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Most meetings of the Susquehanna Boro Council are usually attended by a handful of residents – if that, and two reporters. The meeting of November 14 was an exception; the standing room only crowd was so large that it overflowed into the hall outside of the meeting room, and even outside the building itself. It was quickly apparent that council’s expected action on an ordinance imposing an Earned Income Tax (EIT) was the reason for so many showing up.
President Tom Kelly began the discussion by saying that council was still in the process of investigating the EIT, that it had not been acted on yet and would not be until council had more facts. He estimated that 35 out of 40 county municipalities have an EIT, and in many cases, residents who live in Susquehanna and work elsewhere are paying it to the municipalities where they work; if the ordinance were to be enacted, Susquehanna would instead receive the revenue.
Mayor Reddon added that council was not going to proceed with the ordinance until all the facts about it were known. She suggested that if residents had specific questions and wrote them down, they would be posed to Berkheimer Associates for answers (Berkheimer made a proposal to council to act as the boro’s collector of the tax if it were enacted).
Berkheimer would get a percentage, 2.25% of the proceeds for collection, estimated to be about $5,000. One audience member felt that that was an unrealistic amount for the work that would be required, “No one could effectively enforce collection for that amount.” He cautioned council to get the terms of any agreement “in stone.”
Council was asked if they couldn’t act on the ordinance this evening (to reject it). A public notice had been advertised, that council would adopt the ordinance at a meeting on Tuesday, November 21; council’s consensus was that they would need to act on it then. When asked why council had proceeded with advertising the ordinance, Mr. Kelly said, “We put all of our ducks in a row. If it turns out (the tax) is good, we are all set. If it is not, we won’t go with it.”
Asked how it would impact residents who are already paying property taxes, Mr. Matis explained that the EIT would be in lieu of other taxes; some, such as the per capita taxes and occupational taxes would be eliminated, and there would be a reduction in property taxes.
A representative from Berkheimer had been expected to attend this meeting, but had been unable to due to illness. Council was asked if they could reschedule a meeting with someone from Berkheimer, and hold it in a bigger venue. They agreed that they could. Several residents thought that Berkheimer should have sent another representative to attend this meeting.
When asked how council had arrived at the figure of $55,000 as the boro’s possible income from an EIT, Mr. Kelly said that the figures had been arrived at through census data. And, Mayor Reddon said, the tax is based on net income, not gross income.
One business owner asked how she would be taxed, as she is self-employed; it would be based on the prior year’s income from federal tax returns.
When asked why council had taken the necessary steps to enact the ordinance, Mr. Kelly replied, “We are doing what we were elected to do, that is why we are looking into this. We are trying to (make things) better.” Mayor Reddon said that what council had done was an “investigatory process. We do not have to act on it.” Council was looking into the EIT to see how it could benefit the boro, and its residents.
When asked whether this EIT was the same as the one that school districts could enact, Mayor Reddon said that it is not the same. She read a statement from Superintendent Bronson Stone, which said that the tax described in Act 1 (for school districts) is different than taxes associated with the Local Tax Enabling Act. Act 1 allows voters to decide if the district implements an EIT for the purpose of reducing property taxes. The revenue generated by Act 1 taxes would not be shared by municipalities, as the sole purpose of school districts’ EIT would be to reduce property taxes, not generate new revenues for the district or for any other political subdivision.
Mr. Matis added that the state is considering legislation proposed by DCED to alleviate some of the confusion over the tax collection process. And, he said, 93% of municipalities in the state already have adopted an EIT. The DCED legislation proposes to give counties the power to impose and collect taxes. As for the boro’s EIT, he said, “My feeling is to hold off. If we do enact it, there is a strict time line we have to follow. This gives us the option to look into it more. It is not a done deal.”
With the discussion more or less at an end, Mr. Matis made a motion to halt any further action on the ordinance; it carried unanimously. It was decided to proceed with the November 21 meeting as scheduled, to work on the 2007 budget.
Mr. Kelly remarked that it was nice to see so many attending the meeting. He said that council would gladly accept suggestions from residents regarding the 2007 budget. Council would like to see improvements to the streets, such as curbing, but those things are quite expensive. Council would gladly hear residents’ thoughts on how to pay for them. One resident asked if perhaps they could be paid for through grant funding. Mr. Matis said that there are not too many available for streets improvements, although the boro did get funding for some paving and drainage work. He estimated the cost of curbing at $20 per linear foot. An audience member said that he had looked into what it would cost for curbing for Jackson Ave.; estimates received were in the neighborhood of $86,000. A resident asked what it had cost for the boro to put curbing in at the Fourth Ave. and Prospect St. Mr. Kelly said that even though the work had been done by the boro’s streets department, it had still been very expensive. It had been done to address a drainage problem.
Continuing the discussion of municipal expenses, Mr. Kelly noted that Susquehanna collects about 60% of what Forest City and Montrose collect in taxes, but has about the same costs. “We will keep going, do the best we can.” Former boro secretary Margaret Biegert is pursuing grant funding for some projects, and others, like new sidewalks for Main St. had been obtained after five years’ effort. Mayor Reddon said that one of the projects Mrs. Biegert has been working on is through the Elm Street program. The boro may be eligible for two grants, to fix neighborhood homes in a designated area, perhaps two streets. But, she said, “It takes time.”
Mr. Kelly said that council would like to take one street at a time, and fix right so it lasts. But, “It is so expensive.”
A resident raised concerns about a purported “drug house” near her home. Mayor Reddon said that the boro police are working on it, and suggested that she speak further with them.
Another noted that trucks are still making right-hand turns onto Erie Ave. from Main St., and have caused more damage. The sidewalks at the corner were damaged, and a water line crushed, causing an estimated $2,000 worth of damage. Mr. Kelly asked that if any more were seen, witnesses get a license number and/or company name. Mr. Kuiper said that perhaps a barrier, like the cement pillar on the opposite corner, should be put up.
In other business, two ordinances, numbers 442 and 443, which provide tax incentives for rehabilitation of dilapidated buildings, both residential and commercial, were to be acted on. Mr. Matis was unhappy with the extent of tax forgiveness allowed, and felt that the boro would be losing money when an old building is demolished and a new one put up. He thought the timeframe allowed was too generous. Mayor Reddon pointed out that the provision was for dilapidated buildings that are replaced. Mr. Kelly felt that not adopting the ordinance would not be “forward thinking. That’s why so many buildings in the boro are in the shape they are in. We’ve got to do something.” Mr. Matis thought that a forgiveness period of one or two years was reasonable, but the five the ordinance allows is too much. “I think (the ordinances) need work...I don’t like feeling like we are pushing this through.” A motion carried to table them for adoption at a later date. The ordinances will be kept on agenda until after the first of the year.
A letter from the Parks and Rec. committee was read, outlining projects completed this year, including a new alarm system, paving, a freezer, a picnic table, three benches and a donated water fountain at the Prospect St. park. Plans for next year’s project are in progress, including more playground equipment. Plans for the riverfront part are also being drafted. Two grant applications have been submitted, one for a boat launch, the other for clearing and putting in a road. Dick Hennessey said that building a skateboard park had been looked into, but building a safe one would be “hugely expensive.”
Chief Golka distributed copies of the police department’s activity report for October; it included one traffic citation, 16 non-traffic citations; two misdemeanor arrests; two felony arrests; 18 written warnings; and two parking violations.
The meeting adjourned to an executive session to discuss personnel issues; when it reconvened, motions carried to re-hire officer Joe DeMuro, to authorize Shane Lewis to work with the boro’s new CEO for up to sixteen hours per week, and for Mr. Lewis to act as the boro’s administrator for UCC permits.
The next regular meeting will be on Tuesday, November 28, 6 p.m. in the boro building.
The November 13 Montrose School Board meetings were filled with promising developments and positive reports. The district is meeting standards and seeking improvement in various areas. It is also playing an active role in acknowledging and training the leaders of tomorrow.
The meeting opened with positive feedback regarding Pennsylvania School Board Association (PSBA) conferences. Representatives from the high school, the elementary school, the staff, and the administration all attended PSBA conferences in one form or another. Each year the high school sends two student council students to the PSBA Student Delegate Program. This is a one-week program, which culminates in a mock school board meeting on Friday. This year Melinda Zosh and Burgandy Shelp attended, along with advisor April Jones. Both students were able to become actively involved in the proceedings – Burgandy serving on the board and Melinda presenting to it. Both girls spoke highly of their time, and were spoken highly of by board members and staff. At the elementary level, four students went to the PSBA Education Excellence Fair, two from Lathrop Street and two from Choconut. Twins Kate and Kelsey Brink, as well as Maria Phillips and Makayla Dearborn, were accompanied by guidance counselors Sue Lee and Laurie Pappy. They also were praised as intelligent girls who represented their schools very well. Finally, the board itself sent five members to the actual PSBA conference, along with the superintendent and two elementary principals. They all spoke highly of the experience, and learned much from seminars and informational meetings. For instance, the superintendent discussed how helpful legislative updates can be.
In fact, one recent legislative change has led to many little changes for Montrose. Several school policies are being altered, though in small ways. Most of these changes are the result of the state’s revision of Chapter 12 in August, which deals with student rights and regulations. The district now has to alter any section of their own policies dealing with these issues. The changes are being color coded and posted to the district’s website; blue represents changes and red deletions.
In other news, the district is standing on its technological laurels of late, and looking to continue this trend into the future. Every year the National School Board Association sends out surveys to various districts, and then weighs the answers they receive as a means of comparison. Recently, Montrose received an award as a result of submitting one of these surveys, which dealt with technology. The district ranked second in this area out of schools of comparable size, and was the only school in Pennsylvania honored in this way.
Montrose’s technical vision was also recognized through acceptance into the “Classrooms for the Future” program. The district applied to the state for a competitive grant to be used for equipping educators with technology and providing laptops for each desk in core subject classrooms grades 9-12 (with an emphasis on Math and English). Montrose was one of 79 districts and 100-103 high schools to receive at least partial funding for this three-year program. For the first year the district was awarded $69,000 to equip core curriculum rooms with new projectors, laptops for the educators, and interactive boards. It is hoped that in the second year the student laptops will be added for English and Math rooms, with more to come in the third year. A separate $45,000 has also been given to the district for the purposes of staff training. Of this, $5,000 is to be used as stipends for “keystone” staff – those who are technological innovators and will influence others in its use. The remaining $40,000 is designated as a means of acquiring a Classrooms for the Future coach, to coach the staff in technology and the program in general. It is preferred that this person be an existing member of staff, whereby the money would be used to hire a replacement long-term sub to step in for that staff member. Barring this, it will be used to hire an outside entity, perhaps by sharing one part-time with another district. This whole process represents much work for the district in the years to come, but has potential to benefit the students in a technological age.
Another topic of discussion was the school district’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores 2005-2006. These scores are part of the No Child Left Behind program, which aims to have 100% of students reach proficiency levels in Math and English by 2014. At the elementary level the AYP scores are based on PSSA scores and attendance; at the secondary level they are based on PSSA scores and the graduation rate. The tests are currently given to students in grades 3, 5, 8, and 11. Not only must the school as a whole meet an established level of proficiency in these tests, but each special subgroup of 40 or more students within a given school must as well (i.e. students with IEPs, students of low socio-economic status, etc.). This year Montrose has met the required standards at all levels. The board and administration expressed satisfaction with these results, but are looking toward future improvement as well.
There was another school evaluation discussed after this. Montrose is the only school in Susquehanna County which has Middle States accreditation. As part of this, the district faces its ten-year evaluation next year. Mr. Tallarico discussed what has been done toward preparing for this, and he and the others discussed some of what will need to occur in the next year.
If numbers don't lie, and results speak for themselves, then the evidence presented at the Mountain View School Board on November 13 shows good news for the writing, math and reading progress of School District students. Ms. Margaret Foster, Elementary School principal, shared this information from Pennsylvania Department of Education detailing the comparison of grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 with the state average total. Ms. Foster emphasized that the report compares Mountain View students with the state average for each grade, and not with specific schools, nor with comparable school districts.
The report, titled the 2006 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), delineates the results in a bar graph on the front with a more detailed breakdown on the reverse. For grade 3, Mountain View showed a higher percentage of tested students proficient in reading than the state average, and only 1% below the state average in math. Grade 4 did not fare as well in either category, although only 4% below the state in math. Grade 5 showed the most disparity in test scores, not reaching state levels in any of the three categories. The category of writing had been added, on which the younger grades were not tested. Ms. Foster remarked that steps were already in place to better the scores for fifth grade level. She indicated that she felt the lower results were anomalous for the fifth grade, due to some transitional issues and additional demands on both students and teachers.
Grades 6 and 7 showed test scores that equaled or bettered the state results in reading, while almost being on a par in math. Grade 8 had similar outcomes, but again the writing test outcomes were well below the state. Grade 11 showed rough parity in all categories, even surpassing the state score by 4 points in reading.
A quick glance at the chart shows that reading seems to be the category in which the Mountain View students scored best. Students did well in math in most of the grades, but writing – tested for only in grades 5, 8, and 11 – fared the worst, with none of the grades equaling or besting the state average. Ms. Foster and Ms. Eliza Vagni, Acting High School Principal, both said that they thought the improvement over previous testing and the trend towards better test scores showed the school district is moving in the right direction in the way it teaches the students.
Acting Superintendent Dr. Andrew Chichura told the Board that the application for high school students to take college courses for credit is being completed and the program should be in place for next year. This would allow students to take college classes while still in high school, and receive credit for attending. Dr. Chichura said that it was not targeted at just honor students, but was also for those students that did not think they could attend college. The program could assist with tuition, and paying for books and supplies.
School Board Member Kevin Griffiths presented the Finance Committee report. Among other items, Community Bank and Trust was recommended to be the bond issue paying agent for the School District, as it has been in recent years. Low qualified quotes for the sixth grade Washington trip, the classroom chairs and desks for 2007, and wraparound pole padding for the elementary playground was approved. Board member Ordie Price requested that the quote for the tractor/lawn mower be delayed until more information was obtained on the machine. He emphasized he was not against purchasing the mower, but felt it could wait until the Board was better informed.
A number of people at the Board meeting were concerned about the proposed Dress and Grooming policy, and they requested a draft copy from the Board.
No Courthoure Report This Week
More people than usual turned out for the Blue Ridge School Board meeting on November 13, most of them the same ones who have attended in recent months to protest the Board's actions to cut compensation for the locally elected tax collectors. But for the most part, the meeting resumed the routine that most Board members would probably prefer.
The meeting opened with a brief presentation by students Travis Findley and Jessica Burkett, who attended a "Student Delegate" program sponsored by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) in Hershey. High School Principal John Manchester introduced them by describing the conference as one that gives students some insight into the way school boards operate. The students were offered sessions in public speaking, and participated in committee meetings on various issues for which they were expected to propose policy. The Blue Ridge students helped to develop a policy on the use of cell phones in schools, the only committee policy recommendation that was adopted by the conference as a whole.
The students must have had their fill of school boards at the conference, because as soon as the finished their presentation, they departed. Curiously, the Blue Ridge board keeps seats open at the table for student representatives, seats that are rarely filled.
Most of the agenda this time covered routine personnel actions: a resignation, a few family/medical leave requests, appointments of substitutes, coaches and the like. The board seemed a little reluctant to grant the family/medical leaves, lingering quite a while over Board President Alan Hall's request for motions. In at least one case, the leave was understood to be unpaid, but that the point was not mentioned in the motion was questioned. In the end, however, all were approved as presented.
Almost as an afterthought, an addendum to the agenda asked the Board to accept the recommendation of the Tax Study Commission. The Commission, chartered under Act 1 of 2006 to study local tax structures and make recommendations to the district board concerning earned and personal income taxes, recommended "that there be no change in the current tax structure." Mr. Hall noted that regardless of the Commission's recommendation, the Board would have to develop referendum questions for the primary election next Spring which will ask voters whether they want an earned or personal income tax to substitute for part of local property taxes. He said that the Board would consider these details in December.
Superintendent Robert McNamara announced that the district had unexpectedly received a check for $11,000 from bankruptcy proceedings related to the outfit that talked Blue Ridge into installing a fitness center a few years ago. The equipment and operation of the center were supposed to be subsidized by a foundation that promised to pay off the loan that the district contracted to buy the equipment. The program came under scrutiny by state agencies around the country and folded not too long after Blue Ridge signed on. The district had to swallow nearly $200,000 of unexpected expense in the aftermath. Mr. McNamara said that the check was certainly welcome, and he reported that the fitness center is still operating and still popular on the campus.
Middle School Principal Matthew Nebzydoski told the board that report cards just issued were the first to be generated entirely from the new electronic grading system recently installed. The system also allows progress reports to be made available to parents on the Internet.
Mr. Nebzydoski reported that as many as 40 students would be trained in CPR and first aid, but that not enough boys were turning out for cross-country to field a team this year.
What is it about the boys and distance running? Mr. Manchester reported on winning seasons in volleyball, soccer and girls cross-country in the High School.
Elementary School Principal Robert Dietz said that next Spring his school will try to re-establish a nature trail on the hillside in back of the campus.
At the end of the meeting, when Mr. Hall solicited comments and questions from observers there was nothing but silence. Presumably the controversy over tax collections in the Blue Ridge district continues to bubble under the surface, but no one was willing to breach the meeting's equanimity this time.
The Blue Ridge School Board will reorganize itself at its next business meeting on December 4, beginning at 7:30 p.m., in the cafeteria in the Elementary School.
When he took the reigns of the Forest City Regional Board of Education last December, Dr. Henry Nebzydoski promised to focus more attention on the students in the school district and less on the performance of the school board.
The board reorganizes on December 4 and it could lead to the election of a new president. By tradition the board has made it a habit of electing a new president every year. However that string did end a few years back when Robert Trusky was reelected during a district construction program.
If the board does elect a new president, whomever it is will have some tough footsteps to follow. Nebzydoski started every meeting by recognizing accomplishments of the students and it seemed like each month, the list grew.
Last week’s meeting was no exception. In fact, the accolades did not stop with the students but extended into the audience where a few adults also came in for recognition.
The Student Council selects a Student of the Month and November’s honors went to Jamie Castle. Jamie received the certificate that accompanies those honored at FCR. This award is followed by the recognition of the Rotary Club Student of the Month and that certificate of appreciation went to Katelyn Brothwell.
Ken Swartz, elementary principal, then recognized Ell Sauls, Alex Kresock and Will Jonas for representing FCR in the Boychoir Festival at Lackawanna Trail High School.
High School Principal Anthony Rusnak recognized students Sarah Zeder, Danielle Long, Tara McGraw, Katelyn Brothwell, Marie Martines and Amanda White, all of whom attended the “Science in Action Day” at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove. Rusnak also praised the Soccer Team for compiling 13 consecutive wins under Steve Fonash who was chosen “Coach of the Year” in the Lackawanna League Division III.
The success of the soccer team was exemplified by the selection of its players to the league’s All-Star Team. They are Ian White, Stan Vitzakovitch, Jon Chesnick and Jason Pisarcik, who was also chosen as the league’s Most Valuable Player and will be named to the All State Team.
Rusnak said the senior class voted to hold its graduation ceremonies in the High School gym instead of the school auditorium. And he urged area residents to attend the school’s production of the Wizard of Oz that will be held in the auditorium on November 17, 18 and 19 at 7 p.m.
The honors moved to the adults where Donald Wacker was recognized for donating a one week camping experience at Camp Watonka Summer Science Camp 2006. In a related matter, Dr. James Zefran was also acknowledged for bringing information about the camp to the Board of Education and suggesting the school participate in the program at the camp.
The Forest City Rotary Club and its president David Daugherty were honored for donating dictionaries to the third grade students. Daugherty was also thanked for bringing the Red Dragon Karate demonstration to the school during National Red Ribbon Week that was held last month.
In his report, School Superintendent Robert Vadella said the new physics laboratory at the school is complete and Dr. Dan Nebzydoski will be moving into it over the Thanksgiving holiday break.
In other matters, the board:
- increased the mileage rate in accordance with the Internal Revenue Service guidelines to $.485 per mile effective January 1.
- named Director Al Dyno as the representative to the Career Technology Center of Lackawanna County effective through December 2009.
- appointed Paul Germain and Elizabeth to the substitute teachers list.
- named Matthew Pisarcik to the extra-curricular position of timekeeper at the basketball games.
- accepted the resignation of Christopher Wade as senior class advisor effective immediately.
- and, accepted $3,600 in lieu of taxes from the Waymart Wind Farm effective October 25.
Harford Township expects to spend only about $2,000 more of its own money next year than it expected to spend in 2006, just over $267,000 altogether. Yet cash on hand at the end of the year will be more than $20,000 lower than it might have been. What's the difference? The Great Flood of 2006.
Harford Supervisors reviewed a proposed budget for 2007 at their meeting on November 11. The budget is actually in three parts.
One part is for the self-sustaining sewer system and is managed by the Supervisors constituted as the Harford Township Sewer Authority. The sewer budget changes little, totaling just about $101,000 each year. Another part is the so-called "State" budget, where the township accounts for money provided by the state, mostly through a liquid fuel subsidy. That is expected to rise by almost $30,000, primarily due to "turn-back" funds, money that comes with roads that have been turned over to the township.
Local taxes support the largest part, the local township budget. A full 38% of the township budget is funded by the half-percent earned-income tax that the township shares with Mountain View School District. Another 32% comes from local property taxes. Revenue from the earned-income tax and the property tax have risen by similar modest amounts over the past several years, although rates have not increased at all for quite some time.
What the Supervisors will do about taxes won't be decided until the budget is formally adopted next month. But the budget does not anticipate any increases this year.
Like most municipalities in this part of the world, Harford has suffered some reverses due to the flooding in late June. So far, Harford has received over $81,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) for flood-related expenses. More is expected. There are two major projects under consideration that the Supervisors will be studying very closely, however.
The bridge on Pennay Hill Road will have to be replaced, for which FEMA has already authorized $331,000. But the township has received a study that estimates it could cost close to $500,000, including $61,565 for engineering alone. "We cannot front that difference here in the township," said supervisor Rick Pisasik. The township will file an appeal with FEMA for the difference, some of which may ultimately be provided by PEMA.
None of the flood-related expenses appear in the budget, since most of the costs are expected to be covered by FEMA/PEMA. But the township has clearly had to draw down its cash reserves this year, at least in part because of the flood.
The sluice at the outlet of Tingley Lake under Stearns Road was not actually a casualty of the flood, so its replacement doesn't come under FEMA's flood-repair authority. A preliminary study doesn't estimate the cost of replacing the sluice, but the engineering just to develop the plans was priced at $15,465, well above early estimates to do the whole project.
The sluice could be nearly 100 years old, is too small to handle the flow in extreme conditions, and may be gradually collapsing. "If we have another major storm, people are going to be flooded [at the lake]", said Mr. Pisasik. The Supervisors are determined to get the job done, but "this may be a huge expense for us; we don't know," said Mr. Pisasik.
A project like this might be subsidized from funds allocated for "mitigation" for situations like this that could lead to future problems, but there is no certainty that an application for such money would be successful. In the meantime, Township Secretary (and Supervisor) Sue Furney will try to find another engineering firm that might be a little cheaper. The studies so far have been done by Scranton-based CECO Associates, the company that Susquehanna County uses for its bridge projects and inspections.
In other business, the Supervisors approved a couple of routine subdivisions and a building permit for a garage. In the latter case, the permit was annotated to specify that the garage is not to be connected to the lot's septic system.
The Supervisors also gave formal passage to an ordinance that will allow tax collectors to assess fees for such things as returned checks and duplicate bills.
Roadmaster Terry VanGorden reported that work to clean out Martin's Creek in Kingsley is nearing completion. The township is paying for this project out of its own funds. Mr. VanGorden wants residents to be aware that "the Township will not take responsibility for any further maintenance in that area."
The PennDOT project to replace the bridge in Harford village has been lagging, to the consternation of local residents. The Supervisors have not been able to get any information as to when work will resume, although it is thought that the contractor will be liable for penalties for work beyond the original expected completion date of November 13.
At least one patient resident is expecting the new bridge to cap the renovation of the village. A note read at the meeting remarked on the greatly improved appearance consequent to the replacement of the old Odd Fellows Hall by an elegant greensward outlined by a graceful stone wall and iron fence.
The next meeting of the Harford Township Supervisors will be held on Tuesday, November 28, beginning at 7:30 p.m.
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