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Watch for these two recent MAHS grads when you are watching the Rose Bowl

Look for two recent Middletown Area High School graduates - John Ponnett III and Fabiola Hernandez - among musicians performing in the Penn State Blue Band during the Tournament of Roses Parade and the Rose Bowl game itself on Monday.

Ponnett, a 2015 MAHS graduate who was class Valedictorian, plays trombone in the Blue Band.ponnettpic10 15 14John Ponnett III

Hernandez, a 2016 graduate, plays clarinet in the Blue Band.

The son of Stephanie Ponnett and John Ponnett Jr. of Middletown, Ponnett was a four-year member of the MAHS marching band program, participating in the marching, concert, and jazz bands.

He was a two-year member of the Pennsylvania Music Education Association's District 7 Concert Band, a one-year member of the District 7 Jazz Band, and a four-year member of the Dauphin County High School Concert Band.

Ponnett served as MAHS Band President during his senior year and earned the John Philip Sousa Band Award for his dedicated service to the program.

Hernandez is the daughter of Moises Hernandez-Barajas and Maria Arias-Nunez of Middletown.

Hernandez.Fabiola PHOTO1Fabiola Hernandez

She was recognized as one of the most musically talented high school students in the eastern region of the United States when she was chosen to perform in the 2015 National Association for Music Education All-Eastern Honors Ensembles.

Hernandez was also chosen to perform with the Dauphin County High School Band, the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District 7 Band, and the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Region V Band.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 December 2016 18:05

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26-year veteran of Middletown Police Dept. retiring Dec. 30

hiesterphoto10 21 15Press And Journal file photo -- Sgt. Richard Hiester

On Friday, Dec. 30, the Middletown Police Department will lose both its chief and its currently longest serving officer.

On Tuesday, Dec. 27, Sgt. Richard Hiester, a 26-year veteran of the force, officially notified the borough that he would be retiring - effective Friday, Dec. 30, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter confirmed for the Press And Journal.

Chief John Bey's last day is also Friday; Bey having submitted his resignation on Tuesday, Dec. 6, to accept a full-time job with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard at Harrisburg International Airport.

Mayor James H. Curry III, who is in charge of the police department, has told the Press And Journal that he will appoint an interim chief before Bey leaves on Friday.  

Despite the apparent abruptness of Hiester's decision, the news of his retirement did not come as a shock to the mayor or to borough officials, Curry said.

"Sgt. Hiester has talked about his intentions with Chief Bey multiple times," Curry said in a text message to the Press And Journal.  "He (Hiester) has met with the administration team to discuss his pension, etc. Middletown Borough thanks Sgt. Hiester for his years of service and wishes him well in retirement."

Unofficially, one could say that Hiester put the borough and Middletown residents on notice of his retirement back in October 2015, when he was interviewed by the Press And Journal for a story marking his 25th anniversary with the force.

At the time, he said he was weighing his options regarding when he would hang up his badge. But he also talked about feeling as if "I still have more good to do."

A life-long Middletown resident, Hiester was born into the family business of the East End Garage at Main and Vine, which Hiester's grandfather opened in 1935.

But Hiester was also drawn to public service early in life, first running as an emergency medical technician with local ambulance companies and then taking the civil service commission test to become a police officer.

He got his start with the MPD in 1990, when then-Chief George Miller asked Hiester if he was still interested in a job with the local department, as Hiester was toiling under a car in his dad's garage. Hiester said yes, and he's worn the uniform here ever since.

Hiester won't be twiddling his thumbs looking around for things to do. He     took over the garage at the end of 2015, and is looking forward to being able to give that more time.

In addition, Hiester and his wife Mary are also kept busy with a number of rental properties that they own.

As of right now the Middletown department is at full strength, with 12 full-time officers - including Bey and Hiester - and six part-time officers.

Those numbers do not include the new full-time officer that borough council approved as part of the 2017 budget.

Adam Tankersley, a part-time patrol officer hired earlier this year, applied for the new full-time position and has been chosen for the job, Bey told the Press And Journal on Wednesday.

However, making Tankersley the new full-time officer is pending approval by borough council, and council has yet to act.

If and when Tankersley does move up to the full-time slot, that will create a new vacancy in the part-time ranks - in addition to the two new full-time vacancies that will exist with the departure of Hiester and Bey on Friday, Dec. 30.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 December 2016 13:18

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Water, sewer bills were set to rise, but borough wants it blocked

suezphoto3 2 16WEBIn this Press And Journal file photo from February 2016, Suez Middletown Project Manager Daniel Standish briefs borough officials during an event held to mark the first anniversary of Suez operating the borough's water and sewer systems. Seated at left front is Suez North Division Vice President Kevin Chandler.

The water and sewer bill for Middletown residents and businesses was supposed to go up by 2.1 percent in January, but borough council has acted to block the increase.

Council at the end of its Dec. 20 meeting voted unanimously to reject a 2.1 percent surcharge that Suez was to add to each water and sewer bill in January.

Council also unanimously rejected a report that Suez had submitted seeking to justify the 2.1 percent surcharge as the company’s means of getting repayment for capital improvement projects completed by Suez in 2016.

Instead, council passed a companion resolution authorizing Council President Ben Kapenstein to negotiate “a financial settlement that would keep the rate increase off the backs of the taxpayers,” Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter said after the meeting.

What that means is that the borough and Suez would determine the amount of money that is owed Suez for the capital improvement projects Suez completed in 2016, and that the borough would pay this money to Suez instead of the surcharge being added to the bills of water and sewer customers in 2017.

Council took the actions following a lengthy closed-door executive session. No action related to Suez had been listed on the agenda for the meeting that was given to the public.

Klinepeter declined to go into further detail, citing the possibility that council’s action rejecting the surcharge could lead to “litigation” between the borough and Suez.

Reaction from Suez was not immediately available. Suez Middletown Project Manager Daniel Standish was in the audience during the meeting, but was not part of the executive session.

Suez also did not immediately respond to a request for comment that was made by the Press And Journal through Standish.

The bottom line for residents and business is that there would be no additional charge added to their water and sewer bill for 2017, if council’s action holds up.

Suez, a private company formerly known as United Water, took over the running of the borough’s water and sewer systems in January 2015, following a September 2014 decision by council and the former water and sewer authority to lease the borough’s water and sewer systems to Suez for 50 years. The borough continues to own the systems.

Water and sewer rates cannot go up before 2019, under terms of the lease — formally known as a “concession.”

However, the lease allows Suez starting in January 2017 to impose a “capital cost recovery charge” every year in order for Suez to recoup the cost of capital improvements that are done to the water and sewer systems.

The lease actually requires Suez make capital improvements to the system each year, such as replacing a certain amount of water and/or sewer lines throughout the borough.

In a February interview with the Press And Journal, Kevin Chandler, vice president of Suez’s North Division, said that starting in January 2017 Suez each year of the lease would impose a capital cost recovery charge ranging from 1.8 percent to 2 percent.

The surcharge Suez sought to impose for 2017 was 2.1 percent, according to Klinepeter.
Starting in 2019 the surcharge would be added on top of an annual water and sewer rate increase that will be tied to the rate of inflation, Chandler said.

This guarantees residents will pay more for water and sewer service each year. But residents and businesses will know how much it is going up each year and they can budget accordingly — instead of being slammed with double-digit shock increases that elected officials are forced to impose after going several years without any hike at all, Chandler said.

But council’s action indicates that — at least according to council — Suez does not have the power to impose on its own any amount of capital cost recovery surcharge that the company chooses.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 December 2016 18:02

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Historic bed-and-breakfast might become sushi eatery; Leader of historical commission and some residents aren’t pleased

sushiSmullerHouse1Press And Journal Photos by Dan Miller -- A recent Penn State Harrisburg graduate has purchased the Smuller House Bed & Breakfast at 460 N. Union St. in Middletown and plans to turn the property into an Asian restaurant. New owner Howard Dong hopes to preserve the gazebo and the backyard as it is, but says that will mean having to get a variance from the borough's zoning hearing board to get relief from borough parking requirements.

A Penn State Harrisburg graduate from China hopes to open an Asian restaurant in what is now the Smuller House Bed & Breakfast at 460 N. Union St. in Middletown.

Howard Dong said that his business — known as the He Group, which means “harmony” in Chinese, Dong said — settled on purchasing the property Friday, Dec. 16, Dong told the Middletown Historical Restoration Commission during a public meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

HowardDongHoward Dong (right) presents his plan for an Asian restaurant in the Smuller House Bed & Breakfast to the audience attending a Dec. 21 meeting of the Middletown Historical Restoration Commission. At left is borough codes and zoning officer Robert Moyer.

The restaurant has been referred to as a sushi restaurant. However, Dong in an email to the Press And Journal described the eatery as “authentic Asian plus Americana specialty food.”

Commission Chairwoman Jenny Miller called the special meeting out of concerns regarding how the restaurant proposal could impact the historical integrity of the property, which Miller said was built in 1835.

“What we need to do is to try and preserve that building,” Miller said during the meeting. “It has a huge, huge, history to it.”

It was not clear from the meeting what, if anything, the commission can do to prevent Dong from carrying out his plan.

However, the commission — created by ordinance in 1969 — does have “the power to promote the preservation of historic sites, landmarks, and other property of an historical or antiquarian nature associated with the history of the Borough of Middletown,” according to the borough website.

At the same time, the property is located in a commercial zone where a restaurant is a use allowed by right, said borough codes officer Robert Moyer, who also attended the meeting.

Dong said that he and Moyer had met several times on the proposal over the last two months. However, no permits have yet been applied for and nothing has been approved, Moyer told the commission.

Preserving history

Dong said repeatedly that he wants to preserve the historical integrity of the building.

He acknowledged that the company’s initial plan was to tear out the gazebo in the backyard in order to pave it to meet borough requirements for off-street parking.

But since then the plan has been revised to leave the gazebo and the backyard as it is — if the business can get a variance from the parking requirements from the borough’s zoning hearing board.

“What we are trying to do right now is trying to gather support to having a variance, so we don’t need to change the backyard,” Dong said.

He indicated that any changes to the interior of the building would be minimal as far as food preparation because of the bed-and-breakfast already being there. The business plans to buy a stove small enough to fit on a counter instead of purchasing “a big stove and knocking down the wall. We aren’t doing that.”

The restaurant would be open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 or 10 p.m. There would be seating for up to 65 people inside and Dong expects that the restaurant could serve up to 100 customers or more a day. Once fully operational, the restaurant would have 10 employees.

He expects much of the business would be takeout and that many of the customers would be Penn State Harrisburg students. The business will not be applying for any kind of alcohol license from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Dong said.

Getting acclimated to U.S.

Dong described himself as a software engineer in China who came in Penn State Harrisburg in January 2012 as a graduate student to pursue a degree in public administration. He graduated with the degree from Penn State Harrisburg in December 2013.

He referred to his own experience as an international student in describing how challenging the transition to living here can be. Things that everyone else takes for granted living in Middletown can be a total mystery.

“I didn’t know what the ‘Giant’ meant,” he said. “After a couple of visits I realized it meant a grocery store.”

The restaurant could help provide international students with a place in Middletown where they feel they belong, and in doing so, lead more of them to stay here after they graduate, he told the commission.

“The situation here in Middletown is people come, study, live and go. Why don’t I do something to change this situation — come, study, live and stay?” Dong said. “We all love this place. We all love the historical part but we have to do something to bring the history together and carry it forward by what we are doing, what we are offering to the students.”

“This community here is no longer just a historical community. It’s also a community with historical parts merged together with the international part," Dong added.

However it was obvious from their questions and remarks that several members of the commission have significant reservations about the proposal.

Rachelle Reid, a former borough councilor, asked that Dong consider allowing the building on North Union Street to remain a bed-and-breakfast — and instead open a restaurant in one of the new spaces being added to the Westporte Centre shopping center on West Main Street.

“You would get a lot more traffic on (Route) 230 for a restaurant than you would in that section of 441. Not too many people are looking for a restaurant in that area,” Reid said.

Parking issues?

Another commission member, Lori Shafaye, repeatedly told Dong that he should put the restaurant in one of the many “empty business buildings” located throughout the town.Lori and AB ShafayeLori Shafaye

“I just find it interesting that you would want a historic building to do a sushi restaurant when there is no parking,” she said. “I live one block away and we have enough problems with parking and you are just going to add to it.”

She disagreed with Dong’s statement that most of the international students who would come to the restaurant would walk there because they don’t have cars.

“My husband has been a full-time faculty and department chair for 31 years at Penn State. The Chinese students that come here and the international students do not have a problem purchasing cars. We don’t see a lot of people walking around town, we see them in cars,” Shafaye said. “They have wrecks on our streets, they hit people on bicycles, they pull out because they are not paying attention (because) they are on their phones.”

The borough allowing Dong to open the restaurant in the bed-and-breakfast will add to the tension that already exists between the community and the expanding Penn State student population, Shafaye added.

“I will put my house on the market, too, and I think anybody else sitting in this room that owns a historical home will be selling their home because we have a problem already with traffic in this town because of the student population,” she said. “The students here don’t give a rat’s ass about the residents. I’m tired of the trash in my yard, I’m tired of the speeding, I’m tired of the loud music. So what you are saying is that the international students have no place to go, they have no cars, they are walking and all of that. I don’t buy any of that because I live here and I know other people in the audience do.”

Among borough residents attending the meeting, Leslie Givler who owns a property in the 400 block of North Union Street, said while “it is wonderful you are doing an Asian restaurant, good for you, I do not think it should be there. The house is not made for a restaurant and the parking is awful.”

Some support

But Dong’s proposal received enthusiastic support from another resident, John Ziats, who said he was also representing the historic Sant Peter’s Kierch property across the street from the bed-and-breakfast.

“It is very exciting to have a new restaurant in town. I think it’s very exciting to have a sushi restaurant because this will be totally different,” Ziats said. “I live up here near the student housing. There are an awful lot of Asian folks that live up there who do walk and I think it would be great.”

The parking issue would be largely solved if the borough would paint and stripe the streets so that vehicles cannot take up more than one space, as they do now, he said.

“We don’t really even know how much parking we have. If you don’t know what you have, then how do you know what you are going to need?” Ziats said.

Ziats also suggested that Dong reach out to the Hetrick Center next door to see if an arrangement could be made by which the restaurant could use some of the parking spaces in the center lot during periods when they are not in use by the center, such as on Sundays.

Dong was also welcomed by one of the two borough councilors at the meeting, Diana McGlone. Councilor Dawn Knull was also present and live-streaming the meeting on the Internet through her cellphone.

“The purpose of tonight’s meeting was for you to come and present your ideas and to get some feedback of how we can work collaboratively with the commission to make sure that the historical integrity of the property is preserved,” McGlone said. “I think it is great that you are willing to make an investment of this nature in this town and add to the restaurants that we have here. It is your choosing where you want to place your business. I like sushi, so I’ll be there.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 December 2016 17:39

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Middletown man gets 6 to 13 years for assaulting toddler

Dauphin County President Judge Richard A. Lewis recently sentenced 32-year-old John Snyder of Middletown to 6 ½ to 13 years after he was convicted of the 2014 aggravated assault of a 2-year-old.

snyder johnJohn Snyder

Snyder was convicted of aggravated assault on a child and endangering the welfare of a child on Sept. 28 after a trial by jury. On Aug. 1, 2014 Snyder was watching the victim while his girlfriend — the victim’s mother — was at work. Snyder, his girlfriend, and her son all lived with Snyder’s sister and her family in Steelton. Around midday, according to authorities, Snyder called both his sister and his girlfriend to inform them that the victim had supposedly fallen down the stairs. He then sent pictures to both showing some of the victim’s injuries. 

When his sister returned home she observed clearly defined strangulation marks on the victim’s neck and bruising around the entire left side of his cheek and eye region, according to authorities. Snyder and his girlfriend refused to take the victim to the hospital for any treatment. They also failed to report these injuries to police. However, Snyder's sister took pictures of the victim’s injuries and stored them in her phone. 

The 2-year-old would not say anything about how he suffered his injuries, and to date has not discussed with any law enforcement agency how he received the bruising and strangulation marks, authorities reported.

During a later and unrelated investigation involving the defendant, the defendant’s sister showed these pictures to Detective Mark Hovan of the Middletown Police Department. Hovan forwarded the investigation to Steelton Chief of Police Anthony Minium, who pursued this investigation on behalf of the Commonwealth. Minium obtained statements from the child's mother and Snyder denying any wrongdoing. However, Minium also obtained a statement from Snyder’s sister indicating that Snyder had previously drunkenly confessed that he strangled the victim and slammed his head off a wall that day because Snyder was frustrated, according to authorities.

At trial, Dr. Kathryn Crowell form the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s Child Protection Team testified that the injuries were consistent solely with child abuse. The child’s mother and Snyder’s sister both testified that Snyder was the only individual watching the victim that day (a fact with which Snyder agreed in his statement), and was the only one present when the victim sustained his injuries.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 December 2016 10:16

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