locally owned since 1854

Middletown borough officials take their oaths, council President Suglia looks to 2018 goals

By Dan Miller


Posted 1/10/18

Last November, Middletown voters sent a message that they were pleased with the direction of borough council, re-electing all three members who were …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Middletown borough officials take their oaths, council President Suglia looks to 2018 goals


Last November, Middletown voters sent a message that they were pleased with the direction of borough council, re-electing all three members who were running again.

Perhaps with that in mind, council during its Jan. 2 reorganization meeting voted to keep its same leadership team in place.

Chosen again to lead council as president was Damon Suglia. Dawn Knull will remain vice president.

Suglia and Knull were both re-elected by 6-0 votes, and were the only ones nominated for their respective positions.

Councilor Diana McGlone was absent from the meeting.

Suglia and Knull became president and vice president in April 2017, when Ben Kapenstein stepped down as president.

Council also welcomed its new face for 2018. Jenny Miller took her seat after being sworn in by District Judge David Judy.

Miller was elected to council in November. She replaces Anne Einhorn, who was elected in 2013 but did not run again.

Judy also swore in Mayor James H. Curry III, re-elected to a second term in November; and the three council incumbents who also were re-elected: Kapenstein, Knull and Ian Reddinger.

Reddinger was elected to his first full four-year term, having been appointed to council in May 2016.

Judy also gave the oath of office to re-elected borough Tax Collector Pamela L. Miller, and to the three chiefs who will lead Middletown Volunteer Fire Company in 2018: Chief Kenton Whitebread Jr., Deputy Chief Scott Fink and Assistant Chief Justin Gilday.

Suglia’s goals

Suglia listed among his major goals for council in 2018 proceeding with development of Woodland Hills, “to generate some extra revenue for our town with taxes and electric.”

The 168 acres between North Union and Vine streets is the biggest undeveloped piece of ground remaining for new housing in Middletown. Landowners H-T Partners plan to develop 440 housing units over 10 phases.

After years of not advancing beyond the planning stage, 2017 was a breakthrough year for Woodland Hills, with roads and infrastructure being built and construction underway of a model home.

Builders C.B. Burkholder Homes of Ephrata hope to have home sites available in early spring, according to Thomas Kile of H-T Partners.

The borough in 2018 is to provide $600,000 in electrical infrastructure to bring power to the development.

Council has committed funds for this in the 2018 budget. The borough expects to get the money back in electric revenue as development of Woodland Hills unfolds over the years, borough Manager Ken Klinepeter has told council.

Suglia also wants to see physical improvements throughout the town, including fixing blighted properties and working down a list of road work projects.

Topping the road work is Ann Street, the repaving of which Councilor Robert Reid has been pressing for since late 2015 when the street was torn up to replace water lines.

Suglia was reluctant to say that Ann Street will get done in 2018, because the borough is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation on the project.

Partnering with PennDOT could reduce the borough’s cost to reconstruct Ann Street compared to going it alone. But working with the state means the project may take longer to complete than it otherwise would.

“We have wheels turning on it,” Suglia said of Ann Street. “It has the potential to move forward and I’d like to see that happen.”

Other goals for the year include deciding what to do about the Elks Theatre, and seeking closer ties with Penn State Harrisburg through the borough’s newly reconstituted human relations commission. Suglia would like to see a representative of Penn State Harrisburg “involved” in the commission.

Suez part of challenges for 2018

Among challenges for 2018 is protecting residents from “skyrocketing” increases in charges for water and sewer service, Suglia noted.

Suglia and other councilors have been making cryptic references in recent public meetings over troubles stemming from the 50-year lease of the borough’s water and sewer systems to Suez.

Under the lease, water and sewer rates can’t go up until 2019. Starting in 2019 Suez has said it plans to raise water and sewer rates every year of the lease by an amount equal to the rate of inflation.

Starting in January 2017, Suez planned to add a surcharge of up to 2 percent a year to water and sewer bills, to recover past costs Suez said it had incurred for an annual schedule of replacing water and sewer lines throughout Middletown that is called for in the lease, according to Suez.

Suez in 2016 estimated it would be spending about $1 million on these upgrades each year, the cost of which Suez said it is authorized under the lease to collect by increasing the surcharge on borough residents each year.

But council blocked Suez from imposing a 2.1 percent surcharge that was to be added to residents’ bills in January 2017.

The borough over several months negotiated a settlement with Suez, by which the borough covered the cost of the surcharge instead of putting it on the backs of ratepayers.

This came at a cost to the general fund. Council agreed to give up half of the $725,000 that it was to receive in annual payments from Suez in both 2017 and 2018 under the lease.

The borough of Middletown could end up sacrificing nearly $49,000 a year from Suez from 2019 to 2047 — all to protect residents and businesses from their water and sewer bills going up to reimburse Suez for just $1.1 million worth of work for just one year of the 50-year lease.

It’s unlikely the borough can afford to do this every year. Suglia wouldn’t say if a repeat of this is brewing with Suez in 2018.

He declined to discuss the lease situation with the Press & Journal, saying for now it is something council can only address in closed-door meetings.

‘Running pretty well’

The potential dark cloud over the lease notwithstanding, Suglia is happy with the way things are going, and he wants council to keep heading in the same direction.

“We have things running pretty well now,” he said. “The meetings have been a lot more calm than they have always been, we settled with the police and with the Teamsters (representing other non-management borough employees) and we have a real strong management team in place” led by Klinepeter, Public Works Director Greg Wilsbach, and Finance Director Kevin Zartman.

Suglia also mentioned upgrades to weapons and other police equipment that council approved in 2017, with new cars and computers budgeted for purchasing for the department in 2018.

“We’re making progress in getting Middletown back to where it needs to be to be a respected town again,” Suglia said.