Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today along the river

Today at River Park, there were people fishing, riding their boats, borough workers removing graffitti and weeds and other workers getting ready to put the  lights in. And plenty of wildlife walking.

Council seeks deal with railroad

If Columbia Borough Council and the Norfolk Southern Railroad can agree to the purchase of 14 acres of land between the two bridges, the Locust Street Railroada crossing will be closed as part of the agreement.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, Columbia Borough Council approved pursuing a contract with the Norfolk Southern Railroad for the purchase of 14 acres of land between the two inter-county bridges.

This is the access road that will have to be kept open as part of the pending agreement.
The assessed value of the land, which is west of the railroad tracks is $113,900. Columbia will use a grant from DCNR of $30,000 toward the purchase and they hope Norfolk Southern will “gift” the remaining amount of $83,900.
Council made its decision to pursue the purchase following a 30-minute executive session during Tuesday’s meeting.
As part of the pending purchase, which Norfolk Southern still must approve, the borough must erect a chain link fence on the property and keep an access road near the railroad tracks open from Walnut Street, south to Union Street and close the Locust Street crossing.
The purchase of the land not only will be used as part of the River Park expansion project, but also the Route 441 relocation, which will probably happen sometime in 2012 and the Northwest River Trail project, which will link Columbia to Marietta.
In addition to hearing comments from members of the council, President Mary Wickenheiser opened the floor to citizens. Tim Swartz and Frank Doutrich, both former members of the council questioned liability concerns and when Columbia could back out of the project.
Resident Kent Lutz questioned the need to purchase the property, while another resident Harry Knighton asked if the money used for the purchase can be used in other areas of the borough for road and infrastructure improvements.
Mayor Leo Lutz said money planned for the project could not be used for something else.
“The river is what made Columbia and the river is our future. We looked at this development as a way to spur economic development elsewhere in this borough,” said Wickenheiser.
“Why are we spending money for something we don’t need,” said Austin Hogentogler, resident.
Wickenheiser said the park is busy, especially on weekend, where people from at least rive counties use the facility.
Lance Nobile, another resident, criticized the council for the current River Park plan.
“It’s in terrible condition,” he said.
“The project was not in the best interest of the community and not a wise decision,” he continued.

Columbia holding Blanket Drive

In the heat of the summer it is easy to forget the chill of last winter and the winter to come. The Columbia Blanket Drive will be collecting new and gently used blankets which will be donated to our Columbia residents in need. Please consider donating a blanket to our cause.
With your help, together we can comfort our community this winter.
Thank you and let's share the warmth.
Blankets will be distributed in early November 2010
For donation information or to volunteer your time, please call :  (717)-685-9223 or email:

Is This What We Want?

This picture was supplied by Columbia Borough of an apartment complex' trash at Third and Union streets, which was cleaned up by the borough following a complaint.

Council says no to THE request

It’s not often the word “no” is said at a borough council meeting in Columbia.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, borough council did just that, they said no.

The “no” came after a request from Bill Roberts of Museum Partners, the developer of the Turkey Hill Experience, who was asking the borough to loan his group $150,000 so it can continue plans to make the project a “green” project with the installation of a solar energy system.

Actually, there was no vote on the request. After a presentation from Roberts, discussion among council members and citizens, the request could not get a motion or second from the council, thus denying the request.

“We’ve done all we can to support this project. Even making a loan would over extend us. We regret we can’t approve your request,” said Mary Wickenheiser, council president as the end of the discussion.

The two big reasons for the denial were the borough’s finances and a minor fact, the borough was just hearing the request fro Roberts for the first time.

Roberts told the council he’s been involved with the project for four years and the money would be used to install solar panels on the building to make it “electric efficient.”

He said the planning for the solar panels started too late and the window of opportunity to get a grant from the state closed. He was looking to get the $150,000 through a state grant and a similar amount in a federal tax credit.

“I understand it will be a difficult decision. This will be world class building and if you can help, it would be much appreciated,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the borough could release the funds through the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, who brokered the deal, and it would be paid back.

“If we do not do this, where does that leave the solar project?” asked Mary Barninger, council woman.

Roberts said the solar project would be down scaled and wouldn’t produce much electric.

Mayor Leo Lutz said there might be other options to consider and hoped the borough would help Museum Partners investigate those options.

Roberts said he had exhausted all funding sources for the solar project and the time frame to have the building completed by Feb. 1, 2011 left him “pressed for time.”

Resident Frank Doutrich, a former member of the council, spoke about the money.

“Where are we going to get the money?” Doutrich asked.

“The borough has done more than its fair share. We’ve done enough,” said Vern Detz, another former council member.

Another resident Austin Hogentogler said he doesn’t like paying for someone else’s property.

“I am tired of paying high taxes for someone else’s property,” Hogentogler said.

Wickenheiser said don’t blame the borough for the high taxes.

“School taxes are three times higher than municipal taxes. I think we are doing a good job managing finances in this town,” the council president said.

“It’s the school district that is killing this town,” said Mike Beury, councilmen said.

Keith Lutz is president of CEDC.

He explained the financing for the project and offered to sit down with anyone to discuss it.

He explained the request from Roberts came in the last 10 days and offered to see how his group could help.

“We’re all ready for this building to be built and this was the fastest way to get this done. In three years, there won’t be a single person who will say this is a bad project,” Lutz said.

Lutz even suggested the borough give THE $150,000 as a loan.

“Were do we come up with $150,000. That’s big for me,” Wickenheiser said.

Borough Manager Norm Meiskey suggested taking the money out of the borough’s reserve fund.

“We have supported this project 210 percent, but this would hurt the borough financially,” said Sandy Duncan, council woman.

“If you want to see Columbia Borough move forward, you will have to invest in your community. This is a big project and a lot of things can happen because of it,” said Mayor Lutz, just before Wickenheiser asked for a motion.

Another code officer is hired

At a special meeting on Tuesday night, borough council hired George Hart as a part-time Code Enforceent Officer,
Hart's salary will be $18.48 an hour for up to 25 hours a week.
Hart will become the borough's third part-time Code Enforcement Officer. The department also has a full-time officer.
Council explained at its meeting Tuesday that when they hired a previous part-time code officer they had some outstanding candidates, so they decided to hire a third part-time employee.
Mayor Leo Lutz explained Tuesday, that with the hiring of Hart, it would allow the code officec to improve quality of life issues in Columbia.

Did she really mean to say that?

There were just three items on Tuesday's agenda at the special borough council meeting and it still took two-and-a-half hours to complete.

But as a packed council chambers looked on as the borough's governing body turned down a request from the developer of the Turkey Hill Experience for a loan of $150,000; hired a third part-time code enforceent officer and approved a contract for the purchase of 14 acres of land between the two bridges, it was a comment from Council President Mary Wickenheiser that had many in attendance saying "what!"
Vern Detz, a former member of the council, was questioning the request from Bill Roberts about his request for the borough to put $150,000 back into the THE (Turkey Hill Experience) project, he remarked about those in attendance, mostly cabin owners from along the Susquehanna River.
Detz told those at the meeting they need to keep attending the meetings.
"The taxpayers of this borough no longer trust borough council," Detz said.
Wickenheiser responded, "I agree with you on that statement."
So, was she agreeing with Detz that she liked the number of people attending the meeting or she doesn't trust the other members of the council? Hopefully, she met she was happy to see people attending the meeting.