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MIDDLETOWN'S FUTURE

 A consultant’s report lists the town’s assets, and suggests how the borough can “alter the trajectory’’ of its future economic success.

A rapidly expanding college campus. Beautiful waterfront views. Unique architecture and a distinctive history. A location close enough to all that is fun and exciting, yet far enough away to be tranquil.


Sound like any place you know?


Middletown has natural and man-made assets that most other towns would die to possess. Despite that, the town is performing far below its potential. The good news is that the town and its people have within their power the ability to change that.


These are the findings of an economic development strategic plan that was scheduled to be presented to Middletown Borough Council for the first time on Tuesday, Sept. 2 during a council meeting.

The plan is the product of Commonwealth Economics, a consulting firm working for Dewberry, the engineering company hired by the borough to lead in the revitalization of Middletown’s downtown.


The 43-page report leaves no stone unturned in assessing the borough according to a broad range of quality-of-life factors, such as education, housing, income, crime, employment, physical and cultural amenities, and demographics.

The consultants looked at historical trends to see how these quality-of-life indicators have changed over time. For example, the borough’s population has shrunk over the past generation, but the town today has a relatively high proportion of young people living here.


The report also shows how the borough stacks up to three neighboring communities – Elizabethtown, Hummelstown and Lititz – that were chosen for comparison based on input provided to the consultants by focus group participants.


While the report was done for a company that the borough has hired to make the town look good, the end product pulls no punches. The goal of the report, as stated in the executive summary, is “to alter the trajectory of economic performance in Middletown.”


“Recent decades have been associated with significant disinvestment, stagnant population and property values, declining homeownership and unacceptably high commercial vacancy,” the report says – all of which is supported in detail by data-based charts and graphs highlighted throughout the publication.

The report also makes repeated references to the significant obstacles that the borough faces – some largely beyond the town’s control, such as broader state, national and global economic trends, but others seemingly of our own making.


For instance, the consultants describe as “shockingly small” the town’s present level of interaction with Penn State Harrisburg – despite the report’s conclusion that the burgeoning campus holds the key to the town’s future success.

The report also describes a dysfunctional relationship between the town’s government and its residents and business community. From the outside perspective of the consultants, the picture is of a borough government that is aloof, unresponsive and uncommunicative.

Four key recommendations are offered in the report, based on the data trend analysis and from what the consultants gleaned from three focus group sessions that separately gathered input from Penn State Harrisburg students and staff,  business owners, and borough residents.

 


 

The report at a glance:

 

Penn State Harrisburg:
The growing campus “arguably represents the single greatest opportunity for rejuvenation in the borough,” yet the town’s current level of interaction with Penn State Harrisburg is “shockingly small.”
Students say the downtown has little to offer and that they do not feel safe off campus.
“Middletown can no longer afford to effectively ignore the presence of this rapidly expanding campus, which among other things includes growing out-of-state populations … if the notion is that a rising tide lifts all boats, Penn State Harrisburg should be considered the most likely source of that rising tide.”

Population:
Middletown has less people now than in the 1960s. The town’s population declined 3.4 percent from 1990 to 2012 – in contrast to the state growing by 7 percent and the nation by nearly 24 percent during the same period. Elizabethtown and Hummelstown also grew faster during this same period. Middletown’s population is expected to expand only gradually going forward, but that would be an improvement over previous decades.

Poverty:
Poverty in Middletown is “elevated” and has “risen sharply” over the past 10-plus years. The current poverty level in Middletown exceeds 15 percent, more than double that of Lititz and nearly three times the level of Hummelstown.

Diversity:
Middletown is more diverse than comparable communities – however, this largely reflects the relative lack of racial and ethnic diversity in those other communities. For example, nearly 10 percent of Middletown residents are African-American, while more than 97 percent of Hummelstown residents are white.

Age:
Middletown has a relatively high proportion of chlldren – nearly 20 percent of borough residents are 14 years of age or younger, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

Education:
Middletown has a relatively small population of those who have some college education or an advanced degree. However, the report says this trend has been moving in the opposite direction over the past 10-plus years, with the share of residents with an advanced degree rising and the share of those lacking a high school degree declining.
The report says there is “evidence of progress” within Middletown Area School District, with the proportion of students scoring advanced in reading and math on the rise while the share scoring below basic in math and reading is on the decline.

Crime:
The combination of property and violent crime is less in Middletown than in Pennsylvania as a whole. However, it is higher than in Elizabethtown and much higher than in Hummelstown and Lititz.

Employment:
Between 2000 and 2012, job losses have been significant in agriculture, public administration, transportation/distribution and manufacturing. Jobs and economic activity have increased in arts and entertainment, and in education and in health services.
Middletown has a “disproportionate” concentration of employment in distribution, construction, arts and entertainment, retail trade and finance.

Income:
Middletown’s median household income is just over $44,000 – below that of Hummelstown ($56,900), Lititz ($51,200), and Elizabethtown ($50,400). More than one in four Middletown households report annual income of less than $25,000 – with 12.6 percent of borough households reporting income above $100,000, suggesting a widening gap between rich and poor in the town.

Tax base:
As in many other comparable communities, Middletown’s tax base has been flat since 2008 as a result of the economic downturn and the sluggish recovery. However, among the other communities used as a benchmark – Elizabethtown, Hummelstown and Lititz – only Middletown has seen an actual decline in the assessed value of taxable real property.

Housing and property values:
Property values in Middletown are lower than in the comparable communities. Roughly 71 percent of properties in Middletown were valued at $150,000 or less in 2012, compared to 35 percent in Elizabethtown, 37 percent in Hummelstown and 29 percent in Lititz.
Middletown’s home ownership rate – 52 percent – is lower compared to the other communities, and its renter-occupied rate is higher.



The report's recommendations:

 

 

A downtown apartment building for Penn State Harrisburg students:  
The borough should identify at least one significant downtown site for location of a professionally-managed apartment building that would target Penn State students. The consultants noted a number of under-utilized parcels in the downtown, some of which take the form of lightly-used surface parking.
According to the report, Penn State Harrisburg “arguably represents the single greatest opportunity for rejuvenation in the borough.”
“The clustering of Penn State students, staff and faculty would also help to support existing enterprises, including eateries and the Elks Theatre. If the notion is that a rising tide lifts all boats, Penn State Harrisburg should be considered the most likely source of that rising tide.”

Tax incentives for historic properties:
The consultants recommend that “significant property tax breaks” be provided to owners of historic Victorian and other properties that are re-converted for owner-occupied properties. The consultants envision that in most cases these properties will be converted from rental units to condominium units.
The consultant say that tax breaks would help reverse the trend of the past several decades of some of the borough’s most historic and beautiful structures being sub-divided into rental units – contributing to a townwide homeownership rate of just 52 percent.
The recommendation suggests a tax break plan where owners who convert their property back to being owner-occupied would pay just 20 percent of their borough property tax bill in the first year, 40 percent in the second, 60 percent in the third, and 80 percent in the fourth year.
After five years, the owner would pay the full amount and the plan would lead to increased property tax revenue to the borough overall, the consultants say.
 
Market Middletown to travelers:
The borough needs a greater and more robust online presence to market Middletown and to take advantage of the town’s close proximity to Hershey and its attractions.
The goal would be to capture more of the nearly 60 percent of visitors to the region who come to Hersheypark and the other tourist attractions in Hershey. The effort would target key markets in the greater Harrisburg area as well as in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
The consultants suggest development of a new hotel in the borough is premature and that financing for such a venture likely would not be available.

Establish a Chamber of Commerce, or at least a Visitors’ Bureau:
The consultants say business leaders have no “voice” and that communication with borough government is “challenging.” An organization devoted to business in the borough would identify key issues of concern in the business community and serve to advance the interests of business as well as the broader community.
The chamber would also be responsible for implementing the online marketing initiative that the consultants recommended.


Borough of Middletown- Economic Development Strategic Plan

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 13:18

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Another power outage in Middletown

Last week it was a bird, this week it may have been a squirrel.

In any event, Middletown residents early this morning experienced the second power outage within nine days.

Borough Communications Director Chris Courogen said the outage occurred at about 6:40 a.m. today. 

He did not immediately provide details concerning where the power loss occurred. However, a person in the borough office earlier today said the outage appeared to be concentrated in the areas of East Emaus, Race and Rupp streets.

Judging by posts to the Press and Journal Facebook page, the outage also impacted portions of East Main and Adelia streets, a portion of the 600 block of Vine Street; and parts of East Water,  Spruce, and Maple streets.

The outage lasted close to an hour and a half, as power was restored by 8 a.m., according to the Facebook posts.

Courogen said he couldn't say for certain, but suspected that a wayward squirrel may have been the culprit. Public Works Director Ken Klinepeter could not be reached.

On Tuesday July 15 borough residents and businesses lost electricity for about 90 minutes. That outage was blamed on a bird that got into the electrical equipment and led to a number of fuses being tripped.

While Middletown isn't the only place where the electricity goes out on occasion, Courogen said it does seem to be happening with more regularity of late - and that critters like birds and squirrels are a major reason why.

"I suspect that the (Middletown Borough Council) Public Works Committee will start looking" at what can be done to solve the problem, Courogen said.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 17:08

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Here's your chance to meet two other finalists for Middletown top cop

Middletown residents will have the chance to see – and possibly meet – the two remaining finalists to become the borough's next police chief on Monday, July 21.

 

Middletown Borough Council's public safety committee will interview one of the two finalists behind closed doors at 4 p.m. in council chambers at the borough hall. The closed-door session will last about 30 minutes, after which the committee will present the candidate to the public and ask the candidate several questions in open session.

 

Then, starting at 5 p.m., the committee will repeat this same process for the other finalist.

 

If you cannot be at either the 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. session, your best shot to meet either or both of the two candidates could be at about 6 p.m.

 

By then, the committee expects to be done with its part of the process, said Councilor Scott Sites, public safety committee chairman. So from about 6 p.m. on, the candidates will be free to meet and mingle with residents, and answer their questions – if the candidates choose to do so.

 

Borough residents already have the scoop on one of the three finalists, John Bey of Susquehanna Twp. Bey could not make Monday's session, so the committee interviewed Bey and presented him to the public on Tuesday, July 15.

Bey took full opportunity of the chance to meet with borough residents in council chambers after the committee was done with him.

 

As for the other two finalists, who will be interviewed on Monday: One is from this area, while the other is from the Midwest.

 

The full council will meet during its monthly committee-of-the-whole session at 7 p.m. on Monday. However, council will not act on the top cop job at that meeting, Sites said.

 

The target date for council to choose the next chief is Monday, Aug. 4, Sites said.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 July 2014 19:46

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Middletown council to discuss $3 million line of credit

 

Middletown Borough Council will discuss a proposed $3 million line of credit that would be used to help pay for various capital projects during a meeting on Monday, July 21.

 

The borough is exploring the line of credit jointly with the Middletown Borough Industrial and Commercial Development Authority. The authority acted in favor of securing the line of credit during its last meeting on Wednesday, July 9, during which the authority also approved a sales agreement to acquire the Elks Building from the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp.

 

Authority Solicitor Salvatore Bauccio at the time said that the idea behind the line of credit is for the authority to have funds available while the borough waits to receive money from various government grants that are in the pipeline.

Essentially, the line of credit would serve as a "bridge" funding mechanism, allowing the authority to move forward on projects until the money from these grants becomes available to the borough.

 

According to language in a proposed ordinance before council, the $3 million line of credit would be issued through PNC Bank and would be backed by "the full faith and credit" of the Borough of Middletown. That means that if the authority spends any or all of the line of credit money and cannot repay the bank by any other means, the borough is on the hook.

 

Bauccio said earlier that the line of credit would enable the authority, should it ultimately acquire the Elks Building, to move faster with various improvements to the building, such as fixing portions of the ceiling and roof. The authority also hopes to refinance terms of the building's $500,000 mortgage which must be repaid to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

 

The ordinance does not mention the Elks Building by name, but says that proceeds from the line of credit are to be used for unspecified capital improvement projects, as well as "alterations, restoration and repairs" within Middletown that have resulted from flood damage.

 

In a July 14 meeting during which council's finance committee discussed the line of credit, Borough Manager Tim Konek identified two government funding proposals now in the pipeline that could be used as repayments for the line of credit.

 

Konek described as "forthcoming" to the borough $1.2 million in flood reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

 

"The stream is flowing," Konek said, referring to the FEMA funds.

 

Konek also noted that the borough has applied for a grant from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program – officials call it "R-CAP" – to pay for streetscape and infrastructure improvements in town.

 

The borough has applied for $2 million. The state could decide to award the entire $2 million, or something less than that, or refuse to provide the grant at all.

 

Jay Pagni, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett and the state's Office of the Budget, confirmed that the state has received the borough's R-CAP grant application and that it is still pending. He could not say when the administration will make a decision on the borough's application.

 

The authority could use other sources of funds to repay the line of credit. It is not restricted to repaying the money with grants that the borough may or may not receive.

 

Chris Courogen, the borough's director of communications, noted that one of the authority's goals in acquiring the Elks Building is to increase the cash flow that the building and its various tenants generate. That could also be a source that the authority could tap to repay the line of credit, Courogen said.

 

Read the proposed ordinance:

Line of Credit

Last Updated on Friday, 18 July 2014 19:30

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Middletown residents meet first of three police chief candidates

John Bey lives in Susquehanna Township and is a veteran of 25 years in the Pennsylvania State Police. He has held a variety of positions in the state police, from serving on the force's Special Emergency Response Team for eight years to being director of the state police's Heritage Affairs Office. Bey is currently director of training for the Bureau of Training and Education of the state police.IMG 0975 copyJohn Bey

Bey is also a senior master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, where he has served for 28 years. 

Bey is one of three finalists Middletown Borough Council is considering as the town's next police chief. Council's public safety committee presented Bey to the public tonight following a closed-door interview with Bey that lasted about 30 minutes. The committee then asked Bey four questions in open session. Afterward, the committee adjourned the meeting and Bey spent about 20 minutes answering questions from residents, until no more questions were left. 

Close to 20 residents attended the session, including several other borough council members, and two uniformed members of the Middletown Police Department.

The public safety committee is to meet with the two other candidates in closed-door interviews starting at 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, after which these two finalists are also expected to be presented to the public before the full council meets at 7 p.m. Of the two other finalists, one is from the area and the other is from the midwest.

One of the residents asked Bey why he wants to leave the state police.

"It's time," Bey said. "I have over 25 years" with the state police. "I'm ready to get back down into boots on the ground."

Bey said he has been "reading the papers" and is well-aware of the challenges and issues that confront the borough and its police department. He said the department needs a "180-degree" turnaround and a change of culture.

"I understand that it is a beehive I would be coming into," Bey said of Middletown. "You just have to give me some time."

Bey said as chief he would seek to form a "Middletown Advisory Council" made up of citizens in the community from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. The council would also include the police chief and have representation from business owners, the faith-based community, and the borough council. Bey said the council would hold regular meetings "to begin to get our finger on the pulse of the community."

Bey said as chief he would emphasize training and accountability in the police department. In response to a question from Public Safety Committee Chairman Scott Sites regarding relations with Penn State Harrisburg, Bey said he knows this is a priority of Mayor James Curry so it would be his priority too. Bey said he would meet with the Penn State Harrisburg police chief toward developing an "action plan" to address college functions and activities that could impact the town.

One potential stumbling block could be a requirement Sites mentioned that the new chief move into Middletown within 15 months of accepting the job. Bey said he just built a new home in Susquehanna Township and would have to discuss the issue with his family. He noted he would only be 13 miles away from Middletown.

Sites said the residency requirement is in writing, but he also suggested there could be some flexibility regarding the issue.

Bey said if the borough chooses him as chief, he would be here for "a long time."

"We all know that change is difficult but change is also good," he said. "I'm not from Middletown, I'm not beholden to anybody and I don't owe anybody favors…there will be no hidden agendas."

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 00:30

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