Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Meeting of the Whole May 26, 2015 Summary - Part 1


Last night's Columbia Borough Council Committee of the Whole meeting lasted nearly five hours and addressed a multitude of issues, including many concerns brought forth by residents. The sometimes contentious meeting almost derailed several times as residents occasionally spoke over each other and out of the order of the agenda.

Following is part one of a summary of the highlights of the meeting:

Audit Report for Fiscal Year 2014
The meeting opened with an Audit Report for Fiscal year 2014 by Mike Reiner of Sager Swisher, LLC. The report included the expected discussion of tax revenue, debt, expenses, etc. One significant item discussed was the police pension plan which is underfunded by $1.7 million. However, Mr. Reiner said that council is conservatively budgeting revenues and are under-budget on expenses. Councillor Jim Smith said, "We have to pay attention."

SGHA Presentation of Columbia Crossing
Representatives from the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area (SGHA) proposed a partnership with the borough for operating the Columbia Crossing building at River Park, since there is currently no concrete plan for its use. Mark Platts, president of the organization, said the building will be the main gateway to the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and will attract lots of visitors. (The trail is scheduled to be completed this October.) The proposal would be a cooperative 5-year agreement between SGHA and the borough.

From SGHA's Power Point presentation at last night's meeting

Bidding would not be required (as was the case with Daisy Pagan's previous offer to operate the building), because the foundation would be offering a professional service. Resident Frank Doutrich later asked council if they were aware that the operating expense is projected to be $150,000 per year, and council answered in the affirmative.

A discussion of River Park concerns followed the presentation. Issues explored included confusion over parking, poor signage, and people swimming at the docks. The SGHA representatives left as the discussion continued.

Avenue J
Longtime borough resident Mary Loreto spoke of her wish to convert Avenue J (between South Second Street and Bank Avenue) to a non-vehicular, walking-only area, in line with recommendation of consultants at the recent charrette gathering at Perfect Settings.  She said the borough hired consultants to undertake the study.  She added that doing so would help retain the Avenue's historical nature and enable the borough to apply for grants. (As Mrs. Loreto addressed council, two councillors carried on a conversation between themselves.) 

"I'm praying you have the wisdom to make that happen," she told council. "This is your time to shine."

Mrs. Loreto left the meeting immediately following her presentation, and a discussion of the issue ensued. During the give-and-take, Council President Mike Beury, who was considering making a motion, took exception to a side conversation Councillor Mary Barninger was having with Mayor Leo Lutz. When she explained she was talking to the mayor, Beury said, "You shouldn't have been without ... permission." Councillor Barninger said she did not want to make a motion without knowing everything that transpired when councillors visited the area and talked to residents.  

"You want this stinkin' job, you can have it," Beury said in a moment of pique. When Megan Bigler (Mary Loreto's granddaughter) said that was not professional, Beury replied, "I know it is not professional, but I can only take so much."

"You are fighting. Disrespectful," Ms. Bigler said as she left the meeting.

Beury then told council, "You'll have my resignation in the morning. You can get somebody else for president and council members because I've had enough of this crap!"

Council then discussed several options for the alley, including closing the alley at both ends, closing only one end, and keeping it open.

Councillor Smith said council spends a lot of time on this issue at every meeting. Resident Elaine Beckley reminded council to consider the consultants' recommendations to keep Avenue J for walking. Another resident said the consultants were only looking at maps and thought the alley was unused when they made the recommendation.  When it was suggested by another resident that one person was responsible for the Avenue J controversy, Beury said he was told "that was a beautiful street to live in until he moved in." At the conclusion of the discussion, the issue had not been voted on or resolved.



  1. I'm repeating what I told council last night: On Memorial Day, the first major holiday after the opening of Columbia Crossing, this new building stood empty. Not only was the main building closed, but the restrooms were also locked. It was a spectacular day, weather wise and the park was full. The open pavilion beside the new building was reserved for a party. My understanding is that those people paid a small fee for use of the pavilion and they had no restroom facilities. The restrooms should be open everyday dawn to dusk. What a waste to see the building standing there locked up.

  2. One other area that I feel strongly about:
    A couple residents of South Second Street implied that Mary Loreto is being used by someone in the Avenue J controversy. I was invited to a meeting at her home and before anyone else arrived, I told Mary that people are saying she is being used. I asked her if that is the case and she firmly and quite articulately informed me that is not true. To publicly say that Mary cannot think for herself anymore is insulting. Another resident suggested that Mary is a shut-in, again an insult. She sits on her front porch and attends the council meetings, getting up to speak at the podium. And for the council president to join in and insult another resident after he left the meeting is appalling. Avenue J may well be the last remaining grass/brick/cobblestone alley in the borough, why allow it to deteriorate? And more importantly why make fools of the people trying to save it? At another meeting, a resident of south second street flipped the finger at someone, yes during the meeting. This is how we communicate now? Last night as Mary approached the podium, it appeared that a man in the front made an obscene gesture, visible by council. Why are these people not asked to leave the meeting?

  3. If i go to the river park and the PUBLIC RESTROOMS are closed, i am peeing on the GRASS!!!

  4. So lets keep avenue j open for driving and be done with it. Making it a walking path is just pointless. It was made to drive on. I am for making it nicer to drive on but not a walking alley and yes i do drive on it. Drop the subject about this alley and lets concentrate on something important.........

  5. Who is the judge of what's important? If you want it dropped, turn to council, they need to LEAD, make a decision one way or another. They are the reason this drags on.