Monday, December 20, 2010

PennDOT reviews bids for West College Avenue extension

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is reviewing bids for the construction of West College Avenue, and if PennDOT approves the low bid Elizabethtown Borough Council may vote and approve it as early as next month. If things go according to plan, the borough is anticipating that construction will start in March and will last for a year and a half.

While it has been an inconvenience for traffic, the delay in the project came after the borough had to do further environmental studies of underground storage tanks on the property at the old service station.

Many thanks go to Mars Inc. for its community support that has allowed traffic to skirt across its private property throughout the project.  Once completed, traffic will have a straight shot past the chocolate plant, across the creek to Market Street.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Council adopts 2011 budget with a tax increase

After holding the line for 2010, Elizabethtown Borough Council adopted the borough's 2011 budget Dec. 16 with a tax increase of eight-tenths of a mill, bringing the total rate to 5 mills.

That means the average property owner with an assessed value of $150,000 will see  $120 increase in taxes for 2011.

The vote was 6-0 in favor of spending plan, but Councilman Tom Shaud took a long pause before casting his roll call vote to say that the increase will have a significant impact on him as a blue-collar worker. But, he said, the work of the borough must continue. Councilman Neil Ketchum said at the end of the meeting that in his year on Borough Council the budget vote was his most difficult decision.

The tax increase was necessary as the borough faced a deficit of $340,000 thanks to revenue projections for the earned income tax that are lower than in years past. The current economy and high unemployment rate contribute to lower collections in the tax.

I personally did receive correspondence from some residents who said the borough needs to maintain its current level of service while also not increasing taxes. Only two people attended Thursday's council meeting, and just one spoke out against the tax increase.

It's worth noting again that the 2011 budget does not include nearly $15 million in projects  funded through a number of grants that Elizabethtown has been fortunate to receive. Throughout 2011, residents will see a number of these projects start or be completed, all with little or no impact on municipal budgets.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chronicling Elizabethtown unveils new design

It might have come as a shock when you logged on, but you can see that Chronicling Elizabethtown has a new design. Thanks to the templates from Blogger, I found something that I think cleans up the design, makes it more current. At its heart, though, it's still the same blog presenting the same information about Elizabethtown.

I have to credit the staff at Elizabethtown Borough's office for taking and background photo and providing it for me to use. The view is looking south on Market Street from the steeple of the Elizabethtown First Church of God. Frankly, it's one of the best views of town I've seen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Official domain name: chroniclingelizabethtown.com

You can now reach Chronicling Elizabethtown directly with our own domain name: www.chroniclingelizabethtown.com. This means our technical difficulties are over.

Technical difficulties

Last night, you might have tried to read the post about the suspicious package and the link wasn't working. My apologies. I bought the domain name chroniclingelizabethtown.com and was trying to get that set up and experienced technical difficulties. We're back for now, but not on the new domain name yet. I'll post here when that is live and ready to go.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Suspicious package destroyed at Elizabethtown Public Library

Emergency responders destroyed a suspicious package at the rear of the Elizabethtown Public Library late Saturday afternoon.

The Elizabethtown Police Department received a call about the package at about 4 p.m. I had taken my son to the library at about 4:15 to find a book and to pick up one reserved for my wife when we noticed a police car blocking access to the parking lot at the rear of the library. Yellow police tape blocked the back entrance to the building.

No one stopped us from getting in through the front door, and we headed to the second floor for my son to find a book. In less than 5 minutes, a librarian approached us and told us that we had to evacuate the building. On the sidewalk out front, the scuttlebutt was something about a suspicious package. By the time my son and I walked to the municipal parking lot in the back, the borough's fire siren was sounding to summon the Elizabethtown Fire Department, and its officer in charge was on the scene.

Police Chief Jack Mentzer later confirmed that police and library staff could not confirm that the package was not legitimate and evacuated the library and the buildings adjacent to that location. Officers then called in a bomb dog and the Pennsylvania State Police bomb squad. The dog did not detect traditional explosives from the package.

State police X-rayed the package and recommended that it be exploded in place by were found to included clothing and magazines.

I think we've all heard stories about suspicious packages that have met a similar fate, only to find the contents innocuous. But in the age when the Transportation Safety Administration will frisk your grandma when she flies to Omaha, it's clear that being cautious is a necessity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

E-town Area Water Authority moves its offices


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Did you know the Elizabethtown Area Water Authority office has moved? EAWA built a new water treatment plant at 211 W. Hummelstown St., and its offices have moved there permanently, as of Sept. 30. All payments should be mailed or delivered in person to the new offices. West Hummelstown Street is about one block to the north of Rita's on Market Street.

The new treatment plant received its operating permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection in early November and started treating and delivering water to customers on Nov. 8. EAWA is planning an open house in January for the public to see the $5 million investment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Borough Council approves draft 2011 budget

Last week, Elizabethtown Borough Council approved a preliminary version of the borough's 2011 budget that contains a deficit of nearly $340,000. This draft is now open for public review at the borough office at 600 S. Hanover St.

In a separate vote, council set the maximum millage rate for 2011 at 5.4 mills, which is a 1.2 mills increase. State law requires that council set the millage rate now -- but it is not locked in place. Council can lower that rate, but it can't set the rate higher than 5.4 after the vote last week.

Council approved both the draft budget and the millage increase unanimously.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I've written about the budget already and the predicament that Borough Council is in when it comes to lower projected revenues.

Here's a word about the millage increase. If council keeps the millage increase at the level approved, a homeowner with an average assessment of $150,000 would see his taxes increase by $180 next year. This would generate nearly $526,000 in additional income, more than covering the deficit.

By comparison:
  • A 1 mill increase to 5.2 mills would mean a $150 increase to the average homeowner, generating $438,200 in additional income.
  • A .9 mill increase to 5.1 mills would mean a $135 increase, generating $394,398 in additional income.
  • A .8 mill increase to 5 mills would mean a $120 increase and $350,576 in additional income.
  • A .7 mill increase to 4.9 mills would mean a $105 increase and $306,754 in additional income.
It's a pretty drastic illustration and the reality of where things are when it comes to tax increases and what they generate in revenues.

Now a word,  in this one councilman's opinion, about a tax increase: Borough residents did not see a tax increase last year, thanks to spending cuts. We held the line and were able to squeak by for a year, but the economy has not improved enough to make up the difference. Any additional budget cuts would mean cutting services, and personally I am not willing to cut beyond the current level of services.

So although Borough Council set the millage rate at 5.4 for 2011, we can decide to lower it Dec. 16  when we approve the final budget. I am not in favor of an increase of more than 1 mill -- and I could be convinced of a lower rate that covers the deficit.

However, we also have to take into account some soft costs (such as engineering costs for work on extending West College Avenue) for some of the projects the borough is able to do thanks to state and federal grants. It would be irresponsible for Borough Council just to cover the deficit and not plan for covering those soft costs.

Do you have other ideas or thoughts? Let's hear them!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Costs of various goods and services in Elizabethtown

As Elizabethtown Borough Council considers and debates the borough's 2011 budget, here are some costs that many of us incur in Elizabethtown -- and they are things to think about and consider, especially when compared to your property taxes:

  • GEARS before and after school daycare (one child for 9 months): $3,120
  • Average annual electric bill for a customer with central air conditioning: $2,200
  • Price for filling up a 10-gallon gas tank once every other week: $1,144
  • Basic digital cable from Comcast: $720
  • Purchase one 20-ounce soda per day for a year: $507
  • Price of one cup of coffee at Turkey Hill a day for a year: $464
  • Elizabethtown's average real estate tax bill: $579
  • One Pennsylvania Lottery ticket per day for a year: $365
  • Sliver membership to Elizabethtown Fitness Center: $490
  • Basic telephone service: $360
  • Elizabethtown Borough sewer fee: $252
  • Willowood Swim Club membership for three months: $225
  • Elizabethtown Borough trash/recycling (one bag per week): $160
Thanks goes to the borough staff for compiling these numbers. It certainly puts things in perspective for me. If you think about it,  the services the borough provides -- such as 24-7 police protection, a code enforcement program, beautiful parks, recreation programming through GEARS, clean and safe roads, snow plowing, emergency management services, street sweeping, street lights, contributions to the Elizabethtown Fire Department and the Elizabethtown Public Library -- make living in this community a value.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    Borough's budget faces nearly $340,000 gap

    On Thursday, Elizabethtown Borough Council -- and only a small handful of the public, two of whom were reporters -- got its first look at the proposed 2011 budget. And it doesn't look pretty.

    The borough faces deficit of $338,890 -- and that is on a budget that is bare bones just covering the essentials and keeping services at their current levels. To the borough staff's credit -- from the borough manager and police chief on down -- they have held the line in costs and expenditures to the point that the proposed 2011 budget expenditures are less than 2008 and 2009.

    In terms of revenues, such as the earned income tax, the Lancaster County Tax Collection Bureau has advised Elizabethtown to budget less than 2010. For this current year, he borough projects that it will receive $997,000 in earned income taxes -- that is, the tax on the income from people's wages. Because of the unemployment rate and the economy, the tax collection bureau projects that Elizabethtown will receive $903,000 next year -- an 11 percent drop.

    Consider that in 2008, the earned income tax brought the borough nearly $1.2 million in revenue, and the drop has been precipitous.

    Consider, too, that the borough's capital reserve fund is virtually broke. That means there is no extra money set aside for a "rainy day," so to speak. So here's the philosophical rub on that: Isn't it fiscally prudent for the borough to plan ahead and set aside money just in case?

    Based on the conversation that my fellow councilmen and I had at last Thursday's council meeting, Elizabethtown residents are going to see some kind of tax increase. All of us are pretty much resigned to that. The question is, how big is the increase?

    The borough's millage rate for property taxes -- which generate $1.8 million in revenues -- is set at 4.2 mills right now. The average tax bill on a home assessed at $150,000 is $630.

    If Borough Council were to cover just the deficit and not set aside money for the future, the rate would have to increase to 5 mills, which would generate an extra $350,576. That would increase taxes on that average $150,000 home by $130, bringing the total average tax bill to $750.

    Increasing the rate beyond 5 mills, to say 5.1 or 5.2, would generate more revenue that the borough could set aside for the future -- in my mind, a move that keeps the long-term vitality of the borough in mind.

    Last year, at this point in the budgeting season, the deficit was even more significant -- and Borough Council asked staff to find places to cut 5 percent from the budget. Which they did. If we ask for more cuts, it will mean cutting services. Speaking as one councilman, I am determined to maintain services at the current level.

    One more thing: Let me remind you that the work that is happening in Elizabethtown now, and will happen soon, such as the train station work and the extension of West College Avenue, is all funded through grants. Those funds are dedicated to those projects and can't be used for our general operations -- and we are fortunate to have them. If Elizabethtown didn't receive them and take advantage of them, then some other community in Pennsylvania or elsewhere would just as gladly as we are.

    These are the questions and issues that we are wrestling with now. This is a budget that impacts you every day, from the time you flush your toilet to providing police protection. What is your response?

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Participate in democracy and vote!

    It's Election Day all across the United States. If you don't know where to vote, please check out a great app by Google that shows you precisely where your polling place is. All you have to do is type in your address, and it will pinpoint your address and show the route to your polling place.

    As for the election, we are electing a new governor in Pennsylvania this year. Gov. Ed Rendell's term expires at the end of the year. Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Don Onorato are vying for the office.

    In another statewide race, longtime Sen. Arlen Specter lost his reelection bid in the Democratic primary to U.S. Congressman Joe Sestak. Sestak and the Republican, former Congressman Pat Toomey, are battling for the seat.

    On the local level, U.S. Congressman Joe Pitts, the Republican incumbent, is facing a challenge for the third time from Democrat Lois Herr, an Elizabethtown resident.

    Finally, state Rep. Dave Hickernell is running unopposed to retain his seat in the state House of Representatives.

    Regardless of your political persuasion, I urge you to get out and vote. This is what makes the United States the country that it is, and these are the kinds of races that will impact the national agenda. By simply voting, you have a say in what happens with our country -- and nothing is more fundamental.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    $15M in grants fund various projects in E-town and surrounding area

    Now that the municipal budgeting season has arrived, all eyes for Borough Council members and the people they represent will be on the bottom line of the budget. And most likely, everyone will want to know if there will be a tax increase or not. At the moment, it's way too early to tell since councilmen just received draft copies of the budget this weekend to review.

    It is an appropriate time, though, to discuss some of the great projects that are happening in and around Elizabethtown -- all funded through federal and state grants. In all, it's about $15 million for some  projects that borough tax dollars are not financing. All of these will be quality improvements to the community's infrastructure.

    Elizabethtown Train Station, with overflow parking facilities -- $9.3 million
    This project, which we anticipate will be completed by June 2011, is funded by the federal stimulus, also known as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

    West College Avenue Phase II -- $3.7 million
    Money for this project, which will include the construction of a bridge over the Conoy Creek, is coming from the Federal Highway Administration. It has been advertised for bids, which will be opened in November. If all goes as planned, it will be done by October 2012.

    Center Square Renovation Project -- $350,000
    Plans to upgrade and renovate Center Square have been on the books for some time, and the funding is from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Hometown Streets program.

    Traffic signal synchronization -- $760,000
    As I wrote about previously, all of the traffic signals in the Elizabethtown area are slated for upgrades and synchronization. This regional project -- the borough, Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township all are working together -- is funded by state and county grants.

    Downtown Pathways projects -- $850,000
    Various phases of this have been awarded $250,000 by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, $100,000 in Urban Enhancement funds from Lancaster County and $600,000 in Redevelopment and Capital Assistance Program.

    College Avenue/Market Street intersection improvements -- $151,000
    Lancaster County's Urban Enhancement funds are also financing this project, which will be done after the construction of the bridge and West College Avenue.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Sewer rates increase

    Elizabethtown Borough Council raised sewer rates by 16 percent earlier this month. The increase means the price per quarter for residents will rise from $63 to $73.

    Council took action after a presentation earlier this fall that showed expenses outpacing revenues at the borough's sewage treatment plant.

    The borough last raised sewer rates in 2004, when they increased from $48 to $63 per quarter.

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Borough Council wants your thoughts in this tough budget year

    As Borough Council begins the budgeting season for 2011, we are facing an extreme situation the likes that many of us have never seen. In fact, my fellow Councilman Meade Bierly said earlier this month that he had never seen in his 40 years on Borough Council a budget as tough as last the one we approved for 2010.

    It looks as though this year we might face an even tougher year.

    Revenue predictions for next year from the Lancaster County Tax Collection Bureau are way down -- and this year the bureau advised municipalities countywide not to expect much from the collection of the earned income tax.

    Last year, Elizabethtown's borough staff did a great job working on a bare-bones budget that Borough Council asked them to cut even further. In the end, we approved the budget without a tax increase.

    We have just started to develop the 2011 budget, and we would like residents' input on priorities for services Elizabethtown provides -- especially in these challenging economic times.


    As we've said on the borough's website, "costs (fuel, insurance, labor, electricity to name a few) continue to rise as revenues fall. Under these circumstances, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the same level of service to the community at the current tax rate."

    We would like your thoughts on the following questions: 
    • Do you wish services that are provided for the community such as law enforcement, fire, street paving, parks, and code enforcement to be maintained at current levels in 2011?
    • If you wish all services to remain at current levels of service, do you feel that Borough Council should increase taxes to cover the costs of these services?
    • If not, which of the many services provided to the community should be reduced in scope?
    • What services do you feel are essential and should not be reduced or cut under any circumstance?
    • Should fees for services such as pavilion rentals, trash tag sales, code enforcement and dog recovery be increased beyond their associated costs to provide additional revenue?
    I know that all of us on Borough Council are appreciative of any feedback we get from the public on these issues during the budgeting season. If you like, you can post your comments here at Chronicling Elizabethtown, and I will pass them on the the rest of Borough Council and the staff to ensure that your voice is heard. Or, you can send an e-mail with your comments directly to the borough at boro@etownonline.com. To ensure that we can consider comments in time for the budget, please send all responses, whether it's here at the blog or directly to the borough, by Nov. 24.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    Borough offices open

    Elizabethtown Borough's offices are open this morning because the emergency generator could not be installed thanks to the weather. Please watch this space for an update when the installation is rescheduled.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Borough office to close Thursday morning, Sept. 30

    Elizabethtown Borough's offices will be closed until about 12 p.m. Thursday because crews will be installing a new emergency generator. All power to Borough Hall will be shut off during the installation, meaning that employees won't be able to use phones or computers, not to mention possible safety issues of the building not having lighting for several hours.

    Borough Council authorized the purchase of the generator in the 2010 budget because Borough Hall does not have any backup power source. In the event of an extended power outage in Elizabethtown, police officers would not be able to use equipment at the police station, nearly all of which is electronic and/or computerized. Borough staff also would not have been able to conduct business.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Elizabethtown corridor to get upgraded traffic lights

    Ask just about anyone in the Elizabethtown area, and traffic congestion will be among the top issues of concern. A Saturday morning for people who are trying to get to the south end of town, and Giant, Kmart, Weis and other retail shops, via Market Street means stop and go and traffic backed up sometimes as far as Center Square.

    A regional effort among Elizabethtown Borough, Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township is working on changing and improving the traffic flow. The municipalities have received nearly $760,000 to upgrade and synchronize traffic signals at all intersections and make other improvements.

    The traffic signals will all work on one computerized system and can be adjusted from a centralized location to improve traffic flow. All the lights also will be LED, meaning they will use far less electricity.

    The intersections include all the traffic lights, from Maytown Road at Market Street through town to the intersection at Route 743/Holly Street/Mount Gretna Road. Lights and intersections on Cloverleaf Road from Route 283 to Route 230 also will see improvements.

    Local officials have been working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which must sign off before the work can be sent out for bids, hopefully in November. If all goes well, work could begin this winter.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    New $5M water treatment plant nears opening


    Members of the Elizabethtown Area Water Authority board toured the authority's new water treatment plant after the board's workshop meeting Wednesday night. The $5 million plant, located off Hummeltown Street, is nearly completed and will begin producing water for Elizabethtown and West Donegal Township residents this fall.

    Full disclosure: I am a member of the EAWA board, appointed as a Borough Council representative late last year when Ken Reighard resigned.

    The facility includes new administrative offices for EAWA, which currently is renting space at the West Donegal Township municipal building. It also includes a meeting room for the EAWA board's public meetings, which have been held in the township supervisors' meeting room.

    Most important, the new building features a state-of-the-art filtration system that treats and filters the water before sending it to customers. The system includes dozens of filters that are about 10 feet high and 6 to 8 inches around. In each are tens of thousands of fibers that stop and filter contamination, including bacteria and viruses.

     
    The plant is going through some final testing and evaluation before it will produce water for customers. By the end of September, EAWA's administrative offices will move to the new plant. The offices will be closed Sept. 27 to 30, reopening Oct. 1 at the new plant.
      
    Wayne DeVan, EAWA's engineer, explains the filtration system to Dr. Dale Treese, center, EAWA's chairman, and Keith Murphy, vice chairman. Behind Treese is West Donegal Township Manager Nick Viscone. Below, DeVan discusses more details with Treese.

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    E-town American Legion donation helps police department

    Front row: Mayor Chuck Mummert, Chief Jack Mentzer, American Legion Post 329 Commander – Ken Stark, Tara Heisey, Danielle Clough

    Back row: Tony Frey, Gerald Freeman, Chad Enck, Andy Shank, Barry Cover
    The Elizabethtown American Legion Post No. 329 donated nearly $5,000 to the Elizabethtown Police Department to buy a "speed trailer." The trailer contains radar and a sign that posts a car's speed as it drives past the trailer.

    Police Chief Jack Mentzer said officers won't use the trailer for enforcement but rather to inform and educate drivers "about how easy it is to go above the speed limit and not notice it."

    "It's a fabulous tool to have," he said.

    Ken Stark, commander of Post No. 329, said once someone brought up the idea of purchasing the trailer, everyone at the Legion contributed.

    "We all worked together to make it work," he said.

    I join Mentzer in thanking the American Legion for its contribution. Municipal budgets are traditionally lean, and for a small police department such as Elizabethtown's a speed trailer traditionally falls onto a wish list. Mentzer said it's something the department has wanted for years but wasn't a priority. Now the Legion's support is helping to make driving in Elizabethtown a little safer.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Borough library to close next week thanks to state budget cuts

    The Elizabethtown Public Library will close its doors for one week, from Aug. 23 to 30, because of severe cuts in state funding, according to a report in the Aug. 12 edition of the Elizabethtown Advocate (that's the best link -- the paper's not online yet).

    The newspaper reported that Pennsylvania state government will cut funding to libraries statewide by 9.1 percent. Last year, the state cut funding by 27 percent. So we're looking at libraries taking a hit of one-third of their funding, basically because the economy is in the most severe recession in my lifetime.

    On the one hand, it's understandable. Cuts in the state budget have to come from somewhere, and no program is immune -- especially since the Commonwealth will receive $250 million less in federal money than expected.

    The problem with not just cutting -- but slashing to the bone -- library funding is well documented. In testimony Aug. 11 before the state House's Majority Policy Committee, Glenn R. Miller, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association testified:

    "... during this horrible recession, more and more Pennsylvanians rely on free services at their local public library. Families who cannot afford to buy books or DVDs turn to the library for summer reading and viewing. Unemployed workers who lost Internet access at home—or never had it at all—turn to the library to find and apply for jobs. Seniors who want to learn the basics of computers and emailing their grandkids turn to the library for instruction and access."

    You see, this is personal for me. In 2003, I lost my job and was unemployed for six months. Because I didn't have an adequate Internet connection, I became a regular at the Elizabethtown Public Library precisely because of the free high-speed connection it offered. I used the computers there to search for jobs, e-mail my contacts, send resumes and fill out online applications. I know what it's like to rely on the library, and I am grateful that the library was there to provide a resource I didn't have at the time.

    Now, seven years later, with unemployment in Lancaster County at about 8 percent, many people need the services a community library provides more than ever.

    From a public financing perspective, it is the push and pull of priorities. In his testimony, Miller also noted that 60 percent of funding for libraries across Pennsylvania comes from local sources (municipalities, counties and school districts). The state provides 25 percent, with the balance coming from other sources such as grants and fundraising.

    In 1999, he said, the Legislature put in place budgetary incentives for local governments to fund libraries, but those incentives have been stripped away. I agree with his assessment that if those incentives are put in place, adequately funded and made a priority, it would go a long way in alleviating the library funding crisis.

    It might even keep our own Elizabethtown Public Library, which has become an anchor for our downtown, from closing for a week.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Nonprofit group to trap, spay/neuter and release feral cats

    A nonprofit organization called The Merrick Fund is planning to trap 35 feral cats in an unidentified neighborhood in Elizabethtown after a resident contacted the group recently. Amy Wimmersberger, a representative from the group, briefed Borough Council on the efforts at council's meeting last week.

    She said her organization traps feral cats systematically in one area of a town over one week, has them spayed or neutered and then releases them back into the area from which they were trapped. This approach is different from other trap/neuter/release programs, she said, because the organization is the one doing the trapping and not lending traps to residents.

    At no cost to the borough, volunteers will spend a week trapping cats in one area and transport them to a veterinarian to be spayed/neutered. The cats will be kept for about three days so they can recover and then will be released to the same area from which they were trapped. If there are other colonies of feral cats, the organization will move on to another area and carry out the same procedure.

    Wimmersberger said she and volunteers have been working on a similar program in Steelton this year and have trapped, treated and released 190 cats. She called the program a real success.

    Borough Council members all  have had constituents contact them about feral cats at one time or another. In fact, when I posted something about the matter on Facebook, a West High Street resident posted a photo he took of kittens from feral cats, and a somewhat heated discussion ensued. Here's a link -- I'm not sure what the privacy settings are, so you might not be able to see it.

    Given the success of the program in Steelton, and that there is no cost to Elizabethtown, this seems like a great approach to a problem that touches many borough residents.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Stop talking about Elizabethtown's potential -- let's realize it

    Mike Schwartz, editor of the online Elizabethtown Journal, recently forwarded an e-mail from a resident who had questions about businesses in downtown Elizabethtown. Mike asked me if I would respond, and he posted the comments on the Journal's site along with his own thoughts and commentary.

    At about the same time, David Moulton and Daniel Klotz, who host and produce the podcast The Lancast, interviewed Ryan and Dawn Bracken, the proprietors of Folklore Coffee & Co. about opening, running and maintaining a business in downtown Elizabethtown. In listening to the interview, I was impressed with their commitment to Elizabethtown and to the downtown.

    The attention on the borough's business district is great, and I think that Mike Schwartz makes an excellent point in his comments that Elizabethtown needs to find a niche. Further, for the downtown to succeed, it must exploit that niche. Let me offer comments on his four suggestions:

    (1) Convene a committee of development experts and interested citizens to determine: (a) what the public goals should be, (b) assess the viability of different development approaches, and (c) construct a preferred development plan. This probably can be accomplished at no cost to the borough. It may be accomplished employing a partnership with a local college or through volunteers.

    RESPONSE: The borough has a plan for the entire area from Market Street to the train station and Sycamore Square, and it's being implemented (see the train station, see the soon-to-be walking paths).


    (2) Relying on infrastructure development and market forces has a very low probability of success. Pennsylvania is awash with downtowns that have nice sidewalks, planted trees, and some parking….but many boarded windows. In these times an integrated approach that uses a programming method is necessary.

    RESPONSE: Absolutely! Placing trash cans, for instance, strategically throughout the downtown will make it look nice as people drive through town, but it won't make them stop.

    (3) A business is not a business. The public’s interest in a “community downtown” is not one which is vested in attracting financial planners, architects, and other non-retail businesses. A public downtown is for people as much as it is for shopping.

    RESPONSE: This is the reason why the borough is moving forward with the walking paths. As I mentioned in my comments to the e-mail Mike sent to me, the paths could make E-town's downtown a destination. As Borough Manager Roni Ryan noted, how many people head out to the Conewago Trail to walk two miles out and two miles back -- and there's nothing out there?
    (4) The plan cannot be too incremental. Accomplishing the threshold economy of agglomeration is necessary for the success of any plan. A little bit is not enough.

    RESPONSE: And here's the rub: The borough government can't take it on all by itself. It will require business owners working together with the chamber, the borough and each other in a coordinated effort. It will require the borough to use its influence to make things happen within the constraints of budgets and taxes.
     
    If we all work -- really put some time, effort and money in -- toward a common goal, we can stop talking about Elizabethtown's potential and finally realize it.

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Police officers receive Distinguished Unit Citation

    Seven Elizabethtown police officers received a Distinguished Unit Citation for their work during a standoff in May in which a man barricaded himself in his Park Street home for four hours. Matthew Shull faces numerous charges in connection with the alleged incident.

    Those receiving the honor were Lt. Joseph Ditzler, Corporal Gordon Berlin, Detective Clair Martin, Officer Timothy Wheal, Officer Michael Lyons, Officer Matthew Shuey and Officer Luann Pearson.

    In a brief presentation, Mayor Chuck Mummert called the units efforts "the epitome of teamwork." He said all of them worked together to secure the area in the 300 block of Park Street and evacuate nearby residents after Officer Lysons witnessed Shull allegedly fire a 9mm handgun inside the home.

    Officers called for assistance from the Lancaster County Special Emergency Response Team. Police Chief Jack Mentzer said the chief of the SERT team was thoroughly impressed with the Elizabethtown officers' efforts to gather intelligence throughout the incident. The officers were able to position themselves in ideal locations to view the scene and provide the SERT team with details to make their job easier. Detective Martin, who is a certified hostage negotiator, tapped those skills during the event.

    "The officers did an outstanding job," Mentzer said.

    He also noted that incidents such as this fortunately don't occur often in Elizabethtown, and "we try our darndest to make sure they don't."

    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Braves win Elizabethtown Boys Club Minor League championship

    The Braves won the Elizabethtown Boys Club Minor League championship 4-3 in a come-from-behind win tonight at Wenger Field. They were down 3-1 in the bottom of the third inning with two outs when several players came up with clutch hits to bring in three runs and pull ahead.

    Full disclosure: My son played for the Braves. And admittedly, I probably wouldn't be writing about this if he would not have been in the championship because I wouldn't have a vested interest. That said, the title of my blog is Chronicling Elizabethtown, and that's what I'm doing.

    The season was a great one for the Braves. They only lost one game and tied one. But beyond records, all of us parents in the stands saw marked improvement with every player. My son was missing balls on the tee at the beginning of the season and in the last games of the regular season was hitting off the pitcher -- and even hit a double and a single in one game with multiple RBI. Some of the players who came up with clutch hits tonight were younger players and not at the top of the batting order.

    And that's what it's all about -- watching youngsters improve their skills and learn sportsmanship. I love to see each of them play so earnestly as they learn the fundamentals. And it's great to see pitchers walk to first base to shake the hand of a batter who was hit by a pitch.

    Credit goes to a great coaching staff led by Tim Gartley, whose calm demeanor and patience with the kids paid off. All the coaches took time to work with the kids and spend time with them one on one to practice if necessary.

    I do want to make one comment: During the ceremony where players were presented with their medals, parents of Braves players, coaches and the players themselves cheered for the losing team as the coach hung medals around each player's neck. As one of the Braves parents said, "We wooed for all of them." And they did.

    Given this was the championship, and given that these are 7- to 9-year-old kids who need to learn sportsmanship, it meant as much to have my son learning from this example as it was to have a coach spend extra time with him to improve his fundamentals.

    Most of all, I congratulate the players for their hard work and dedication to learning America's pastime and continuing it for another generation.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Discussion starts about parking at the train station

    A number of residents showed up at tonight's Borough Council meeting to discuss parking at the Elizabethtown Train Station, especially since the parking lot is torn apart at the moment so it can be paved as part of the $9 million in renovations.

    Specifically, they wanted to address rumors that Borough Council was going to vote tonight to assess a fee for parking.

    For the record, the topic was not on the agenda. We have not decided to to assess a fee or not, although we have had informal discussions and are investigating the pros and cons of parking fees or no parking fees.

    Tonight, six or seven people -- all of whom ride the train from Elizabethtown and mostly work in Harrisburg, from what I gathered -- addressed Borough Council. Some were borough residents, and one each from Mount Joy Township and West Donegal Township.

    The consensus from the comments was that "anything beyond a nominal charge would be too much," in the words of borough resident Ben Donahower.

    To everyone's credit, though, they want to be a part of the conversation and come up with a solution. That is great because it is not often that Borough Council has residents request to be part of the solution from the start. So many times, residents come to complain -- and it's refreshing to know that there's a group that wants to participate.

    With that in mind, let me lay out the thoughts that came up this evening and that Borough Council has discussed. Then, let's start the conversation here in the comments. Before I dive into this, let me remind everyone that I moderate the comments because I get pornographic spam. I have pledged to post comments that are critical of me, the borough and Borough Council.

    That said, I know this can potentially be an emotional issue for some, so I ask that we all treat each other with respect. This is my blog, and I reserve the right to reject and/or edit any comments that are obscene, vulgar, offensive or personal attacks.

    Here, then, are issues about parking fees at the Elizabethtown Train Station:
    • Tenants from the apartment building across the street use the train station parking lot -- despite having parking behind their building. Scott Little, a train rider from Mount Joy Township, referenced this in his comments, and it's something Borough Council has discussed. By requiring payment for parking, it would keep those residents from using the lot as their personal space.
    • Yes, taxpayers are footing the bill for the train station via the federal stimulus funding -- but that's only for the construction. What happens in five or 10 years when an elevator breaks down, the pavement cracks, landscaping needs to be replanted or replaced? Shouldn't the borough have a source of funding, via parking fees, to help alleviate the maintenance costs?
    • Donahower mentioned "anything beyond a nominal charge would be too much." What is a nominal charge? He said it costs $120 to ride the train to Harrisburg each month and $130 to park in downtown Harrisburg (wow! I was paying $110 10 years ago). So if we charged more than the $10 difference, economics might cause people to rethink the train ride. But what about the costs of gas and wear and tear on one's car? And of course there are things you can't tie to money: the stress of driving in Harrisburg rush-hour traffic, the ability to nap, read a book or the newspaper.
    • One resident from West Donegal Township said if the borough charges for parking, many riders might head to Middletown to catch the train. Parking is free there, and the train ticket to Harrisburg cheaper. Borough Council knows this. Let's talk about it.
    • How do we assess fees for daily commuters vs. people who might spend the weekend in Philadelphia or take the train on a week long vacation?
    • There are borough residents who never ride the train and never will. Is it fair for them to pay taxes for maintenance at the train station?
    Borough Council is exploring all of these issues, and we want feedback from everyone. What haven't we thought about? What solution do you have?

    Let's talk about it here.

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Borough has an online solution to reporting problems with street lights

    If you live in Elizabethtown, you now now have an easy and convenient way to report problems with streetlights online.

    By simply following the link, type in the grid number, which is the number on the two metal labels on every utility pole. If you don't know the number, simply click on the Unknown Grid Number button, which will take you to a screen where you can type in Elizabethtown's ZIP code (17022).

    This brings you to a screen where you can type in your address. A Google map of the area appears with icons showing the locations of the streetlights in that area of town. You just click on the light that has an issue and follow the on-screen menus to report it.

    I recently reported a problem with a light outside my house. I found the system to work very easily.  If you're at all familiar with using online tools, it will be a cinch for you.

    Monday, May 31, 2010

    E-town celebrates Memorial Day with parade, ceremony

    Here are some photos that I took with my BlackBerry before and during the Elizabethtown Memorial Day parade and ceremony. Today is one of my favorite things about being an elected official. It is a great honor to walk in the parade and be part of the ceremonies to commemorate the nation's fallen soldiers.

    Elizabethtown has 35 soldiers going back to World War I who have given their lives in service to the United States. Of those, 18 died during World War II.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Resident faces charges after barricading self in house

    An Elizabethtown man faces charges after he barricaded himself in his residence in the 300 block of Park Street Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

    Matthew Shull, 31, was charged after the incident with third-degree felony making terroristic threats, second-degree misdemeanor recklessly endangering another person and a third-degree misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

    The charges stem from an incident that begain at 9:23 p.m. Saturday when Elizabethtown Police were dispatched to the 300 block of East Park Street for a 31-year-old male who had threatened to barricade himself in his residence and potentially harm himself and the police. The male, identified as Shull, was armed with a 9mm handgun.


    In a news release, Police Chief Jack Mentzer reported that police officers responded to the scene and observed Shull discharge the handgun inside the residence. Officers from the borough, Northwest Regional Police Department and Mount Joy Police Department surrounded the residence and evacuated neighbors. The police requested assistance from the Lancaster County Special Emergency Response Team (SERT).

    SERT arrived to the scene and attempted to make contact with Shull. Those attempts were unsuccessful. Eventually tear gas was deployed into the residence which caused Shull to exit the residence. Shull was taken into custody at 1:30 a.m. Sunday and treated by medical personnel.

    Shull was arraigned in front of District Justice William Rueter on Tuesday and committed to Lancaster County Prison in lieu of $250,000 bail.

    Census workers go door to door

    Teams of U.S. Census enumerators are going door to door to interview people who did not return their census forms. Nationwide, the response rate is 72 percent; in the Elizabethtown area, the response rates range between 76 percent and 81 percent, according to the Census' Take 10 Map that lets you search by ZIP code and displays a Google map.

    A friend of mine is working as an enumerator, and I thought I would relay what he told me about his experience. He asked me not to identify him because Census workers are sworn to protect the confidentiality of the Census information.

    "We must take that very seriously. I can't tell even tell my family where I will be going on my assignments. ...

    "Everything is kept confidential, and it generally takes 10 minutes for a person to either fill out his form or complete an interview with an enumerator. Personal information is kept confidential under federal law for 72 years. The general statistics are used to determine how billions of dollars are spent because Census data helps Congress make decisions on where to spend money based on population density throughout each state.

    "It's quite simple to comply with federal law and assist a Census worker who comes knocking on your door. You have nothing to be afraid of, and it really doesn't take that much of your time. Of course, it also can help your community qualify for government funding."

    Census data is also used to help determine representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. By filling out your form and/or answering an enumerator's questions, you are helping Elizabethtown and Pennsylvania by ensuring a stronger representation in Congress and giving the Commonwealth a voice nationally.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    Suspect arrested at 1:30 this morning after standoff with police

    Elizabethtown police arrested a man early this morning after a four-hour standoff with him in the 300 block of East Park Street.


    Police were dispatched to the residence at 9:23 p.m. Saturday for a man who had threatened to barricade himself in his residence and potentially harm himself and the police, according to a news release issued by Police Chief Jack Mentzer. The suspect was armed with a 9mm handgun, and other weapons were in the residence.
     
    Police responded to the scene and observed the man discharge the handgun inside the residence, the news release reported. Elizabethtown Police Department, with the assistance officers from Northwest Regional and Mount Joy, surrounded the residence and evacuated neighbors. Police requested assistance from the Lancaster County Special Emergency Response Team (SERT). 

    SERT arrived to the scene and attempted to make contact with the male. Those attempts were unsuccessful.  Eventually tear gas was deployed into the residence which caused the male to exit the residence. The male was taken into custody at 1:30 a.m. and treated by medical personnel. 

    The male is facing several criminal charges that are expected to be filed in the near future. 

    The identity of the male is being withheld until criminal charges are filed.

    Sunday, May 9, 2010

    Work on train station parking lot to begin; lot will be closed for 2 months

    Word came last week that the parking lot at the Elizabethtown Train Station will be closed for two months starting May 17. The lot will be closed so curbing and electrical components can be installed. Eventually, the lot will be paved.

    "It's something they (the contractor) wanted to do in warm weather months, and the time has come," Elizabethtown Borough Manager Roni Ryan told Borough Council last week.

    Amtrak will distribute fliers to train riders and post signs at the train station to notify train riders about the lot closure. Riders also can use the 90 parking spaces at nearby Sycamore Square. The borough has an agreement with the owners there to allow parking during the train station construction.

    Ryan added that the entire project is "moving along beautifully." She said canopies on the train platform are starting to take shape, and a portion of the slate roof on the old train station building has been completed. In addition, an opening has been cut for one of two elevators that will be installed. Riders can plan on some intermittent track outages through June.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    A little self-promotion

    Let me take a break from the newsy version of Chronicling Elizabethtown and do a little self-promotion, for what's a politician worth if he doesn't promote himself a little. Right?

    First, here's the backstory:

    On March 29, Daniel Klotz and David Moulton were interviewing Karlo Gessner on their podcast called The Lancast, when the conversation veered in the direction of Elizabethtown and the great potential of our community. There's lots happening here in E-town especially with Folklore Coffee, the conversation went, and with lots of open store fronts there's plenty of possibility for new businesses.

    Cool, I thought as I listened. But then Daniel started talking about the Fractured Prune, which left its spot on West High Street and successfully reopened on Queen Street in Lancaster. Daniel said that it would be great if businesses could follow a similar model by basically getting their legs here in our fine town and then move to Lancaster. I couldn't believe what I was hearing!

    All of us in Elizabethtown know about the downtown struggles and trying to find businesses that are going to thrive. And the last thing we want is to become an incubator for Lancaster. We not only want our own business community -- we need it to serve our residents and to maintain a stable tax base.

    So I called The Lancast guys out in the comment section of their website and defended our community.And as any self-respecting interviewers would do, they invited me to appear on their podcast this week to respond in person.

    I have to say, they did a great job -- and especially Daniel, who made the comment -- and took everything with a sense of humor. They also asked some good questions about what it takes to run a community like E-town.

    It was a great experience, and I would encourage you to follow the links above and listen not just to my interview but others as well. David and Daniel put some quality time into  covering issues, topics and people that are of interest to people in Lancaster and Lancaster County. Sometimes, we just have to remind that that E-town is out here, too.

    One side note: None of this would have happened had I not gotten involved with Twitter and Facebook. I met both Daniel and David in person a couple of times before appearing on their podcast thanks to get-togethers organized via those two social media outlets. Because I work in Lancaster, I wanted to connect with others there, and attending those "tweetups," as they're called, has proved to be a fantastic way to expand my network.

    Sunday, April 25, 2010

    Environmental work holding up West College Avenue project

    An environmental study of potential problems at an old service station on West College Avenue has delayed the start of the project to extend it toward the M&M/Mars factory. At its meeting on April 15, Elizabethtown Borough Council authorized spending $81,000 -- which was not budgeted in the $3.3 million project -- to determine the extent of any issues.

    A prior environmental study concluded that underground storage tanks at the service station might have caused problems. It did not reveal the extent of, or even if there were, problems. The additional money that Borough Council authorized spending will pay for a second phase study that will do just that.

    The work is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the borough must follow regulations from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    For many months, the borough has been hoping to put the second phase of the West College Avenue project (estimated to be $2.5 million of the entire $3.3 million cost) out to bid. This latest issue will delay any construction by at least 12 weeks, with perhaps a completion date by the fall of 2012.

    To say that Borough Council is unhappy about this latest twist is an understatement, especially as we look at such a large unbudgeted expense. Yet, we all realize that we must forge ahead. The West College Avenue extension, and the renovated  intersection at Market Street, will be a significant improvement for Elizabethtown.

    We also must thank M&M/Mars for being a great corporate citizen by allowing traffic to cut across its driveway/parking lot on Bainbridge Street. During the first phase of the project, completed in September 2008, traffic was diverted from Bainbridge Street to West High Street, causing significant backups and delays at times.

    Thanks to M&M/Mars, traffic can flow relatively normally while the second phase is constructed.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    E-town Area SD receives conditional approval for East High Street plans

    Elizabethtown Borough Council granted conditional approval to the Elizabethtown Area School District for its plans to expand East High Street Elementary School and other improvements to the campus and sports fields on East High Street.

    School district Superintendent Amy Slamp and other representatives presented the plans in a conditional use hearing to Borough Council on April 15. The hearing was the first step in the approval process for constructing the addition at the elementary school. The district will need to seek additional approvals from the zoning hearing board and Borough Council after submitting a land development plan.

    Under the borough's zoning ordinance, applicants who submit plans to expand their facilities by more than 10,000 square feet must have a conditional use hearing before Borough Council. During the hearings, the applicants and the borough administrative staff present testimony is a quasi-judicial hearing. If council approves of plans, it can impose conditions.

    In the case of EASD, council approved the application with a list of 31 conditions.

    Slamp told Council that the district needs to expand East High Elementary because of overcrowding in the district. The construction of Bear Creek Intermediate School, underway on the EASD campus but situated in nearby Mount Joy Township, will move 900 students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades there when it opens for the 2011-12 school year.

    "It gives us elbow room and space to grow," Slamp told council in March when she went over the district's plans informally.

    The East High Street Elementary School addition will include a gym, computer rooms, an art room and small group space. The district plans to complete the addition and then remodel the rest of the school by wing, moving students from one wing into the addition until work is done and then moving the back.

    In addition to the new construction, the school district has plans to renovate the athletic fields, including the the football stadium and the field hockey field, from the high school all the way to the Elizabethtown Fairgrounds (which the district owns). Slamp said the district does not want to burden taxpayers with the expense of work on the athletic facilities and will be seeking funding through grants and fundraising.

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Former mayor, councilman receives O'Connor Public Service Award

    Former Elizabethtown Mayor and Councilman Ken Reighard received the Vincent W. O'Connor Public Service Award at the Elizabethtown Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner Friday, March 26.

    A lifelong resident of the borough, Ken served Elizabethtown's municipal government for more than 30 years as mayor and a member of council. (Here's a bit of trivia: Ken was mayor during the emergency at Three Mile Island in 1979.) During those years, he also was a director with the Elizabethtown Area Water Authority, a member of the Planning Commission, the Parks Commission and the Civil Service Commission.

    Ken retired from public service about two and a half years ago after deciding not to run for Borough Council again because of health concerns.

    I can give credit to Ken for my being elected to Borough Council after his decision not to run again. I met him initially in 1999 when I served as editor of the Elizabethtown Chronicle and covered Borough Council. Later, when I realized that he and I attend the same church, Christ Church United Church of Christ, we connected more frequently and often discuss local politics. 

    After having served on the Elizabethtown Zoning Hearing Board for nearly four years, I remember Ken approaching me in church one Sunday morning.

    "Jeff, I'd like you to replace me on Borough Council," he said.

    Replacing wasn't the right word to describe someone who committed so much of his life to serving the community. Consider that Ken's civic service also includes involvement with the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, American Legion and the VFW. He was a charter member of Willowood Swim Club where he served as director for several years. And at Christ Church, he served as a trustee, deacon, elder and consistory president.

    And that's why Borough Council selected him to receive the 2010 O'Connor Award. The dedication to making Elizabethtown a better place is something we all talk about and want for our community. Ken actually made that happen over the second half of the 20th century, and for that I -- and I think I can say the rest of Borough Council -- am eternally grateful.


    ###

    Here is some additional biographical information about Ken Reighard:

    He graduated from Elizabethtown High School in 1949 and completing his higher education at Central Penn Business College and Elizabethtown College. In 1952, he enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Korea. After the war he returned to Elizabethtown where he eventually became manager and owner of Shearer’s Furniture Store and Bob’s Flower Shop.  Before retiring in 1995, he was vice president of Mutual Inspection Bureau.

    Ken and his wife, Clara (Betz), had three children, son Ted, daughter Shirley Byron and son Kim (deceased), five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    Return your 2010 Census questionnaire

    If you're like me, you received your 2010 Census questionnaire in the mail recently.

    On behalf of Elizabethtown Borough, I encourage you to fill out the form and return it right away. The government uses the information gleaned -- which is the age of everyone and the number of people in a household -- to determine representation in Congress. It also uses the information to determine how to distribute federal money.

    I have heard some people say that we don't have to give this information to the government, which really floors me. If they're scared that the government is going to use the information for nefarious purposes, everything I have read and heard says the information remains confidential. Here are some common questions about privacy with the census and some additional information about that.

    It particularly irks me that some people would encourage others not to return their forms because it undermines one of the basic tenets of our democracy: representation in Congress. Already, state officials are projecting that Pennsylvania will lose a seat in the U.S. House after the census statistics are compiled. That means one less person on Capitol Hill fighting for the Commonwealth and airing our concerns in Washington, D.C.

    So if you haven't yet returned your form, please take 10 minutes to fill out the 10 questions and put it in the mail. It's good for our country, our Commonwealth and the Elizabethtown community.

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Delegation from E-town's sister city vists borough

    A delegation from Letterkenny, Ireland, visited Elizabethtown this week between St. Patrick's Day parades in Philadelphia and New York City. Letterkenny is Elizabethtown's sister city, and the two towns established ties in the last decade.

    In the accompanying photo, from left, are Jimmy Harte, Letterkenny's deputy mayor; Mayor Jim Lynch; and the Town Clerk Paddy Doherty.

    Their visit to Elizabethtown was just a few hours on Monday, giving them an opportunity to meet with Mayor Chuck Mummert, Borough Manager Roni Ryan and Assistant Borough Manager Cindy Foster. They also had lunch at Elizabethtown College, where they met with Beth Bergman from the Elizabethtown Chamber of Commerce and some college officials.

    Mummert reported at this week's Borough Council meeting that the Irish visitors would like to establish some trade ties with Elizabethtown by having businesses send goods and products to sell. There are some obvious ties, thanks to the M&M/Mars factory here, and E-town College might be able to promote some of its sweatshirts and other clothing.

    There are any number of smaller businesses, too. I'm thinking about Spence Candies, which produces delicious handmade candy, or any others that can make a solid connection to Elizabethtown. If you have any other ideas about businesses that might want to export goods to Ireland, let me know, or follow the link to the Chamber of Commerce above and give them a call.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    How to save a quarter-million dollars

    It's not often elected officials can save taxpayers more than a quarter-million dollars.

    But with a unanimous roll call vote, that's what Elizabethtown Borough Council did earlier this month in voting to refinance the borough's debt. And just by lucky timing, interest rates were low and investors were hungry -- so council refinanced to an interest rate of about 3.3 percent, saving more than $265,000 because of the lower interest rate.

    As the borough's financial adviser, Chris Gibbons of Concord Public Finance stated, it's just like refinancing the mortgage on your house to a lower interest rate.

    The borough has authorized Gibbons to recommend refinancing if it will save taxpayers a minimum of $150,000. This time, Elizabethtown lucked out -- and I think I can speak for all of Borough Council that we're pleased.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Add phone numbers to ensure emergency notifications

    During last months snowstorms, Elizabethtown residents received automated phone calls from the Swift911 service to announce a snow emergency and information related to impact the storms had on services such as trash removal.

    By and large, the system worked very well. Speaking from personal experience, I picked up the phone and heard the first message in its entirety. I was pleased to know that the message looped so that anyone could hear the whole thing.

    Now, the borough is asking all residents to make sure their phone numbers in the database are accurate. This really is critical, especially in these times when many people don't have traditional phone service and use just cell phones. By filling out the form at the link above, residents can add more than one or two phone numbers to ensure they receive important emergency notifications. They also can opt to include a phone number where they can receive text messages.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010

    Portion of train station platform opens

    A newly installed portion of the platform at the Elizabethtown Train Station opened this month, serving Amtrak riders who are headed north to Harrisburg.

    The platform is now raised off the ground, meaning that riders no longer will have to use a step stool to enter trains. And those using wheelchairs will be able to roll right onto the trains.

    Borough Manager Roni Ryan reported that the contractor, Lobar Construction, expects to have a portion of the southbound platform open at the beginning of March.

    Until the project is complete, riders access the platforms via temporary stairs that have been built on either side of the tracks. The old stairs in the tunnel are closed and will be renovated and reopened.

    On both sides, the platforms will eventually be extended so that entire trains can stop and riders board at any door on the trains.

    In the meantime, and especially during the winter, work  has continued on the train station building,  including safe removal of asbestos and other hazardous materials. At a recent Borough Council meeting, council members discussed what kind of use might occur in the station once the project is completed. Council and borough officials are open to creative ideas.

    Elizabethtown received $9.3 million in federal stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the project. Borough officials had been working and planning for the project for more than 10 years.

    Friday, February 26, 2010

    Residents might be eligible for free weatherization services

    Residents of Lancaster County -- for the record, this includes all the municipalities in the Elizabethtown Area School District -- might be eligible for free weather proofing of their homes or apartments.

    The Housing Development Corp. in Lancaster (full disclosure: I am the marketing and public relations manager for HDC) has held the state contract to provide weatherization services in the county (as well as in Lebanon and Chester counties) since 1976. This year, HDC is the recipient of $8.75 million in federal stimulus money through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to help even more people.

    The weatherization program is designed to make homes more energy efficient by adding insulation, sealing drafty windows and making other changes that keep people warmer while reducing their energy costs. The work could reduce energy bills by as much as 30 percent -- and that's significant now that electric rates have increased dramatically.


    The weatherization assistance program is entirely free to people who qualify.

    The program assists people whose household income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The chart below shows the various income eligibility levels depending on how many people are living in the household:

    1 person: $21,660 5 persons: $51,580
    2 persons: $29,140 6 persons: $59,060
    3 persons: $36,620 7 persons: $66,540
    4 persons: $44,100 8 persons: $74,020
    (Each additional person: $7,480)

    Call 800-732-3554 for a FREE consultation about weatherizing your home.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    New weekly newspaper opens in E-town

    A new weekly newspaper called The Elizabethtown Advocate has opened its doors and has begun covering local news and sports.

    Dan Robrish, a veteran of The Associated Press in Philadelphia, left his job there and began publishing the independent weekly paper three weeks ago. In talking with him after tonight's Borough Council meeting, he said that he has always had a goal and a desire to own and operate his own newspaper, and after working the night shift for years in Philadelphia -- a shift that Dan said is frequently filled with depressing news -- he decided to forge ahead with his plan.

    So far, the paper has been six pages of solid local news that one would expect in a weekly newspaper, including great photos of local sports, well written news coverage of this month's snow storms and a locally written editorial each week. I was pleased to see a letter to the editor in this week's edition, an indication that people are picking up copies, subscribing and reading.

    I was pleased to see in last week's paper some photos from my former colleague Anne Deimler, whom I worked with at the Hershey Chronicle in the late '90s. Readers of the former Elizabethtown Chronicle (disclosure: I was the editor of the E-town Chronicle about 10 years ago) will recognize the byline of Chris McCarthy, the editor when the Chronicle was closed last year, who Dan said will be covering some high school sports.

    All of us on Borough Council are thrilled to have a locally published newspaper once again. This development won't impact Chronicling Elizabethtown because I think this blog will continue to fulfill a need in the community to spread the word about borough news.

    Especially during the recent snowstorms, I can use the blog to communicate important announcements quickly so please continue check here regularly.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Trash collection cancelled until next week

    The Feb. 10 blizzard that walloped Central Pennsylvania has caused Elizabethtown's waste hauler to cancel pick up of trash, including those that were scheduled for today.

    And officially, the borough lifted the snow emergency at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11.

    Penn Waste will collect double amounts of trash on the regular pick-up days during next week's collection, Feb. 17 to 19. The woody waste collection scheduled for today has been rescheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20. 

    Please check the Penn Waste website for more information. 

    As one borough councilman, let me express my thanks to residents for their cooperation and patience during this weather event.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Borough declares snow emergency

    Elizabethtown Borough has declared a snow emergency thanks to the second major snowstorm to hit south central Pennsylvania in less than a week.

    The snow emergency is in effect until further notice. The borough's ordinance outlines snow emergency routes as follows:

    • The entire lengths of East and West High Street
    • The entire lengths of South and North Market Street
    • College Avenue from Market Street to Spruce Street
    • Spruce Street from College Avenue to Willow Street
    • Willow Street from Spruce Street to Market Street

    Parking is prohibited on the snow emergency route to assist with snow plowing and to keep the streets open for traffic. Also, vehicles driving on the route are required to be equipped with snow tires or chains.

    All borough residents were scheduled to receive a recorded phone call this evening with a thorough explanation of the emergency and the parking restrictions. Borough staff also were calling those residents who live on the snow emergency route specifically to notify them separately.  

    In addition, Wednesday trash collection has been rescheduled for Saturday. 

    Beginning at noon today, the police department has begun contacting residents who have not moved their cars since the last storm, notifying them of the 72 hour on-street parking restrictions and requiring them to move their vehicles.

    A snowstorm Friday into Saturday dumped nearly 20 inches of snow on Elizabethtown. The latest forecast from the National Weather Service show tonight's storm lasting until tomorrow evening, with predictions of 10 inches to 18 inches.



    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Elizabethtown College president announces retirement

    I received the following text in an e-mail, which I've copied and pasted verbatim:


    The following letter is being distributed to the campus community at the request of Elizabethtown College President Theodore Long.


    January 15, 2010


    Dear Friends in the Elizabethtown College Community,

    This morning I informed the Board of Trustees of my intention to retire as President of Elizabethtown College, effective July 31, 2011. 

    Since my appointment in 1996, I have devoted myself to helping the college realize its greatest possibilities, and it is now time for a new leader to move the institution even further ahead. The college has made notable progress in the past 15 years, and as we conclude some important work over the next year, this is a good time to launch a new stage in the college’s development. In addition, Betty and I are eager to enjoy some new experiences together while we remain vigorous and energetic.

    From the very first, I fell in love with Elizabethtown – its mission, its people, the place – and my affection for the college has only grown over the years. I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to lead this wonderful institution and for the generous support all of you have extended to me through the years. My work here has been immensely rewarding, both for what the college has achieved and for the rich personal relationships I have developed over the years. 

    I will certainly miss the rhythm of our work together, regular engagement with students, and the joyful life of this community. But I will leave knowing that the transforming work of education for service and leadership is in your good hands. And I will always cherish what we have accomplished together to advance the college’s historic mission in the 21st century, as I will your enduring friendship and colleagueship. 

    There is more to be done before the summer of 2011, and I remain committed to achieving as much as possible in those 18 months. During that time, I also hope to see as many of you as possible to thank you personally for your support and for what you have contributed to Elizabethtown’s success. Because of you, I am confident that Elizabethtown will continue to flourish and to achieve new levels of excellence in the years ahead. 

    Sincerely,


    Theodore E. Long
    President

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    More track outages start at train station

    Train riders at the Elizabethtown Train Station may have noticed track outages that started yesterday. The outages are in effect for the north side platform until Jan. 8.

    As occurred last month, the outages will occur between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. so the contractor can  install platform decking for the newly extended platform. Signs are posted to direct train riders to the proper platform during the outage.

    Work is progressing on schedule and significant progress is expected in the months ahead. The south side platform decking installation is scheduled for Jan. 11 to 15.  All of the work is weather permitting.  Once the decking has been put in place and the temporary stairs erected, then work will proceed on the main portions of the existing platform.

    Work continues inside the train station building. Hazardous materials such as asbestos have been removed, and the new floor in the basement of the building has been poured. Work is proceeding to shore the floor joists for the first floor. Roofing work will continue with the installation of a completely new slate roof that will match the former roof in style and construction.

    PARKING NOTE:  The borough and Susquehanna Wagman Associates have signed an agreement that will permit riders to use the rear of the Sycamore Square commercial development for temporary parking during the train station construction project. Ninety spaces have been set aside for use by riders provided that the riders obey the designated parking areas and respect the property. Signs will be erected that specify the areas that are designated for temporary parking (those spaces closest to Bainbridge Street behind the vacant commercial properties).

    In addition, two-hour parking signs will be installed on Masonic Drive in front of the commercial properties to preclude daily parking by train riders. Parking in front of the Sycamore Square development impacts the customers and staff of the tenant occupying the building closest to the train station. The borough will be responsible for snow plowing in the lot during the construction period.  Vehicles and items in the vehicles are the sole responsibility of the owners and neither of Susquehanna Wagman Associates nor the borough.