electric trust.
The fourth option would leave the property tax and electric rate unchanged, but is dependent upon the borough at least $661,000 in public safety costs next year by entering into some kind of regional policing arrangement in 2016. The fourth option also anticipates added savings from eliminating the borough’s central garage facility.
Councilor Ben Kapenstein, who chairs the finance committee, voted against advertising any of the proposed options.
None of the four options being advertised include payment to the general fund of $725,000 from United Water - now known as Suez - making the budget hole in the general fund look worse to the public than it actually is, Kapenstein said.
The $725,000 is the first in a series of annual payments that Suez is to be making to the borough, under terms of the 50-year lease of the borough’s water and sewer systems to Suez, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.
The $725,000 was supposed to go to the general fund due to elimination of the water and sewer authority, which was anticipated in the lease agreement between the borough and Suez.
But the authority remains in existence, the result of an unforeseen fall-out from the lease that involves the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. According to Morgan, getting rid of the authority would trigger a re-permitting of ground wells by the commission that would lead to Suez being able to draw less water from the wells than the amount that is specified in the lease.
On Nov. 9 borough council - in a meeting not attended by Kapenstein - amended the lease with Suez to require that the $725,000 go not to the general fund, but to the authority. Morgan said he had included the $725,000 in all four of his options regarding the 2016 budget, but he took the money out following council’s Nov. 9 action.
Kapenstein contends that council’s Nov. 9 action to amend the lease is not valid unless the action is agreed to by the other party to the lease - Suez.
He also believes that with a new council majority coming into office, it is all but certain that the budget will be reopened in January and that changes will be made.
“Come January it will be resolved,” Kapenstein said, referring to the $725,000 being put back in the general fund. But in the meantime, advertising the four options without the $725,000 is giving borough residents “false information” regarding the budget.
“It’s going to make people think we are in worse shape than what we are,” Kapenstein said.
Council voted to advertise all four options without any discussion. Vice-President Robert Louer, who presided over the meeting in President Chris McNamara’s absence - moved to advertise all four options and opened the floor for discussion.
However, the only comment came from Kapenstein, who asked when council planned to take final action on the budget, which must be approved before the end of the year.
Louer said council may take up the budget during its next scheduled meeting on Dec. 7, but he could not say for certain. The budget must be advertised to the public for at least 10 days before council can take final action.
Asked why council chose to advertise all four options without making a recommendation, Louer said the current council majority is often criticized for not providing enough information to the public.
Regarding Kapenstein’s objection over the $725,000 not being in the budget, Louer said that under terms of the lease the money is supposed to go for infrastructure improvements related to water and sewer.
State law forbids water and sewer revenue from going to the general fund, Louer said, citing a law that was put in place in the aftermath of financial mismanagement of the former Harrisburg Authority.
Louer also pointed to the borough’s general fund finishing 2015 with a projected $246,160 surplus - suggesting the financial picture is not as bleak without the $725,000 as portrayed by Kapenstein.
Voting to advertise the budget along with Louer were councilors Mike Bowman, John Brubaker, Anne Einhorn and Sue Sullivan. Scott Sites was absent and council currently has just eight members due to the resignation of Vicki Malone.
McNamara was absent due to illness, Louer said.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 November 2015 20:06
Written by Dan Miller
Traffic across the Route 230 bridge over Swatara Creek just outside Middletown will be restricted to one lane starting Monday, Dec. 7, as a nearly year-long project to fix the bridge gets underway, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Temporary traffic signals were installed on Monday that will be used to restrict the bridge to one lane when the work begins on Dec. 7. The sidewalk of the bridge will be closed during construction.
At least one lane of the bridge will stay open to traffic throughout the project, except for brief periods when the contractor will have to close both lanes. However, this is not expected to occur until spring, and even then the total closures will be scheduled for the overnight hours, said PennDOT spokesman Mike Crochunis.
The $4.3 million contract awarded by PennDOT to Kinsley Construction of York includes demolishing and replacing the superstructure under staged construction, repairing the existing concrete piers and abutments, improving drainage, installing scour protection around abutments, roadway approach work, replacing guide rails and placing new pavement markings.
In June, construction crews will shift traffic to the newly-built portion of the bridge deck, and will begin work on replacing the remaining half of the superstructure. The entire project is to be finished by the end of October, PennDOT said.
The existing three-span, concrete-in-place, steel thru-girder bridge was built in 1941 and is considered structurally deficient, PennDOT said.
About 6,130 vehicles a day travel Route 230, which is Main Street in Middletown.
Motorists can check conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles in the state by going to www.511PA.com.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 17:50
Written by Dan Miller and Jim Lewis
Two people were arrested by Middletown police on Monday, Nov. 23, for allegedly trying to fill fraudulent prescriptions on slips stolen from a Maryland doctor at the pharmacy in the Giant Food Store in the Mid-Town Plaza, according to police.
Alanna Nicole Dockery, 19, of Washington, D.C., and Louis Antowne Newman, of Laurel, Md., are also believed to have passed counterfeit prescriptions at CVS Pharmacy on West Harrisburg Pike in Lower Swatara Twp. and a Walgreen’s Pharmacy in York, according to records filed by Middletown police with District Justice David Judy.
The pair used prescription slips that were stolen from a doctor who practices in Hyattsville, Md., to fill prescriptions at the central Pennsylvania pharmacies on Wednesday, Nov. 11; Saturday, Nov. 14; and Nov. 23, according to court records.
Police were alerted by a Giant pharmacy employee, who observed that Dockery and Newman had passed fraudulent prescriptions for the same medication two other times in the past 10 days, using different names each time, according to court records.
A search of Dockery’s car turned up prescriptions in various names, all from the same doctor whose name appeared on the prescriptions passed at Giant, along with labels from prescription medicines believed to have been obtained at a Walgreen’s pharmacy in York, according to court records.
The Walgreen’s labels also matched bottles of drugs that were found in a backpack that Newman tried to hide behind eggs in a cooler in the Giant store and in the bread aisle after the pharmacy delayed filling the prescriptions, police said.
Police chased Dockery into the Mid-Town Pizza restaurant and arrested her there, according to court records. Officers discovered Newman at the Giant, walking with an older woman who was pushing a cart – and when Newman walked away from her for a moment, the woman mouthed to police that she did not know the man, according to court records.
Police arrested Newman in the parking lot.
Dockery and Newman are charged with two felony counts each of conspiracy to commit forgery and misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to possess a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit forgery using a counterfeit mark or stamp.
Newman also faces additional charges of possession of marijuana and use or possession of drug paraphernalia.
The pair were arraigned before District Judge Kenneth Lenker in Dauphin County Night Court and held in Dauphin County Prison in lieu of $20,000 bond each.
A preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 3 before Judy.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 14:56
Traffic may be delayed on East Main Street from Monday, Nov. 30 through Friday, Dec. 3 as crews replace the Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad crossing near the Swatara Creek.
The crossing, just west of the creek, dates back to the 1930s.
Lanes on East Main Street – or Route 230 – will be restricted during the project.
Once completed, the new precast crossing will provide a smooth ride for motorists where the tracks cross the road, said Ron Martin, a spokesman for the railroad.
The railroad planned the upgrade in conjunction with its project to replace its bridge over the Swatara Creek that was damaged in the wake of Topical Storm Lee in 2011, Martin said.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 14:54
Written by Eric Wise
A friend was the first one who clued in Markis Millberry.
“My friend (Keontay Hodge) messaged me that she saw my picture on a magazine at Karns,” Millberry said. Before long, he heard from others, who sent him a picture of the cover of “The Year in Review,” Newsweek’s look back at the first 10 months of 2015.
It took a few days for him to track down his own copy.
Millberry, of Steelton, saw himself in a photo on the cover with Donald Trump, Pope Francis and members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team.
He is wearing a blue Steelton-Highspire United shirt and holding a sign that reads, “Black Lives Matter.” Another friend, Tito Valdes, a student at Dickinson School of Law, appears behind him in the photo.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 14:47