Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III has again put the kibosh on plans by Middletown Borough Council to raise water and sewer rates.
Curry vetoed council’s 7-1 decision on Monday, July 21 to hike water and sewer rates, saying that the sewer increase should be phased in so the impact on residents is less onerous.
The proposal council approved would have increased sewer rates for the average resident from $43 to $68 per month. Water rates would have gone up, too, but by a smaller amount. The new rate structure would have eliminated a monthly 2,000-gallon minimum currently charged to water customers, so water bills would have been based on how much water they actually used.
If it seems like you’ve heard this before, you have.
Curry had vetoed a June 2 vote by council to approve the same rate increases.
However, Curry told the Press And Journal that council’s June 2 vote didn’t count because the period for advertising the ordinance had run out by the time council approved the measure.
Curry contends that made his veto void, as well.
“The veto was vetoing nothing, because they could not vote on it at that time,” Curry said. That led council to re-advertise the ordinance, and to vote a second time to adopt it on July 21.
Chris Courogen, the borough’s director of communications, doesn’t dispute the mayor’s contention that the first vote was invalid.
“We re-advertised it because there were questions all around about the procedure,” Courogen said. “This is is an extremely important matter in the borough. Without the needed revenue in the water and sewer fund there is a risk of default. The borough has enjoyed a very favorable credit rating and the last thing the borough wants is for the rating to go down, which would cost taxpayers more in higher interest. This is an important piece of legislation, and it has to be done right.”
Now that Curry has vetoed that measure, council must vote to override the mayor’s veto to implement the rate increases.
According to the Pennsylvania Borough Code, at least two-thirds of the nine council members would have to vote for the rate increases to override the mayor’s veto. If fewer than nine members are present, council would need a majority plus one for an override.
The rate increases are already behind schedule. Mark Morgan, the borough’s financial consultant, told council during the July 21 meeting that the increases were to have gone into effect on July 1 for the borough to stay on track with a plan recommended by consulting engineers for bringing water and sewer revenues in line with projected expenses.
Given that council’s last two votes for the rate increases were 7-1 and 8-1, Curry concedes his veto probably won’t stand.
Curry said he understands that water and sewer rates have to go up to keep pace with spending.
The mayor intends his veto as “a statement” that, had council acted back in January or February, the rate increase could have been phased in. Had council acted then, Curry said, the rates could have been increased by about $5 a month, so that by July 1 residents would be paying $30 more a month. This would have allowed residents to gradually adjust to the higher sewer rate instead of being hit with the full amount all at once, he said.
“Thirty dollars [a month] is a lot of money for the average household in Middletown,” the mayor said.
Courogen said the need for rate increases to close a gap between water and sewer revenue and expenses was identified back in 2009. He said little was done, and the gap kept growing until this year when the borough came up with a concrete plan. By then it was too late to avoid a large increase to make up for years of inaction.
“Now you are in this situation where you don’t have a choice. You have to do it or it threatens to harm the financial stability of the borough as far as the credit rating and bond rating” are concerned, Courogen said.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 July 2014 19:19
Written by Noelle Barrett
Times have changed since the first National Night Out event was held in 1984. Some fear their community is more dangerous. Parents fear for the safety of their children.
More than 16,000 communities across the country will host National Night Out events on Tuesday, Aug. 5 hoping to instill confidence in their community and promote crime prevention and safety.
Middletown, Highspire, Royalton, Steelton and Swatara Twp. will be among the communities hosting events.
While events across the area will focus on connecting residents with crime prevention services and making law enforcement and emergency personnel more accessible, there will also be an emphasis on neighborhood camaraderie.
“I hope the community shows support. This helps build the bridges between the community, the police department, and the [local] government,” said Gary Rux, a Middletown police officer leading the borough’s event. “This is our community. By showing support on these kinds of things, we’re showing our willingness to come together.”
In addition to police, fire departments and other emergency services, many local businesses and organizations also will be present at the events.
Here is a list of places where National Night Out will take place:
Naional Night Out will he held from 6 to 9 p.m. at two locations – Hoffer Park and Oak Hills Park. About 85 vendors will either be present or contribute to the event.
Among the participants will be local businesses, churches, veterans’ organizations and banks, as well as several police departments, including Middletown, Lower Swatara Twp., Penn State Harrisburg, Harrisburg International Airport, Capitol Police and Pennsylvania State Police.
Local fire companies and emergency medical services also will participate, as well as Dauphin County agencies, including the District Attorney’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Crisis Response Team, Children and Youth and Drug and Alcohol Services.
There will be an assortment of free food donated by local businesses, as well as cupcake decorating. Both sites will have many activities and games, including dunk tanks, bounce houses, mega-slides, DUI training and field sobriety tests, fingerprinting, face painting, skateboarding demonstrations and train rides by the Middletown and Hummelstown Railroad, Rux said.
Local Irish dance teams and the Raiders Extreme cheerleading team will perform, and Hersheypark’s ZooAmerica will have animals on-site.
The Middletown Community Pool will also be open for two free swim sessions from 4 to 5 p.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. before the event starts.
Additional parking will be available at Fink Elementary School.
Highspire will host its event from 6 to 9 p.m. at Memorial Park on Lumber Street. Highspire’s police and fire department will be available to meet with residents. There will be also be free hot dogs, chips and drinks, and games and activities, including a duck race. The fire department will demonstrate a car extraction.
Royalton will host its first National Night Out in several years from 5 to 8 p.m. at Kiwanis Park. The idea to host the event was Mayor Judy Oxenford’s, who decided “it would be a good idea to have the event to bring the community together,” according to borough secretary Amy Burrell.
Royalton police officers, Londonderry Volunteer Fire Department and South Central EMS will be present to meet with residents. There will be free hot dogs, chips and drinks, and numerous activities, including games, music and a bike rodeo. Children are encouraged to bring their bicycles and helmets to participate in the rodeo.
Steelton will host its event from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Steelton Fire Department on North Front Street. Representatives from the police department, fire department and 19 organizations, including the Capital Blue Cross CHIP program, Dauphin County’s human services agency and probation department, YWCA, Humane Society of Harrisburg, Community Life team and numerous church groups will participate. There will be games and activities, including a dunk tank, free hotdogs and drinks, and an appearance by the Elks Drill Team.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 July 2014 19:12
Written by Dan Miller
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
Written by Dan Miller
A Lower Swatara Twp, man was arrested and charged Wednesday for his alleged involvement in an incident police are calling “horrific” - allegedly throwing a six-month old baby into a playpen, causing serious injuries to the boy including a fractured skull, according to court documents filed by township police.
Stephen M. Lehman Jr., 26, of the 100 block of Lake Drive, has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, and endangering the welfare of a child. Lehman is in Dauphin County Prison on $50,000 bail.
The baby also suffered a cut on his face which had to be closed by stitches, and bruising was seen on the back of the baby's neck, according to court documents.
Lower Swatara Police Detective Robert H. Appleby said that the baby is "doing well" and should soon be released from the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Medical personnel with the center alerted police to the baby's injuries after the infant was brought in for treatment early Sunday morning, July 20.
Police said Lehman was on probation for DUI at the time of the alleged offense, meaning that even if Lehman makes bail he will not be released from jail due to violating conditions of his probation. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. August 1 before District Magisterial Judge Michael Smith.
Lower Swatara police said that the baby was being cared for by Lehman and the baby's older sister, Samantha Price, who is Lehman's girlfriend, when the alleged offense occurred at about 1 a.m. Sunday, July 20.
The baby's mother, identified by police as Leann Searer, was working at the time of the alleged offense and had left the baby in the care of Lehman and Price. Lehman was living with Price at the baby's residence in Nelson Manor Trailer Park. Neither Price nor the baby's mother have been charged.
Police said that Lehman in the first few hours of being questioned initially gave detectives several different versions for what happened.
At first, Lehman told police that he did not know how the baby had gotten hurt, and that he had found the baby crying and covered in blood.
After police confronted Lehman with the seriousness of the baby's injuries, police said Lehman told them he was holding the baby and trying to comfort him, when Lehman tripped and the baby fell onto a mattress and then bounced onto the carpeted floor.
However, Appleby and fellow Lower Swatara Detective Ryan Gartland noted the presence of a large amount of dried blood in the middle of the mattress in the baby's play pen. In addition, Lehman also had a large blood stain on his t-shirt, police said. Police also noted blood stains on the comforter of a bed within three feet of the playpen, and blood on the carpet.
Upon further questioning Lehman acknowledged to police that he had made up the story about tripping and dropping the baby. He told police he could not remember what happened, because he had blacked out from being drunk.
Ultimately, Lehman told police that he had not blacked out, but at some point in the night had been awoken by the baby crying. Lehman told police he was still drunk, became angry that he could not get the baby to stop crying, and threw the baby into the playpen. Police believe the baby's injuries were caused by the baby hitting part of a metal weight bench that was protruding into the playpen.
Lehman said he awoke Price after seeing that the baby was crying much harder and was covered in blood. Appleby said Lehman and Price did not call 911, but drove the baby to the hospital.
Appleby said that the blood evidence in the residence was key to getting Lehman to confess. Appleby said that he and Gartland both have experience in forensics as a result of working with the Dauphin County forensics unit.
Appleby said that Dauphin County Children and Youth are involved in the case. He could not say if the baby will be returned to his mother, but that officials "will not let that person (Lehman) anywhere near the baby."
"He is not getting out of jail, and even if he does, he will not be allowed near that baby or that home. There is no indication or report that the daughter or mother had anything to do with his injuries," Appleby said.
Appleby said a case like this involving serious injuries to a baby is "extremely rare" in Lower Swatara Township.
"It's something that is very hard to get your head around. It's horrific. It's very hard to deal with, regardless of your experience level. It's something you never get used to," Appleby said.
Last Updated on Friday, 25 July 2014 19:33
Written by Noelle Barrett
The air was musty. The roof leaked. Dust and dirt layered the floors and an assortment of paint colors layered the walls – those walls that were not stripped down to the brick.
The former liquor store at the corner of Pine and North Front streets in Steelton has seen better days. Now it may see many more with a new owner.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 19:59