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Steel-High surveys Highspire parents, but are the results significant?

Steelton-Highspire School District administrators surveyed Highspire parents to gauge their awareness and reaction to the proposed transfer of Highspire students to Middletown Area School District, but a low response to the phone survey detracted from its effectiveness, according to a professor and researcher.

Steelton-Highspire conducted the survey of Highspire residents in response to a request by the Department of Education for information about the feelings of Highspire parents.

The district reported that 31 of the 225 families surveyed had responded with answers that could be tabulated. Of those who responded, 90 percent were aware of the initiative to move students to Middletown – and 74 percent favored the move.

To Linnaya Graf, a college professor and researcher and owner of PrePEAR LLC, Steelton-Highspire “didn’t learn people didn’t have an opinion; they learned they did not conduct an effective survey.”

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:06

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Steelton-Highspire's Response: Highspire student transfer would cripple Steelton schools, Steel-High says

The transfer of Highspire students from Steelton-Highspire School District to nearby Middletown Area School District would cripple Steelton’s schools, according to a document Steel-High district filed with the state Department of Education.

More than 55 percent of Highspire property owners signed a petition to send the borough’s students to Middletown Area School District. In its response, written by Steelton-Highspire Superintendent Ellen Castagneto and filed in February with the Department of Education, Steel-High argues that Highspire students should stay.

Highspire’s tax money would be missed in Steelton, where Highspire contributes about double its share of the district’s finances despite having about half the population of Steelton. Highspire students account for 17 percent of the overall student body in Steelton-Highspire, 235 students out of 1,359 in the district, but Highspire tax revenues supply 34 percent of the district’s revenue.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:08

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BIG DIG II: Main Street project will bring detours

Last year it was the downtown and South Union Street’s turn.

This year, it’s Main Street’s turn.

Welcome to another Big Dig in Middletown.

Work started Monday, March 16, on a $2.5 million project to replace aging water and sewer pipes under the nearly mile-long stretch of Main Street – Route 230 – through town.

Get ready for another spring and summer of detours and temporary inconvenience. But the result will be a long-term improvement.
The work is being done in five phases, starting with the section of Route 230 that runs from Vine Street east to Hoffer Street.

The borough is timing the project to finish by August, when all of Main Street is to be repaved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. To help you understand the five phases of the project, and the detours that accompany each phase, refer to the map that is included in this week’s Press And Journal. The map is provided courtesy of the Borough of Middletown, and can also be found on the borough’s Web site, www.middletownborough.com.

The Vine-to-Hoffer leg is expected to take four-and-one-half weeks to complete, according to the borough.

During the Vine-to-Hoffer phase, through-traffic will be detoured using Maple Road.

For truck traffic, eastbound trucks will use Vine Street to get to Interstate 283. Trucks will return to Route 230 at the Toll House Road interchange in Londonderry Twp. Westbound trucks will reverse that route.

Phase Two: This phase of the project will be at the intersection of Main and Vine streets. It will take about nine days, according to the borough. Conewago Street will serve as the detour for through-traffic.

The truck detour will use the Airport Connector to access Route 283 on the west end of the detour, with the east end staying at the Toll House interchange.

Phase Three: Work will focus on Main Street from Vine Street west to North Union Street. This is the longest single phase of the project and is expected to take about six-and-one-half weeks to complete.

Through-traffic will be detoured to the north of Main Street.

Trucks will continue using the Airport Connector for the west end of the Route 283 detour. The east end shifts to the Vine Street interchange.

Phase Four: This phase will consist of work at the intersection of Main and North Union streets. It is expected to take about 10 days. Through-traffic will be detoured to the south using Water Street.

Trucks will use the same detour as in Phase Three. In addition, truck traffic on Route 441 will also be detoured. This detour will use Route 283 between the Franklin B. Linn (North Union Street) interchange and the Airport Connector to reach Route 230 to the Ann Street Bridge and to the Route 441 truck route (Ann Street).

Phase Five: The final phase would run from North Union Street to Nissley Street/Apple Avenue. It is to take about three-and-one-half weeks. South Union and Ann streets will be used as through-traffic detours.

The Route 230 project is estimated by the borough to cost just over $2.5 million. The entire project is being paid for using proceeds from the $43 million payout that the borough received in January from United Water in return for agreeing to lease the borough’s water and sewer systems to United Water for 50 years.

The borough is saving $250,000 in asphalt costs by having PennDOT repave Main Street, said borough spokesman Chris Courogen. In addition, the borough is saving more money by using a “cured-in-place” process to rehabilitate many sections of the sanitary sewer mains, he said.

Another project that will impact Main Street and borough residents this year is replacing the bridge over Swatara Creek that connects Middletown and Londonderry Twp. on the far eastern part of town. The bridge project is to start in September, and be completed in the summer of 2016, according to PennDOT.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 16:09

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Who wants Highspire?

Should the borough's 225 students leave Steelton-Highspire and attend Middletown Area? Both school districts say no.

The influx of 225 Highspire students who might be transferred to Middletown Area School District under a proposal by Highspire to leave Steelton-Highspire School District would strain Middletown’s resources and result in a great deal of costs to the district, according to documents filed by the Middletown district with the state Department of Education.

If students from Highspire attended Middletown schools, the district would have to hire 22 people at a cost of $1.6 million, the district said in its response to the state to Highspire’s secession request.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 15:51

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Would a police merger work?

Borough officials seek more information in county study of regional force

 

A regional police force consisting of Middletown, Highspire, Lower Swatara Twp., Royalton and Steelton could save taxpayers of those municipalities a combined $500,000 a year based on preliminary findings from a consultant that were presented during a public meeting at Penn State Harrisburg on Wednesday, March 11.

Combining the five police departments is one example of what a regional force in Dauphin County could look like, said Craig Fraser of Police Executive Research Forum, the Washington, D.C., firm hired by the Dauphin County commissioners to explore regional policing in the county.

The firm arrived at the potential cost savings by combining the budgets of the five police departments from 2014 – $7.39 million – and comparing it to the $6.8 million that Swatara Twp. spent on its police force in 2014.

Middletown and the four other municipalities were combined and compared against Swatara Twp. in a number of other respects – among them staffing, vehicles, facilities and firearms – in order for the consultants to illustrate some of the key factors that go into deciding whether a regional force makes sense.

What was presented is not a recommendation, as the consultants are not close to making any recommendations, said Fraser.

“We were asked to look at an example,” he said. “This is no way final. We’re not even convinced that this would be a recommendation. It’s just an example of some things we might look at.”

County commissioners hired the firm in September as part of a process that started after they “kicked off the idea of a countywide police department,” Commissioner Mike Pries told those gathered Wednesday.

The firm’s final report, expected to be done by early fall, will include a proposed countywide police force. The report is also expected to offer recommendations for possible regional police forces in Dauphin County.

A countywide police force would require the approval of the state legislature, said District Attorney Ed Marsico. Currently countywide forces are only authorized in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties.

Even if the consultants recommend regional police forces in specific areas of the county, commissioners will not seek to impose them upon anyone, Pries said.

“It will be up to the municipalities, the elected officials and the residents as to whether or not to participate in police-shared services, or keep things the same,’’ Pries said. “This is all about information, to provide you with everything you need to make a decision to A, do it, or B, not do it.

“If at the end of the day Paxtang and Swatara are the only ones that get together, we’re OK with that,” said Pries, referring to a decision by Paxtang to eliminate its police force and contact with Swatara for policing services effective last Jan. 1.

The consultants said that a regional police force can lead to cost savings because not as many police chiefs and facilities would be needed.

A regional force – even a countywide one – may only require one headquarters, possibly augmented by smaller “storefront” district stations set up to give citizens some local walk-in access.

“The belief is that police are similar to fire, [that] you have to have a fire station or a police station nearby for the officers to respond,’’ said Tom Wilson, another representative of the Police Executive Research Forum. “But there’s no correlation” between that and response time in a regional force, Wilson said.

“What we look for and what we push for is that the officers are in the car on patrol, that they are in the communities and that they are responding from their vehicles,” he said.

Based on that model, a regional force could conceivably cover more territory with fewer officers compared to each municipality having its own force.

One glaring inefficiency of the status quo in Dauphin County is that the separate police departments currently use “a variety” of firearms, Wilson said. There is no standardization of weapons – that’s a potential safety issue, he said.

In case of a major incident or firefight involving multiple departments, one officer would want to be able to interchange his or her ammo or magazine with another officer from another department. “What you currently have here – that’s not going to happen,” Wilson said.
That came as a surprise to Middletown Borough Councilor John Brubaker, a member of council’s public safety committee and one of several elected Middletown officials at the meeting.

Even if nothing else is ever done regarding regional policing, something should be done about getting the different departments in the county on the same page when it comes to weapons, Brubaker said.

It struck Brubaker that at $2.5 million, Middletown has the biggest police budget of the five municipalities that were compared to Swatara Twp.
Based on square miles alone, a combined force between Middletown and Lower Swatara would be comparable to the territory now covered by the combined Swatara-Paxtang force, Brubaker said.

Still, it’s far too early to know if being part of a regional force would make sense for Middletown, he said.

“We didn’t get enough information for me to try and decide yes or no,” Brubaker said. However, “I’d like to have the discussion and see where it goes,” he said.

Another councilor at the meeting, Robert Louer, who is also on Middletown’s public safety committee, agreed with Brubaker that far more information is needed.

“I’m not for it or against it at this point. I couldn’t go one way or the other if my life depended on it,” Louer said. But “to be prudent you’d have to look at it,’’ he said. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, and people are hard-pressed to cover what they have to pay now.”
To Mayor James H. Curry III, who also attended and who oversees the police department, “The research is in its infancy.’’

“I think a lot more needs to be done to see” if a regional police force would be “beneficial” to Middletown residents, Curry said.
The borough should be open to potential tax savings. But public safety must be “the No. 1 concern” going forward, the mayor added.
Councilor Ben Kapenstein was also at the session.

Marsico echoed Pries that no matter what the consultants recommend, whether to regionalize police or not will be a local decision.
But Marsico acknowledged that from his standpoint as District Attorney, regional policing is “an idea whose time has come,” given the number of other states that do policing at the county level.

“As long as public safety can be improved and at no additional cost, it makes sense,” at a time when a dwindling tax base and a declining population is the norm in many smaller Dauphin County boroughs, Marsico said.

Steelton has 3.1 square miles, yet its 2014 police budget of $1.9 million is identical to Lower Swatara Twp., which has 14.6 square miles to cover.

“Steelton doesn’t have the population it had,” Marsico said. “Does a borough that size, or does Royalton, a borough that size, need [its own] police department?”

In addition, these small departments don’t have the resources and manpower to handle a major incident or investigation. They have to rely on the county, or upon other outside agencies, Marsico said.

The county’s own experience has proven the value of shared police services, he added. As examples, Marsico pointed to the county drug task force, the county forensics team, the county accident reconstruction team and the county crisis response team.

The county provides support to police departments in the areas of record-keeping, information technology and central dispatching. This avoids duplication of services and saves money at the local level, the DA said.

“We’ve seen efficiency in gathering together police operations,’’ Marsico said. “We’re not saying anything is wrong with how we are policing. But we always are looking to improve.”

The consultants have a lot of work to do between now and when the final report comes out in the fall, Fraser said. For example, the consultant has to take a hard look at how pensions, union contracts and seniority impact regional policing in Dauphin County.

The next public meeting on the county police regionalization study will be held in early summer. The location will be determined by the next geographical cluster of municipalities that the consultants select as an example of a possible regional policing scenario, Pries said.


 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 15:48

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