Written by Dan Miller
A mattress set ablaze by a 7-year-old child caused a fire that shuttered a downtown Steelton bar and left nine residents homeless on Monday, Jan. 19, according to the building’s owner.
The building at North Front and Conestoga streets was home to Jazz on Front. The three-story building had four three-bedroom apartments in the upper floors, said Rick Kaylor, the owner.
The bar owner and residents of the apartments were in the building when the fire started shortly after 1 p.m., said Steelton Mayor Tom Acri. Everyone got out safely and there were no injuries.
The American Red Cross is helping the residents.
The fire started in a third floor apartment. The roof collapsed, and there is extensive water damage to the bar and the two lower floors, Acri said. Companies from many surrounding communities joined Steelton firefighters and brought the blaze under control by about 2:30 p.m.
“The support was great,” Acri added.
The cause of the fire is being investigated by Steelton Fire Chief Steve Brubaker and the Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal, the mayor said.
However, Kaylor said the fire marshal has confirmed to him that the fire was caused by a child who was visiting tenants in the building.
Acri estimated the damage at $300,000.
Kaylor said on Tuesday, Jan. 20 that he didn’t know yet if he will rebuild. He was about to meet with an insurance agent to weigh his options.
“It is what it is. You get dealt things in life and you have to deal with them,” he said.
The building dates back to the 1800s, when it first opened as a carriage house. People rode their horses there, went inside for a drink, and could spend the night in a room upstairs, Acri said.
The building evolved into the downstairs bar with apartments upstairs. It’s always been that way as long as anyone can remember, the mayor said.
Kaylor had plans to invest more than $100,000 in renovations, Acri said. Just this past weekend, Kaylor had put new batteries in the smoke alarms, Acri added. The building is one of four in Steelton that Kaylor has owned since 2007.
“My retirement,” Kaylor mused as he surveyed the damage Tuesday.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 21:14
Written by Eric Wise
An effort by Highspire residents to withdraw from Steelton-Highspire School District and join the Middletown Area School District passed its first hurdles in 2014 – and it ended up costing the school districts legal fees.
Dr. Ellen Castagneto, Steelton-Highspire’s superintendent, reported to the Steelton-Highspire School Board that the district’s cost in 2014 was $16,000 in legal and staff costs. Nearly all of it – $15,720 – came in the fourth quarter, when the petition was heard in Dauphin County Court, and the petition was allowed to proceed to the next step with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Asked about the costs to Middletown, Dr. Lori Suski, Middletown’s superintendent, said the costs have totaled $15,641. That included $7,681 in legal costs and $7,960 in administrative/staff time.
A court order from Oct. 15 allowed the petition to proceed to the state Department of Education.
The districts now have until mid-February to complete detailed questionnaires for the state to review.
Officials from both districts have said they oppose the move – however, state officials will have their say next, as the petition and questionnaires will be reviewed to see if the move has educational merit.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 21:04
Written by Dan Miller
Sometimes in Middletown important information that citizens really ought to know has a way of getting lost.
Before going any further, here is the information you should know: If you live in Middletown and you lose heat in your home this winter, the town has set up “warming stations” where you can go to get warm.
These stations are already in place, and will stay in place throughout the winter, said Tom Foreman, the borough’s emergency management agency coordinator.
If you need help and you want to know the location of the nearest warming station, you should call Foreman at 717-884-4316.
The rest of the story concerns why this information has not been posted on the borough Web site, or on the borough’s Facebook page.
Mayor James H. Curry III said he tried to have that done. Curry said that as he was monitoring the weather predictions on Sunday, Jan. 11, for Monday, Jan. 12, he became more and more concerned about the possibility of ice accumulation that could lead to power outages, and, subsequently, the loss of heat for some borough residents.
Curry said he called Foreman and asked if the warming stations that the borough had put in place during last winter’s severe cold snaps would be available this winter as well. Foreman assured the mayor that the warming stations are available to any citizen in Middletown who needs help.
Curry said he then sent an e-mail to Chris Courogen, the borough’s communications director, asking that this information be put out on the borough’s Facebook.
This is where things get interesting.
Curry said that Courogen refused to put out the information. That’s true, Courogen told the Press And Journal – but there’s more to the story than that, he said.
Courogen said that in the absence of an emergency declaration – which the mayor can declare under a borough ordinance – “nothing in the state borough code gives the mayor authority to order anyone to do anything” unless it has to do with the police department. Under the borough code, the police department falls under the office of the mayor.
Absent an emergency declaration, Courogen said that he can only put out information of an emergency nature if it is authorized by the borough “chain of command” –in this case, Borough Manager Tim Konek, or Foreman. The mayor is not in that chain of command, unless the mayor declares an emergency, Courogen said.
After getting the e-mail from Curry, Courogen said he sent an e-mail to Konek, “seeking guidance.”
“I did not receive anything back telling me yes, go ahead and post it,’’ Courogen said. “Lacking authorization through the proper chain of command, I did not post anything.”
Curry said he was just trying to get the information about the warming stations out to people who needed to know.
The mayor said he didn’t overreach his authority in establishing the warming stations because the stations had already been established.
“Foreman said they were already available. Why would you not tell the public that?” Curry said. “That’s all I was trying to do. The reality is that nobody told the public [about the warming stations] but me. If not for me calling Tom, then nobody would know” about them.
Curry contended that Courogen has “a personal vendetta” against him, upon which Courogen has placed “a higher priority than public safety.”
“In my mind that is disgusting,” Curry said.
Courogen contended that Curry was spreading “alarmist information” in suggesting that Monday’s weather could lead to power outages.
“Mr. Courogen is not a meteorologist, and neither am I,” Curry countered. “It’s not being alarmist, it’s being proactive. If I have to be proactive to assure the safety of the residents, then guilty as charged.”
Curry added that had Council President Chris McNamara come to Courogen with the request, Courogen would have complied and put the information on the borough’s Facebook page. Courogen said McNamara wasn’t involved in the issue.
Foreman told the Press And Journal on Monday, Jan. 12 that he would request that the borough publicize the information about the availability of the warming stations.
This is not the first time that a dispute between Curry and Courogen has spilled over into public view.
On July 7, an argument between Curry and Courogen after a Middletown Borough Council meeting got so heated that Middletown police were called. Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico investigated the incident, but no charges were filed.
Curry has also been a frequent critic of Middletown Matters, the town newsletter edited by Courogen. Curry joined four borough councilors in asking that their names not appear in the newsletter.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 21:01
Written by Dan Miller
The Middletown Public Library’s new director is a science fiction buff who likes to indulge his passion during the two hours a day he spends in the train commuting back and forth from Paoli.
John Grayshaw started here on Monday, Jan. 5. He succeeds Stacey Mulligan, who resigned from the $35,000-a-year post in October to take a job with the state library system.
A native of Bayside in Queens, N.Y., Grayshaw was interim director of the Atglen Public Library in Chester County before coming to Middletown.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 22:00
Written by Dan Miller
Middletown Police Chief John Bey has made good on his pledge to resume the reporting of Middletown crime statistics to the Uniformed Crime Reporting (UCR) system.
All police departments in Pennsylvania are required by law to report information concerning criminal activity within their jurisdiction to the UCR system.
The UCR information is made public through the Internet. Residents can find out how many incidents have occurred in a particular category – for example, how many DUIs have occurred in a given month, or how many burglaries, incidents of vandalism, and so on.
In Middletown, residents can access the UCR data by going to the borough Web site – www.middletownborough.com. – then going to the page for the police department and clicking on the “search crime statistics” link.
From there, you can customize your search to any month or any year, as well as narrowing in on specific offenses and categories of offenses.
The UCR statistics are not just useful information for residents. The statistics from each department are fed into a national database.
In late 2014, the Middletown Police Department stopped reporting information to the UCR, borough officials admitted. It is not clear exactly when the department stopped reporting. UCR information for Middletown was included for most, if not all, of 2013.
However, no information had been uploaded into the system for all of 2014.
Mayor James H. Curry III has blamed the lack of reporting UCR data on technical problems that police were having in trying to upload the information to the Web.
On Dec. 3, during a meeting of Middletown Borough Council’s public safety committee, Bey – who started as Middletown’s new chief on Oct. 13 – pledged that the department would resume uploading the UCR data starting with November 2014.
The borough could have been penalized for not having reported data to the UCR. Under the law, the penalties include the withholding of fine revenue that is collected by the state and distributed to municipalities. The borough could also have become ineligible to receive grants from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
However, no evidence has been produced publicly that the borough was ever notified by Pennsylvania State Police that it was in violation of the law.
A lack of reporting the statistics could be to blame for the borough receiving roughly half of what it had previously received in police fine revenue in 2014, according to Mark Morgan, the borough’s financial consultant. But again, there is no evidence that any penalties were ever assessed against the borough for being allegedly out of compliance.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 20:41