Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Note about comment policy

Because of some recent spam passed off as comments, I have instituted a policy of moderating all comments. I will receive an e-mail when you comment and will review to ensure they are appropriate. For the record, this is not an effort to censor anyone except spammers hawking offensive websites and inappropriate and unrelated content. I pledge to post all comments, regardless of whether they are critical of me and my writing or not. Thank you for your cooperation.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Council passes 2010 budget with no tax increase

Borough Council passed the 2010 budget on Dec. 17 with no tax increase. The vote was 4-2, after a prior motion to increase taxes by two-tenths of a mill resulted in a tie. Mayor Robert Brain, in his last meeting before leaving office, cast the deciding vote in opposition of raising taxes.

The action means the borough has a budget of nearly $4.8 million for next year, just about $2,100 carried over from the current year. By all accounts, that is a razor-thin balance to start the year, which is in part why Councilman Dale Treese and I voted against a no-tax increase budget.

I believe that we need to look out for the long-term health of Elizabethtown, and while the economy is running roughshod over people the .2 mill increase was just $20 out of people's pockets. That would have generated $87,000 in additional revenue to give the borough a better cushion going into next year. The increase also was, in my mind, a good compromise and minimal enough to prevent a large increase next year.

But other council members felt otherwise, and we have a budget in place for 2010 that will maintain services. And for that, I credit all of council and the borough staff for working hard to ensure that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Track outage scheduled for tomorrow at E-town Train Station

Elizabethtown borough officials received notification this morning that a track outage will take place between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 17, at the Elizabethtown Train Station.

The outage is part of the ongoing construction and renovations of Amtrak station. It will allow the contractor to pour the concrete walls for the north side of the platform. This will be a one day outage. As they have this fall, riders are advised to follow the signs to enter the proper platform. All trains will operate on the existing schedule.

A second track outage is planned for next week, on Wednesday, Dec. 23, to allow the contractor to pour the concrete walls for the south side platform. While Amtrak officials are still reviewing the request, borough officials expect it will be approved. This track outage will not affect the train schedule and will be for one day only during the times as stated above.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Borough Council reviews budget cuts

Two posts ago, I said that revenue sources for Elizabethtown are like an orange that's been juiced. After reviewing the 2010 budget at Borough Council's Dec. 3 workshop meeting, it is an apt description for the borough.

Faced with a $375,000 deficit in our first version of the budget in November, Council directed the borough staff to find 5 percent more to cut from each department. And to the credit of Borough Manager Pete Whipple and Assistant Borough Manager Roni Ryan, they did. The bottom line is they found cuts totaling $377,190. Both Whipple and Ryan said these cuts are not ideal, but they will allow Elizabethtown to maintain a level of service to which resident are accustomed.

Brutal fact: However, this means the borough will carry an unappropriated balance of $2,136 into 2010. Under good economic conditions, that balance might be about $300,000.

What does this mean for the borough? One snow storm in January that would require removing snow from the downtown area would easily push the budget into the red. And this doesn't figure any other emergencies later in the year.

Brutal fact: Ryan presented council with a budget whose expenditures were less than last year. The problems with the deficit exist solely because revenues have dried up. Because of the employment picture, we are receiving less in the earned income tax. Because housing sales are down, the borough has received far less in the real estate transfer tax. The budget issues have nothing to do with excessive spending or a bloated government. Elizabethtown runs a lean operation -- in fact, Whipple said there are fewer borough employees now than when he was hired as manager more than 30 years ago.

How is all of this going to shake out? Last night, three council members clearly voiced their opposition to an increase in taxes. Three others voiced opinions favoring a small increase in taxes.

I am reluctant to raise taxes because I am sensitive to the impact it would have on residents, especially during the recession. That said, we are living in extraordinary times -- and I am not certain that forgoing an increase is in the best long-term interests of Elizabethtown. As one councilman, I believe that we need to be watching out for this town not just for next year but 5 or 10  years from now.

Among Borough Council and the borough staff, the conventional wisdom is that we will be facing a similar budget a year from now, and as one councilman said, we might "face the music" and pass a significant tax increase rather than trying to ease the pain this year. This is the kind of gamble that we take as your elected officials.

My question is, if we face the music next year, how loud is that music going to be?

I sincerely doubt that Borough Council will end with a 3-3 tie vote on the 2010 budget, throwing the deciding vote to the mayor. I encourage all interested residents to attend the Dec. 17 council meeting to find out how this plays out.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Work at train station progresses

Work at the Elizabethtown train station is progressing, starting again today after a holiday break for the contractor.

All of the shoring work for Phase I has been completed. There will be no need for track outages until after the Christmas holiday. The next track outage is planned for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day for the installation of the platform planks on the north side. The borough and the contractor remind train riders to adhere to the signs directing them to the proper platform during this track switch.

Work in a wide range of areas is continuing. Water, sewer and electric service trenching has been completed as well. Conduit was set in place for the gas service to the train station building, but UGI Utilities has not performed the work as of today. The trailer for the construction management firm was set in place in front of the station this past week. Hazardous materials abatement will conclude inside the station building once the proper permits have been received for the disposal of these materials.

In the weeks ahead, additional site storm sewer work will continue. The footings for the temporary steps on both sides of the platform have been poured. Weather permitting, the new slate roof on the building should be installed before the end of the year. Demolition of the exterior piers on the platform will be performed in December.

The borough and the construction manager are fielding shop drawings and submittals on a routine basis on a host of items for the project. All parties, including our contractor and Amtrak, are communicating effectively and coordinating the work to improve the overall project schedule.

Finally, borough officials has provided Amtrak with the architectural renderings for the project to display in the kiosks on the platform. The renderings were available at open houses held in late summer -- if you didn't see the views of the new platform then, this will give you a glimpse of the finished project.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Revenue sources are like an orange that's been juiced

For the past month, Elizabethtown Borough Council has been working on the borough's 2010 budget, and it hasn't been a pretty picture. In short, the budget at the moment has a deficit of $375,000 -- but each councilman and the borough's staff are working tirelessly to reduce that amount and find ways to cut spending where it can be cut and squeeze additional revenues from sources that are like an orange that's already been juiced.

Because the country is in the midst of the worst recession in decades -- some would say we've teetered on the brink of another Great Depression -- revenue from sources such as the earned income tax and real estate transfer tax is way down. On top of this, the borough has pension requirements that it must fulfill under state law -- without adequate support from the state.

These are issues nearly every other municipality in Lancaster County is facing; rest assured Elizabethtown is not alone.

While it is true that it would take a tax increase of 20 percent to balance the budget as presented -- Borough Council is NOT considering such a hefty tax increase. The Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era's editors did the borough a disservice with a headline that screamed as such -- but no member of council is willing to place that kind of burden on the taxpayers of the community, especially given the dire economic straits in which many find themselves.

Borough Council discussed the budget for several hours at its November workshop meeting, and we have directed the borough staff to find additional cuts for each department. We are doing everything within our power to minimize the impact on taxpayers -- and we will discuss all options at our workshop meeting Thursday.

Council's plan is to have the details worked out by the end of the meeting Thursday so the borough staff can present a final budget for approval on Dec. 17.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Councilman elected as mayor

In the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election Elizabethtown Borough Councilman Chuck Mummert was elected as mayor, replacing Mayor Bob Brain who did not run again.

Mummert is completing his first term on Borough Council and ran unopposed after defeating a Republican challenger in the spring primary.

Having served with the mayor-elect for the past two years, I supported Mummert in his election and fully believe that he will be a great leader for the community. To Mayor Brain, I wish him well as he pursues other interests in his retirement. He has been a great advocate for Elizabethtown, and he will be missed.

In related election news, Neil Ketchum ran unopposed to fill Mummert's vacancy on Borough Council, and was officially elected to the post on Tuesday. He has been a member of the borough planning commission for several years, and if his service is any indication he will bring a tremendous amount of insight and leadership to Borough Council.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Public can comment on E-town area's regional comprehensive plan tonight

Elected officials from Elizabethtown and Conoy, Mount Joy and West Donegal townships will meet at 7:30 tonight receive public input and comment into a regional comprehensive plan. The meeting will take place in the Large Group Instruction room at the Elizabethtown Area High School.

Officials from all four municipalities have been meeting for nearly three years to develop the comprehensive plan. As the name implies, the plan takes a comprehensive look at all aspects of the greater Elizabethtown community, including transportation needs, where commercial and residential development should occur and recreation needs such as parks. Representatives from the local municipalities have been working with Lancaster County Planning Commission to ensure that the local plan meets the goals of the county's comprehensive plan.

While the plan is not a binding document, township supervisors and Borough Council will approve the plan by the end of the year. The intent is for the comprehensive plan to be a guide for elected officials and the administrative staffs in each municipality over the next 10 years.

Prior to the elected boards voting, each municipality's planning commission also will review the plan and vote either to recommend or not recommend that supervisors or Borough Council approve the plan. The Elizabethtown Planning Commission recommended approval at its meeting this month.

Gaining input from members of the public is a critical component because the the plan will help guide and influence decisions that will have an impact on residents for many years. If you can't attend tonight's meeting, I urge you to contact your councilman or supervisor to let your voice be heard.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Track outages will begin at train station next week

Work at the Elizabethtown Train Station will cause track outages beginning Tuesday, Oct. 27. This will result in the closure of both the eastbound and westbound platforms -- one at a time -- until approximately Nov. 20.

The installation of pilings will result in the following schedule:
  • From Oct. 27 to Nov. 6, the north side (Wilson Avenue side) platform will be  out of service.

  • The contractor will move to the south side (Masonic Drive side) platform from Nov. 9 to  Nov. 20.
  • No track outages will be permitted from Nov. 22 to Nov. 29.
Signage will be prominently placed to alert riders which platform they are to access to meet their regularly scheduled train.

The pilings are part of sheeting and shoring work, which will help secure the train tracks as construction crews prepare for the construction of the new platforms. Amtrak is allowing the work to be done between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. The Elizabethtown Borough and Lobar Inc., the contractor, are pleased that Amtrak is allowing for the work to be done during the day, which will result in a shorter time period for this portion of the phase one construction work.

Installing the sheeting and shoring during the day will also lead to less evening disruption for residents as the work involved is quite loud. Amtrak personnel will divert trains outside of Elizabethtown to one track or the other for this work to commence.

Train riders are reminded to that they will be able to access all trains as scheduled. They simply need to follow the signs to the proper platform.

The work is weather dependent and this schedule may be adjusted if it rains. The borough will notify riders if there is a significant change to the schedule detailed above -- and the borough continues to appreciate everyone's patience and support during this project.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New coffee shop to hold grand opening Friday

A new coffee shop called Folklore Coffee & Company is slated to hold a "historic grand opening" from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. The shop is located at 5 Center Square, where the former Moose's 5&10 and the General Store were located. Another coffee shop operated there about seven years ago.

Folklore's owners are promoting the grand opening via a Facebook event page.

This is very good news for downtown Elizabethtown, which by many accounts has been struggling in recent years. Mayor Robert Brain indicated recently that several new businesses were planning to open, and Folklore could be the thing to give the downtown a jump start, just like a breakfast blend in the morning.

As a coffee lover, a resident of this community and a member of Borough Council, I really want to see Folklore establish itself and become an anchor for downtown business.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Work on train station well underway

Work at the Elizabethtown Train Station has started, including a fair amount of work inside the old building itself. Anyone who has visited the train station recently can tell work is happening. A chain link fence surrounds the area immediately around the old building, and signs on the fence direct pedestrians to a path to the rear of the fence from the back of the parking lot.

At Borough Council's workshop meeting Oct. 1, Borough Manager Pete Whipple reported that crews from Lobar Construction are working on some hazardous materials abatement inside the building -- all of which the borough knew about prior to the project. The work includes removing some old transformers and asbestos that was in caulking.

Whipple also told council that sheeting and shoring work, which is some of the most critical of the project because it will keep the train tracks in place and secure, will be done during the daytime. The work involves driving the materials into the ground with a large hammer, which creates a very loud banging. Lobar submitted a proposal to Amtrak to do the work during the day, and Amtrak approved the plan. Amtrak crews will reroute trains after Lobar meets certain advanced notification requirements.

Whipple said that work alone would take eight weeks.

"We are extremely appreciative that Amtrak has taken a favorable view of the submittal," Whipple said, adding that it is "phenomenally good news for the borough." That's not hyperbole, because the work could have been done at night. And with two apartment buildings and Masonic Village all within a stone's throw of the train station, such work done at night would have been disruptive to an entire section of the community.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Borough seeks input on 2010 budget

'Tis the season for municipal budgeting.

For the next several months, all municipalities in Pennsylvania will be doing what the state Legislature can't: reviewing their budgets and approving them before the Dec. 31 deadline mandated by state law.

Here in Elizabethtown, we are looking for your input as the borough staff and Borough Council begin prioritizing and budgeting. So please check out the borough's website and click on the "2010 Budget Input" button. Every member of Borough Council values input and comments from the public, and we look forward to what our constituents have to say.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cops honored at council meeting; Mayor Brain stands up to NRA

Mayor Robert Brain honored several Elizabethtown Police Department police officers for their work to track down the perpetrator in an armed robbery and find a weapon that was discharged during the robbery.

During Borough Council's Sept. 17 meeting, Brain presented a unit citation to Detective John Emerick. Others who were part of the unit and recognized but did not attend the council meeting were Corporal Gordon Berlin and Officers Michael Lyons and Matthew Shuey.

The officers were called to an incident on West High Street that was reported as a fight with firearms. Before they arrived, a weapon was discharged. No one was injured. Upon arrival, and with help from the Northwest Regional Police Department, the officers tracked down the suspects to a location on North Poplar Street and took them into custody without further incident.

During the investigation, they learned that the weapon had been stolen from a neighbor's house.

Brain praised the officers for their efforts, saying the incident "clearly illustrates how teamwork and training" result in a safer community.

The ironic part of this story is that Brain also reported at the meeting that the National Rifle Association has started a grassroots campaign to pressure him and other mayors to resign from a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). Brain joined the coalition this summer, along with several mayors in the area, in response to a wave of violence, shootings and murders in south central Pennsylvania cities, most notably Harrisburg.

Brain stated very plainly that he is refusing to resign from MAIG. In a letter in response to the NRA's pressure, he said, "I think we in law enforcement in Elizabethtown and North West Lancaster County are truly blessed to live in a community environment that does not test our officers daily with the use of illegal guns. Yet on the other hand we cannot ignore what is happening close by jurisdictions that also affects our quality of life."

As the incident above indicates, Elizabethtown is not immune to illegal weapons. Nor is the community immune to violent crime, as the murder of Ray Diener in May 2007 illustrates. In fact, two of the suspects in that case have been convicted, with trigger man receiving the death penalty.

So the timeliness of the NRA's efforts could not be more ironic. And while I and Mayor Brain and many others support the Second Amendment, Councilman Tom Shaud said it best: MAIG stands in opposition to illegal guns.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Department of Health to distribute potassium iodide next week

The state Department of Health is making potassium iodide (KI) tablets available free to members of the general public within a 10-mile radius of nuclear power plants who voluntarily want them. Elizabethtown is within the radius of Three Mile Island.

The tablets can be stored in people’s homes and taken under the order of the secretary of health if necessary in the aftermath of a serious emergency at Three Mile Island. The tablets assist in minimizing the effect of radiation on the thyroid gland in the unlikely event of an exposure.

KI was distributed to people in the past and most table packets have now expired.

The tablets will be available between 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2 or 3, at the Free Masons Cultural Center, Masonic Village.

For further information, people can contact the Department of Health's southeast district office at 610-378-4352.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Boil-water advisory for Elizabethtown and area lifted

The Elizabethtown Area Water Authority lifted the boil-water advisory at 12:30 p.m. today after receiving word from the state Department of Environmental Protection that the water was free of contamination.

Residents of Elizabethtown, Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township who are on "city water" now can return to normal usage and consumption of water.

I confirmed the news with official sources after hearing through the grapevine that the advisory was lifted late this afternoon.

For more information about water in the Elizabethtown area or the advisory, contact EAWA at 367-7448.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Water authority delivering free water from tankers

The Elizabethtown Area Water Authority began delivering potable water from tankers this evening at the Elizabethtown Fire Department, the Rheems Fire Department and the Mount Joy Township municipal building.

Water will be available at these locations from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily for those customers who do not wish to purchase bottled water or want to boil their own water. This water will be available until the advisory is lifted.

A committee consisting of representatives from EAWA, Elizabethtown borough, Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township met this afternoon to review the status of the boil water advisory and potential contamination. A decision was made -- purely as a precaution -- to shut down Well No. 5 on Beechwood Lane, which is the well closest to the contamination spot. The water plant is operating and can more than accommodate the loss of this well. This committee will meet daily until this issue has been closed.

EAWA customers who have questions about the boil-water advisory can call EAWA at 367-7448.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Boil-water advisory issued for E-town and Mount Joy Township (including Rheems)

The Elizabethtown Area Water Authority issued a boil-water advisory for residents of Elizabethtown and Mount Joy Township (including Rheems) after routine testing turned up elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.

EAWA said residents must boil water for two minutes to make it safe for drinking. It is OK to bathe in water from the tap. The advisory affects those who are on "city water" -- and does not impact residents who have private well water.

The source of the bacteria has not been determined, but EAWA is working to flush and chlorinate the system to ensure water is safe for drinking. However, it will be at least Friday before the advisory can be lifted because results from tests to be taken Wednesday won't be back for 48 hours.

For more information, residents can contact EAWA at 367-7448.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sen. Specter to visit Elizabethtown Train Station

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter will visit the Elizabethtown Train Station Monday at 11:15 a.m. to promote the jobs that the federal stimulus is generating.

Specter's visit coincides with the start of the project. At 5 a.m. Monday, Lobar Construction of Dillsburg will begin moving equipment to the site, setting up an on-site office, connecting phone lines and making preparations for the work. All of this will occur in front of the train station, and the borough staff ask commuters for their patience during the project, which is expected to take a year to complete.

The project is starting thanks to Elizabethtown's receiving authorization from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Borough Council is grateful for PennDOT's approval so that a fabulous project that will benefit Elizabethtown, Lancaster County and the Commonwealth.

Lightning strikes traffic light at Maytown Road

For the second time in about three months, lightning struck the traffic light at Market Street (Route 230) and Maytown Road (Route 743).

During a thunderstorm on Wednesday evening, the lightning strike melted conduit and wire that is under the road. Although the borough's contractor got the light functioning, the damage has thrown off the ideal timing for the light -- and that means drivers can expect delays at the intersection.

Because the Elizabethtown Fair starts Monday, the borough will see a tremendous influx of traffic. To help traffic flow better and alleviate some congestion, Borough Council has decided to hire a contractor to help control traffic at the intersection. From 3 to 6 p.m. for the duration of the fair. The contractor then will move to the square at Market and High streets to control traffic from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Residents might remember that a contractor was stationed at the borough's square during the first phase of construction of West College Avenue by the expansion of the M&M/Mars factory. By all accounts, the contractor helped ease the traffic issues then, which is why Borough Council decided to bring him in during fair week.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pa. budget fiasco delays train station project

Construction was to have started today on the Elizabethtown Train Station, but the budget fiasco in Harrisburg delayed the project.

The reason, according to Borough Manager Pete Whipple, is that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is administering the federal stimulus money. And since there is no state budget, PennDOT will not release any of the money, which will reimburse Elizabethtown for the work on the train station.

Because the borough has taken out a loan for the project, the money is available, and Whipple told Borough Council that he even told PennDOT the borough would pay and wait for reimbursement. But without a signed reimbursement agreement, he said, PennDOT did not want to go that route.

For the record, Borough Council is not upset with PennDOT. As with residents across the Commonwealth, we can't believe our Legislature can't come to an agreement and, in turn, get a project that will provide jobs and economic development on track.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

EPD officers receive life-saving commendations

Two Elizabethtown police officers saved the life of a borough resident in May after using an automated external defibrillator (AED) to jump start her heart.

When officers Nicholas Finicle and Richard Regel responded to the call of an unresponsive person on May 29, they found Shirley Nauman unconcious. Working together, they used the AED to shock her heart and then administered CPR until emergency medical technicians arrived.

Nauman made a full recovery and was able to attend the presentation of life-saving commendations to both Finicle and Regel at Borough Council's July 16 meeting. During the presentation, she pinned the commendations on both officers and hugged and kissed each as her husband and members of her family looked on.

In remarks prior to the presentation of the awards, Mayor Robert Brain said that only four other officers in the history of the Elizabethtown Police Department have received life-saving commendations. Although neither officer spoke, I am certain that if you talked to them about the commendations they both would say that they were just doing their job. And thanks to their commitment, their training and their quick thinking, that meant saving a life.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Borough Council approves recommendation of train station contractor

At its July 16 meeting, Elizabethtown Borough Council unanimously approved to recommend to PennDOT that Lobar Construction of Dillsburg is the low bidder for the train station project.

By all accounts from members of Borough Council, it was a historic moment to vote on the recommendation. For at least 10 years, Borough Manager Pete Whipple and the rest of the borough staff have worked on the project. Although 12 to 18 months of actual construction work remains, it is an honor to have been a part of the project for which other council members and leaders laid the groundwork.

Lobar came in with a bid of nearly $5.9 million. The borough received seven bids, which were extremely competitive. The difference between Lobar and the No. 2 bidder was just $7,000.

For the record, under an agreement between PennDOT and Elizabethtown, the project cannot be altered so the borough can keep all of the stimulus money. Elizabethtown was in line to receive $8 million in federal stimulus funding for the construction, and because the winning bid was much lower the borough will return a balance of the funding so more money will be available for other projects along Amtrak's Keystone Corridor. Speaking as one council member, this is the absolute right thing to do, and I am very grateful that this project is coming to fruition.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Update on train station project

What's the status of the Elizabethtown Train Station project? WGAL's Meredith Jorgensen did a great update story on July 8.

In the meantime, here are the details:

Bids were opened about two weeks ago, and the apparent low bidder is Lobar Construction of Dillsburg, with a bid of $5.9 million. That's nearly $2 million less than what the borough, Amtrak and PennDOT were estimating. Because the project is being funded with federal stimulus money, the borough will likely return a balance of the money so the government can allocate it to other projects.

At the moment, borough staff and PennDOT are discussing how much the borough needs for contingency funds and to address alternate bids, one of which potentially can lower the cost of the project. Borough Manager Pete Whipple said PennDOT and the borough should complete those talks in time for Borough Council to make an official recommendation by its July 16 meeting.

If all goes well, work could begin next month.

Friday, June 26, 2009

High Street getting attention it needs

On Monday, June 22, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation started an $852,600 project to pave and upgrade High Street. The anticipated completion date is Oct. 2, barring any serious weather interruptions. Some preparation work has already started, with curbs being cut out at the Mount Joy Street intersection and being readied for handicapped access, and work on water, sewer and gas lines will begin shortly.

PennDOT's plan is to pave all of West High Street, from Masonic Drive, to the square. Borough Manager Pete Whipple said about 75 percent of the length of East High Street will be paved. He said PennDOT is going to evaluate all sections of the street to determine if they need to be milled down and paved from scratch, or if the current asphalt is in good enough condition simply to be paved over.

Because High Street is a state-owned road, this project is entirely under PennDOT's purview and responsibility. The agency bid the project (the winning bidder was Pennsy Supply from Harrisburg), and it is managing the project -- the borough has no oversight of it. While the borough and the Elizabethtown Area Water Authority will be doing some work on water and sewer lines, and UGI will work on gas lines, there are no local tax dollars paying directly for the project.

The borough is pleased that PennDOT is undertaking the project, particularly since West High Street is in dire need of paving. Whipple said the borough has been inquiring when PennDOT would pave West High Street for the better part of 10 years. East High Street was not part of the request.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

He's really Dr. Uninformed

This week, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), whom George Will called the Senate's Dr. No, released a list of federal stimulus projects that he believes are the most wasteful. For reasons that can only be blamed on shoddy research, he listed the Elizabethtown Train Station project.

His "report," a term that I will only use in its very loosest terms since it would flunk any English 101 course for quality research, screams: "Taxpayers Taken for a Ride: Nearly $10 Million to be Spent to Renovate a Century Old Train Station that Hasn’t Been Used in 30 Years."

If the good senator and his staff had bothered to read any of the news reports cited, he would have known that the $9.4 million Elizabethtown is receiving will pay to renovate and revamp not an old building but the platform used by more than 80,000 riders annually, paving the parking lot those riders use and making the station handicapped accessible. Yes, a portion of the money will go to renovate the existing building that has been empty and unused for 30 years -- but not even close to the entire amount.

Now, I am not naive enough to think Sen. Coburn isn't trying to score political points. If he wants to do that, fine -- he just needs to do his research, stop shooting from the hip and stop making 0ffensive comments.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Parks and Recreation

In Elizabethtown, we are a far cry from the buffoonery found on NBC show "Parks and Recreation," starring Amy Pohler, when it comes to our own places where residents relax, exercise and enjoy the outdoors.

In fact, Borough Council recently spent an evening touring the community park with four borough staff members to get a first-hand look at what all of us agree is a gem for the community. The park, which stretches from Chestnut Street (where you can watch softball from the outfield) to Cherry Alley near Christ Church United Church of Christ. In between are the Fun Fort playground, a basketball court used nearly 12 months of the year, pavilions, picnic tables, swings -- the whole gamut that a resident would expect.

Which is why Borough Council spent an evening wandering through the park. Expectations from residents are high, and our staff members walked us through some of the projects that are taking place and others that are on the list of things to be done.

Here are some the projects that are ongoing and others that are on the list as funding becomes available:

  • Memorial area: At South Mount Joy Street and Ken Lane, on the east side of the Fun Fort, the borough in recent years has started memorial area that is beginning to take shape. Stairs have been built from the intersection to the grassy area, along with several hardscape features and some flower beds. The intent is for community members to memorialize their loved ones by purchasing trees or other plants in this area. The borough has worked with a landscape designer who came up with a plan about what types of trees and shrubs to plant and where to plant them. All prices ranges are available, and the types of plant materials include Mount Fuji cherry trees, Zelkova Green Vase, Eastern Red Buds, azaleas, hollies and dogwoods. Residents who wish to plant something in memory of a loved one can call Roni Ryan at the borough office.

  • Area along Verdant Alley: The area along Verdant Alley off Spruce Street will see new restrooms and pathways that are ADA compliant and guiderails along the alley to protect the play area below. The borough is seeking grant funding for this project.

  • Resurface basketball court: The basketball court along Washington Street is perhaps the second heaviest used feature in the park, behind the Fun Fort. Residents are frequently playing pick-up games, sometimes well into the winter. With all of the use the court gets, it needs resurfacing. The borough has budgeted the work for 2009, but in the current economy and other pressing needs, the work may be deferred.

  • Water fountain on Ken Lane: The borough plans to install a water fountain in front of the restrooms on Ken Lane across from the memorial area.
While some of the projects seem mundane, such as new roofs on a storage facility and the former Boy Scout house along Verdant Alley, all the projects are relevant to maintaining a quality park system.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Train station project out to bid

The Elizabethtown Train Station project has gone out to bid, with the intent of opening sealed bids at 11 a.m. June 12. In the bid advertisement, the borough says "it is the intent of Elizabethtown to award the contract on the basis of the lowest bid determined using the base bid plus the alternates selected to utilize all of the available funding."

Elizabethtown is in line to receive $9.3 million in federal stimulus funding money to pay for the project, which has been in the planning stages for the past 10 years.

Borough Manager Pete Whipple told Borough Council last week that once the winning bid is selected, shovels will hit the ground in August. The entire project will take 12 to 14 months and will include paving of the parking lot. In addition, the borough recently purchased a dilapidated building in the 400 block of East High Street, across from White Oak Mills, that will be torn down and the property used for satellite parking.

I have to say, as one member of Borough Council, that seeing this project come to fruition is incredibly exciting for the community. Credit goes to previous members of Borough Council who worked to get the project to this stage and to Whipple for his tenacity working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in the past year to secure funding.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

E-town wins Governor's Award for Local Government Excellence

Elizabethtown recently won a 2009 Governor's Award for Local Government Excellence for the public-private partnership between the borough and Mars Snackfood US to extend West College Avenue and the $70 million expansion of the chocolate factory's manufacturing plant.

The borough picked up the award at the 13th annual Governor's Award ceremony April 15 at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Elizabethtown was one of 11 government entities from across the state to be recognized for their foward-thinking approaches to revitalize towns, create jobs and improve the quality of life for residents.

Elizabethtown's award came under the category of Promoting Community and Economic Revitalization. The program for the ceremony indicates that the borough supported the expansion at the chocolate plant for the following reasons:
  • To maintain a major employer in the borough and secure the most-productive use of a large, low-impact industrial facility in downtown Elizabethtown for generations to come.
  • To create a new entrance to downtown Elizabethtown and a "second square" that serves as a conduit to Mars Snackfood US, Elizabethtown College and Masonic Village.
  • Spark the beginning of major economic development efforts in downtown Elizabethtown
This project is one of the most significant for Elizabethtown in recent memory, especially given that Mars' main competitor nearby announced last year that it is moving chocolate manufacturing out of the United States. For a major corporation to make such a significant investment in this community is a boon to our tax base and our efforts to boost the local economy.

As noted in other posts, the second phase of the West College Avenue project, which will include the construction of a bridge and connect with Market Street, is on target to go out for bids this summer. When that is complete, and the renovations of the Amtrak train station are done, expect Elizabethtown to become a force to be reckoned with in western Lancaster County.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Community survey sheds light on what residents are thinking

Residents of Elizabethtown and its surrounding municipalities gave the northwestern area of Lancaster County high marks in a survey conducted last fall as part of a strategic comprehensive plan for the region.

The communities -- Conoy Township, Elizabethtown, Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township -- conducted the community survey to determine public opinion on a wide range of local issues. Elected officials and administrative staff from each municipality will use the results to put the comprehensive plan together, which will guide planning efforts and priorities for the area for the foreseeable future.

You can find the full report on Elizabethtown's website. Although not scientific, the survey does shed light on what residents in the area are thinking.

Overall, more than 90 percent of residents said the quality of life in the Elizabethtown area is "good" or "excellent." Despite more than 31 percent who said taxes are very high, other numbers bear out the quality of life:
  • 83 percent rated the schools in the Elizabethtown Area School District as either excellent, very good or good.
  • 74 percent rated police protection as either excellent or good.
  • 87 percent rated fire protection as either excellent or good.
  • 84 percent rated the libraries as either excellent or good.
Speaking as one member of Borough Council, and only one elected official in this region, I am proud that our community recognizes the efforts we put forth on behalf of residents. At the same time, this does not mean we can sit back and relax. As I have indicated in other recent posts, much is happening in Elizabethtown, and we will be working hard to ensure that the community and region remains viable well into the 21st century.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Poplar Street closed while bridge repaired

Last week, the borough closed Poplar Street between Winne More Alley and Hummelstown Street so repairs can be made on the bridge there (the bridge is behind Rita's Italian Ice). The street is expected to be closed for a week, as long as the weather cooperates.

This bridge repair is the first of several Elizabethtown will be undertaking over the next several years.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Work on train station could begin by summer

Renovations to the Elizabethtown Train Station likely will begin this summer, with the project ready to go out for bids by early May at the latest. Once started, construction will take about 15 months.

Borough Manager Pete Whipple provided an update on the project last week and said that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation wants the project to move quickly. He said borough staff will do "six months of work" in the next 30 days to ensure everything is in place for the project to go to bid.

PennDOT and Amtrak held a news conference at the train station Friday, April 2, to announce $9.3 million in funding to renovate the station.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Status update on West College Avenue project

For the past year or so, Elizabethtown has been working on a project to extend College Avenue west and connect with Bainbridge Street. This project was made possible in large part because of Mars Inc., and specifically its snack food division, which constructed five new production lines for Dove Chocolate at its plant that bordered Bainbridge Street. To build the plant, Mars needed to build over the existing street.

The first phase of the road construction project, from the railroad underpass to the creek, was started last year and completed by early fall. I think I can speak for all of Borough Council and the administration and say that Mars has been an incredible corporate citizen through this entire project, and especially during the past six months as it has allowed traffic to use a portion of its parking lot so vehicles can connect to the newly constructed road. This has gotten traffic flow back to relatively normal conditions, alleviating the congestion on West High Street where traffic was detoured.

The second phase of the project, which requires the construction of a bridge, is slated to go out for bids in July, according to Borough Manager Pete Whipple. He said the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which is funding the project, asked the borough specifically to wait until July to put the project to bid because of the current economic climate. July 1 is the start of the state's new fiscal year. If the project remains on this timeline, work on the project should begin later this summer, with an anticipated year of construction.

In the meantime, the borough is working on obtaining small easements for the installation of electric and other utility poles.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

$8M in federal stimulus money to pay for borough's train station

Elizabethtown Borough is in line to receive $8 million in federal economic stimulus money to pay for renovations to the Amtrak Elizabethtown Train Station.

Borough Manager Pete Whipple said at Borough Council's March 19 meeting that borough and Amtrak officials will be meeting in two weeks finalize the details of the project. He indicated that there will be a "flurry of activity" in the next 45 to 60 days to get everything in place so the project can go to bid.

A project that has been in the works for at least 10 years, the renovations to the train station will be a boon to Elizabethtown. Ridership at the station has increased by leaps and bounds for many years, and the improvements will bring much nicer facilities to those who use the station.

The renovated station also will be a centerpiece of Elizabethtown's mixed-use zoning in the area between Market Street and the train station. Once the project is complete, Borough Council hopes that it will spark interest in new business development in this area. And it also will attract businesses to Sycamore Square.

Good things definitely are happening in Elizabethtown.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

As I contemplate what to write for this first post, I am realizing that this is a difficult task. I am starting this blog, called Chronicling Elizabethtown, for a couple of reasons. First, this small community in south-central Pennsylvania lost its weekly newspaper, the Elizabetown Chronicle, a few weeks ago. So in an effort to fill the gap, I am going to present the news in this space from the perspective of a member of Borough Council.

Because of Elizabethtown's geographic location, midway between Lancaster and Harrisburg, the newspapers in those respective cities sometimes overlook our fine community. While reporters from the Lancaster Newspapers (publishers of the Intelligencer-Journal and the New Era) do a good job covering us, they are stretched thin and can't cover the nitty-gritty details of life here. And The Patriot-News in Harrisburg tends to overlook us at times because we are in Lancaster County and a bit beyond its coverage area (though I have been a long-time subscriber).

Last year, a project at Elizabethtown College called We-Town was intended have college students and eventually community members become citizen journalists and post news and events from town. However, it has not taken off as I thought it might.

So, here we are, a fabulous community with tons of potential without a newspaper of record, and me, an elected official and a former newspaper reporter (and, for the record, one-time editor of the Elizabethtown Chronicle) and now a public relations professional, wanting to get the news out about my community. I look forward to letting you know what's going on from this side as an elected official -- and the dialog that can take place online via a blog. Indeed, I think we can all be Chronicling Elizabethtown for a long time.