Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Mayor Lutz pushes for police vehicle at meeting

Mayor Lutz arrived at the December 22 Meeting of the Whole sporting a jacket with a Columbia Police Department logo. As the meeting wore on, his support for police became increasingly apparent in his push to include a new police cruiser in the 2015 budget.

During the sometimes contentious discussion, it was revealed that the borough owns 10 vehicles, four whose mileage is 5,000 miles or less, one with 70,000 miles, and others with mileages ranging from 13,000 to 42,000. A detective's car, a van, and a street sweeper are among the 10 vehicles.

"We had to look at some really tough numbers this year with the budget," Councillor Kelly Murphy said, noting that there is only one vehicle nearing the end of its life. "We didn't feel it was necessary to replace one this year," adding that the purchase of a new vehicle was pushed back one year. Lutz stated there had been a previous discussion that a new vehicle would be purchased to replace a 2005 Tahoe with 71,000 miles. He said the vehicle is costing the borough money to keep it on the road. Lutz also noted that there are currently no vehicles except for a Ford Fusion used by the detective that has less than 4,000 miles. Another vehicle is a replacement due to a "demolition."

"This Tahoe is going to cost us money for the next year and a half that it's going to take before it gets to another budget cycle for the sake of going out for a municipal lease that's in the budget for $7,000," Lutz said. "We'll probably approach most of that within the next year and a half in maintenance costs on that vehicle. This doesn't make sense, none whatsoever, especially when you're sitting on a capital reserve that you're currently sitting on. If you don't do it this year you're going to live with this thing for another year and half." Lutz also said that if one of the vehicles goes down, two patrolmen will need to ride in one vehicle.

Murphy said he has not received any information about the expense of maintaining the vehicles. He said that according to the previous borough manager and verified by other sources the vehicle purchased for the detective is not being used - to the point that the battery needs to be jumped to get it started.  He said the detective is putting miles on police vehicles that the police should be putting on.  Lutz countered by saying the vehicle was being jumped due to an electrical problem. He said the vehicle has a mileage of 3,000, because only one person is using it, and a lot of his work is done in the office.

Councillor Barry Ford asked Lutz how many cars per shift are being used. Lutz said that it depends on how many officers are on a shift. "It could be four. It could be five," Lutz said. "It could be three. It could be two." Lutz also noted that vehicles cannot be run "24/7."

"I need to know whether we're going to have a vehicle or not," Lutz said. He noted that the borough has a budget reserve of $3.2 million. "That's 10 mills. If anything, the borough ought to give the people a mill tax reduction this year, and give them a break."

Councillor Jim Smith said, "I'd go for that rather than buying a police cruiser." But Murphy cautioned that the projection for next year could pull the reserve down by almost $800,000.

Lutz then claimed that for 12 years the police department has returned $1.9 million into the general fund, not including fines, citations, reimbursements for overtime from the school district, or money reimbursed for vests and other items. "Probably 66% of your budget reserve was earned by the police department," Lutz said. Murphy asked how that was possible.  Lutz shot back, "I don't know. Ask your accountant, because I took the  figures off your accountant."

"That budget comes from you," Murphy said. "You're saying you saved us $1.9 million."

"I don't do that part of the budget," Lutz replied. "I can't support this budget unless you give me reassurances we're buying a police vehicle."

Smith said, "You're saying what this car's going to cost.  How about showing something? All that is - that's your word."

Lutz replied, "It's in the budget! The chief told me the vehicle is starting to cost us money. I know the Tahoes are costing us money, because of the downtime in the shop."

Councillor Mary Barninger asked which shop is servicing the vehicles, citing the absence of bills in the check registers.

Several councillors recalled a bill from Lancaster Avenue Garage for a water pump for a Tahoe, as well as one for $42 for an inspection.

"We need to have some factual information," Murphy said. "Supporting documentation always helps. We've asked for this how many years now." He said spreadsheets should be made available to show vehicle maintenance costs.

Acting Borough Manager Ron Miller said, "We have it. We just don't have an organized spreadsheet. I'll just work on getting that spreadsheet together, because the information's there."

Council voted unanimously to pass the 2015 budget, with the cuts intact and no increase in the tax rate.

Lutz subsequently vetoed the budget at some point after the meeting.

Follow-up: A reliable source informed this website today that Mayor Lutz contacted LNP about his decision to veto the budget. He did not officially inform council.

What I saw recently

 Mason jars at Tollbooth

 Not OSHA-approved - at Third and Walnut

 Coming soon - more antiques (across from Burning Bridge Antiques)

 A Musser's cart in Shawnee Creek (with a scooter)

A Weis Markets cart at Musser's

 Enjoying the view from the Trail Services Building on a balmy afternoon last Saturday

A murder of crows on Grinnell Avenue.  Yes, that's really what a group of crows is called.

It's happening again

Old habits die hard.  Once again, old tires are being dumped at the wooded area near South Tenth and Wright Streets. This problem reached critical mass about a year ago, with over a dozen tires being dumped, after which the borough (presumably) cleaned up the mess.

Columbia mayor vetoes stay-the-same tax rate for 2015

Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz

Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz has vetoed the borough’s approved 2015 tax rate, which remains at 8 mills.

On Dec. 22, borough council unanimously approved the 2015 budget along with an ordinance to keep the tax rate the same as in 2014.

Lutz's action means that council will have to vote to override the veto in order to secure the tax rate and set the budget.

Council President Mike Beury expressed surprise when called for comment. Lutz had not, apparently, officially informed council of the veto.

"Unless they override my veto or change the tax millage to something I would agree to, they will have no money for the budget," Lutz said.
Council President Mike Beury expressed surprise when called today for comment.  Lutz had not, apparently, officially informed council of the veto.

Beury is confident the tax rate and budget will pass as proposed, despite Lutz’s veto.

“He's gonna lose,” Beury said. “Everybody voted for it the first place. They will vote for it again.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Homegrown hemp on the horizon?

Columbia resident Shawn House has to import the starring ingredient in his Hempzels food products from Canada. He would like that to change.

State could be ready to rule if Susquehanna is "sick" by this summer

Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, in its every-two-year review of Pennsylvania's water-quality plans, said it agreed that there is still a lack of data to declare the Susquehanna sick or not.
But that determination may be soon at hand, EPA said.

Little Boy Captures Video Evidence of Santa in Columbia

A Christmas wish came true for a little boy named Evan.
The 7-year-old's family helped him set up a video camera on Christmas Eve, and he managed to capture something magical — Santa personally delivering presents to his home in Columbia, Pennsylvania.

Let there be light - Take 2

Yes, let there be some.

These three street lights on the first block of North Third Street (near Burning Bridge Antiques) have been out for several weeks. This issue was first brought to the attention of council at its December 8 meeting, during citizen comments. At the December 22 Meeting of the Whole, Acting Borough Manager Ron Miller said there had been a "hiccup" as lights were being strung, which had knocked out some street lights.  Are these the ones? This section of the block is very dark at night, with the only light available coming from businesses and passing vehicles.

Keeping an eye on things

Four new security cameras were installed Monday at the Northwest River Trail Services Building at Columbia River Park. Installation was approved November 24 at Columbia Borough Council's Meeting of the Whole. The total cost for the cameras was $9420, with half coming from a grant and half from the borough. Including an existing camera near the front of the building, the addition of the four new cameras (two outside and two inside) brings the total number of cameras monitoring the building to five. 

 A technician checks an existing camera near the front of the building.

 Installation of this new camera on the south side of the building is almost complete.

A second camera, almost ready, on the north side.

A long view of the camera shown above.

Prudhomme's controversy noted in 'The Christian Post'

Monday, December 29, 2014

Gap between rich, poor schools doubled in 4 years under Gov. Corbett

Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The gap between what wealthy districts and poor districts spend to educate children has widened dramatically in the four years since GOP Gov. Tom Corbett took office, amid deep budget-balancing cuts in state aid under Republican-controlled Harrisburg and long-delayed pension obligation payments coming due.

And according to, he's one of the villains who approved a gas tax increase:
"The Republican governor did approve a gas-tax increase in November as part of a more than $2.3 billion transportation package. The increase for gas and diesel is charged at the wholesale level, but multiple businesses have said they have to pass the cost along to consumers.
The increase is being phased in over multiple years, and the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a think tank that says it’s dedicated to rolling back the size of government, calculated that it equals a minimum 27-cent per gallon increase for gas by 2017. The minimum increase would be slightly less than that by 2018.
The minimum increase would be higher for diesel.
The increases could be higher, depending on average wholesale prices calculated by the Department of Revenue."

Driving in Pennsylvania will get more expensive in 2015

PCB contamination causes fish consumption advisory for catfish caught from Susquehanna River in Lancaster County

The state Department of Environmental Protection has issued a consumption warning for channel catfish longer than 20 inches. Samples of the fish showed unacceptable levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, often called PCBs.

Let there be lights

More new "bridge" lights
Workers began installing lights on the surface of the new facade at Columbia Plaza today. (The structure resembles the Veterans Memorial Bridge.)

Pooped out

The holidays have this effect on a lot of folks. 
Some of us need a holiday from the holidays.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Salt must go before bridge project begins

We know that too much salt is bad for your health, but it can be bad for the health of concrete structures, also. Rock salt (sometimes called "road salt" due to its use on icy roads) currently being stored under the Veterans Memorial Bridge may be contributing to spalling and cracking on bridge piers in close proximity to the salt pile, and PennDOT may require the borough to move the salt in the near future. At Columbia Borough Council's Meeting of the Whole last Monday, Mayor Lutz stated the need for a pole barn or shed to contain the salt. The salt is used by borough and school district maintenance personnel. Lutz said that in the next year or two the bridge will undergo the largest bridge restoration project in Pennsylvania.

  A salt pile under the Veterans Memorial Bridge

 Deterioration at the base of a pier near the salt pile

 Spalling and cracking on one of the soldier piers, shown here and below

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tires slashed on 30 vehicles in Columbia - LancasterOnline

Tires were slashed on about 30 vehicles in Columbia Borough, apparently sometime Friday evening, according to police. 
Police said they began getting calls about 9 p.m. and found vehicles with slashed tires in the following streets:
200 block of South Second Street; 200 block of Lawrence Street; Mill Street; Furnace Avenue; the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Manor Street; 600 block of South 11th and 14th streets and the 1300 block of Central Avenue.
Damage is estimated in the thousands of dollars.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Columbia Borough Police Department at 717-684-7735.

What I saw today - December 20, 2014

Waterways Conservation Officer Jeff Schmitt talking to boaters.

 New siding

 A spy caught watching for Santa

On Letort Road

National Watch and Clock Museum names new curator |

The National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Lancaster County, recently hired a new curator of collections to replace Carter Harris, who retired in August.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Borough offices to be closed

Last day to pay property taxes is Dec. 31

What I saw today - December 18, 2014

Workers were at it again today at the Columbia Plaza project.  Even the cold winds didn't slow them down.

 The section on the left looks to be almost finished. The facade is looking more like the Veterans Memorial Bridge each day.

Meanwhile, in town . . .
 Locust Street, and Eddie Shupp is showing photographs
Of every head he's had the pleasure to know,
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello.

 And catty-corner from Shupp's - what's this?

The sidewalk is closed?

Columbian among 72 student-athletes to earn fall academic All-Big-10 honors

'Sharp Things' band started with demo in Columbia

THE SHARP THINGS is a longstanding, multi-member NYC-based collective led by singer/songwriter/pianist Perry Serpa. Over their 15-plus years in existence, THE SHARP THINGS have taken in over 40 musicians, shared stages all over the place with the likes of Metric, Broken Social Scene, Tindersticks, Evan Dando, Joan As Policewoman, the late Vic Chesnutt, and many more. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014