Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why is the Chestnut Street bridge still closed?

This has become a familiar sight for motorists and nearby residents: The bridge on South Chestnut Street has been closed to traffic since the flooding in September.

So why hasn't it been repaired? And what is taking so long? Chalk it up to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The borough needs a permit to do the work because the bridge crosses a stream. The borough administration took care of the design and applied to DEP. In October, Borough Council voted to approve a contractor to do the work on the bridge for $70,728 (along with the South Poplar and West Bainbridge street bridges -- total work for all three, a little more than $110,000).

Despite the borough's having declared an emergency during the flood, and despite the state's being at the highest level of disaster response during the flooding, DEP only notified the borough last week that the design for the Chestnut Street bridge is inadequate.


When the borough's administration reported this to members of Borough Council after a meeting last week, my colleagues were incredulous. One of the reasons municipalities and states declare emergencies and disasters is to expedite repairs.

But that doesn't seem to have filtered down to the bureaucrats at DEP.

Yes, we recognize that the flooding was epic not just here in Elizabethtown. Our neighbors in Manheim, Hershey, Hummelstown, Middletown and elsewhere had significant and serious problems. But to take more than 3 months to tell us the design is inadequate is irresponsible. Our engineers could have been working on this redesign and perhaps even submitted it for approval.

This means taking even more time to go back to the drawing board and design according to DEP's comments. Let's fix the target and keep it there and keep in mind that your decisions continue to impact and inconvenience residents in our fair town.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

No tax increase for 2012

Earlier this month, Elizabethtown Borough Council approved a $5.37 million budget for 2012 that contains no tax increase. This will keep the millage rate at 5.0.

A windfall of unexpected revenues this fall, about $240,000 worth plus deferring $172,000 in expenses in the police department, helped to balance the budget.

The windfall came in the form of a about $130,000 in a one-time payment from the Commonwealth to assist with the borough's pension payment requirements, about $102,000 in unanticipated earned income tax revenues. Likewise, the borough was expecting an additional $9,000 in real estate tax revenues.

In a letter the borough received from state Auditor General Jack Wagner, he was explicit that the borough "should view this increased state aid award for 2011 as nothing more than an isolated or limited event that will serve to help to secure your pension plans."

For 2012, the borough was required to budget $285,832 to cover the police pension fund and $77,441 for the non-uniformed pension fund.

The budget will continue to fund services at the levels borough residents have been accustomed to. While residents will see the completion of the bridge and intersection at Market Street and West College Avenue, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is reimbursing the cost of that project.

Other major capital expenditures planned for in 2012 include the following:
  • $21,000 for a new phone system for borough offices and police department. The current system is 18 years old and frequently cuts out on employees. Its voice mail feature also does not answer calls at times.
  • $10,000 for a new HVAC unit at Borough Hall. This is part of a schedule to replace the units that have exceeded their life span; the new unit will be energy efficient. Another unit is scheduled for replacement in 2013.
  • $86,900 to replace police radios when Lancaster County upgrades to a modern emergency radio system.
  • $299,711 to pave certain streets. This is funded through the Liquid Fuels Tax revenue the borough receives from the state.
  • $71,000 for a new backhoe to replace one that is showing its age and has hydraulic issues and repair costs.
  • $42,000 to repair and rehab the bridge on West Bainbridge Street. PennDOT has identified this as needing repairs.