'Citizens for Transparency' survey brings crowd to Greencastle Borough Council meeting
More than 30 people packed the room at Monday night's Greencastle Borough Council meeting in relation to a group calling itself "Citizens for Transparency" and a survey sent to some borough residents last month.
Most of the people who signed the letter accompanying the survey, as well as other residents, addressed council members about issues in the letter and survey. The letter was signed by Charles Eckstine and Frank Webster, past council presidents; Brian Harbaugh, business owner; and Albert W. Miller and Jan Shafer, property owners.
Topics included the stormwater utility and fee and the general fund budget; proposed single-hauler trash collection; a proposed fire tax to support paid firefighters/EMTs for the Rescue Hose Co.; and rules of order at council meetings.
A Sept. 22 news release from the borough said the survey was not sanctioned by the borough; "some of the information contained in the memorandum is presented in a way that is not entirely accurate and lacks important context"; and the borough would not be compiling the results.
The surveys that were turned in to the borough were kept on file and late in the meeting, the two sides agreed to set up a time when they can be reviewed by representatives of the group.
The borough created a stormwater utility in 2019 and enacted a fee to support it. The bulk of the money was to fund an MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system) project to meet federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup mandates. The borough received a five-year MS4 waiver from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in May and has returned about two-thirds of the fee to property owners, retaining the rest for other stormwater maintenance and the operation of the stormwater utility.
Albert Miller said the stormwater utility as a stand-alone entity is dead and asserted the borough is hanging on to the rest of the money to cover a deficit in the general fund.
He called on council President Steve Miller to resign.
Because of the five-year waiver, Shafer said the full amount of the fee should have been returned to property owners.
"We are a small community and taxed to the hilt," said Shafer, who noted she has elderly neighbors who wonder how they are going to be able to stay in their homes and sometimes go without prescriptions or groceries to save money.
Steve Miller said the storm water utility is comprehensive means to manage stormwater infrastructure beyond MS4. In the past, the practice was to fix things when they broke and the stormwater utility is a way to be proactive and save citizens money. Having a designated utility also separates stormwater management — such as street sweeping and picking up leaves — from the general fund budget.
There also is uncertainty about what the borough will have to do — and how much it will cost — in the next MS4 cycle after the waiver expires.
Steve Miller said he will not resign as president because "I like working with these guys and we all love the community."
He noted that in the last election all council candidates were unopposed and said other than the council members seated at the table "no one wanted to run."
Single trash hauler
Business owner Stephanie Harbaugh asked how the borough is assessing if people want a single trash hauler and suggested a meeting for the public.
"Anyone I've spoken with is not keen on that," she said.
The public facilities committee is looking at whether to go with single-hauler trash collection. That would give residents a way to dispose of limbs and branches as a ban on most open burning is also is being considered. It also would also save residents money and get garbage trucks off the streets at 2 and 3 in the morning, said Joel Amsley, chairman of the committee.
Mayor Ben Thomas Jr., who has worked with a single-hauler approach for 10 years as manager of Cumberland Township in Adams County, said it drives costs down and services increase, including recycling of electronics.
"We're not close to mandating it," said Amsley, who agreed with the idea of a public meeting.
The Rescue Hose Co. is asking for money from the borough and Antrim Township to fund paid firefighter/EMT positions amid rising calls and declining volunteers.
A 1-mill fire tax is proposed to cover the $31,000 requested from the borough for 2021. Because 1 mill is the maximum the borough can charge for fire company personnel, money for additional paid positions in future years would have to come from the general fund, Steve Miller said at an earlier meeting.
Brian Harbaugh said wants to know about the Rescue Hose Co.'s $3.5 million in investments that earned interest of $148,000 in 2019.
He proposed tabling the fire tax until 2022, pending more details about the fire company's income.
"The residents can't afford more taxes and fees," he said.
"I feel we should have some explanation of how they are using investments," said Councilman Duane Kinzer.
Amsley agreed there should be a deeper review of what the fire company does with the income, adding "I think we'll be surprised" at the costs of maintaining the building and equipment.
"I feel fortunate they're only asking for critical personnel," Steve Miller said, explaining the borough is required by law to provide fire service. "The last thing we want is the keys to that building."
Rules of order
Questions have arisen in recent months about public comment and whether council members or staff will respond to public comments at a meeting. Last month, council members amended the Roberts Rules of Order adopted in March 2018 to clarify the public comment period to five minutes a person. A decision on responding to public comment was tabled.
"You're trying to silence us," said Eckstine, who said questions and offers of help are often ignored. "No wonder we had to send out the letters and survey ... We talk to you people and you sit there and stare back at us."
"If you can't talk to us, you will be flooded with right-to-know requests," said resident Eddie Baxter.
"As far as I'm concerned, Roberts can put his rules of order where the sun don't shine," said resident Joe Crouse.