Murray: “I don't want to see money pissed away like this.”
Bruce Murray, owner of Elite Energy, wondered who would invest such a sum into something he believes is "unsustainable and unfeasible." He said he owns several businesses that he built with his own money. “I use my own money, and if I don't have the money, I build the capital. That's what I do. That's what investors do." Murray said his company employs about 25 people, 80% of whom live in Columbia.
“When I got wind that we were willing to give $650,000 to somebody, to start a project that's not feasible, not sustainable in this town...we're not a Lancaster City, we don't have 60,000 people.” He noted that there are hotels within three miles of the borough that don't have any vehicles in the parking lots. “I don't understand why we're putting one in our town. I don't understand why we're giving all our money up in this town.” He also objected to allowing ten years of property tax abatements for the building and pointed out a business that may have closed due to property taxes: Colonial Metals. “Colonial Metals just closed, and there's a hundred people on the street that don't have a job. They're complaining about tax assessments, tax appeals,” Murray said. He asked why the borough doesn't help the company. “Why don't we work with the owner of Colonial Metals?”
Murray said he supports investment in the town but only for projects that are feasible and sustainable. “I'm willing to give up money for a company to come in there, an investor to come in there, and build something that we structurally need, but I'm not willing to piss my money away to something that's not even there," he said. “You can't tell me we don't have any other projects in this town that we could spend $650,000 on.”
He emphatically does not think the proposed hotel project is worthwhile. “How are you going to pack that hotel on Second Street? Tell me. I'd like to know from the borough," he said. “We know you can't fill that hotel. We know it's not sustainable.”
He told council he has about $2 million dollars worth of properties in town but hates to see wasteful spending. “I don't want to see money pissed away like this.”
Doutrich: “I don't feel you should be in the banking business.”
Frank Doutrich also had doubts about the project and asked council for more information. “I consider Don Murphy a friend, and I'm still going to ask the questions,” he said.
Doutrich asked council who Cimarron Investments is but members didn't know, other than the company's principal, Don Murphy. He then asked if council had Cimarron's financial statement, and council president Kelly Murphy said council has access to the information. Doutrich then asked if council knew Cimarron's debt, and Murphy replied, "Not offhand."
Murphy told Doutrich that even though the hotel project was listed on the agenda, council had no plans to vote on it that evening. (The matter had been rendered moot due to council's last minute tabling of the issue.)
Doutrich noted that Don Murphy told committee members at a finance meeting that he had a signed contract with the hotel chain. Doutrich asked councillors if they had seen the contract. They had not.
Doutrich wondered why council had not considered offering a loan instead of a grant but then thought that was a bad idea, also. “This is a private enterprise," he said. “I don't feel you should be in the banking business. You shouldn't be loaning money.”
“I'd like to know the financial status.," Doutrich continued. "I'd like to know their debt.” He wondered if funds would be used for the purpose for which they would be allocated. “If you loan the money, is that money going into this project or is it going into other projects that he already has?”
Kelly Murphy assured Doutrich that any contract with the borough would have very defined details addressing such questions. He said borough staff would follow up to make sure all funds were being used properly.
McBride: “Stop giving our money away.”
Shirley McBride, who spoke next, said, "If you give these people taxes for nothing, it hurts us. We just lost a business here in this town [Colonial Metals].” She chided council about the proposed spending. “Stop giving our money away,” she said. She told council that senior citizens in town don't have enough money for food and taxes, and she doesn't want to see people lose their homes any more.
She questioned the wisdom of building the hotel. “Why would I want a hotel down there?" she asked. "Who's going to use it? I can guarantee you not one person in this town is going to be able to afford the room rent.”
“Stop wasting our money. It's not your money." she said. "It's our money, not yours.”
However, Councilman Cleon Berntheizel took issue. “It is our money, because we are also taxpayers of Columbia Borough,” he said. He also explained that the tax abatement applies only to improvements to the building, not the current building. “That's how you help developers come into your town to build things that helps taxes in the long run.”
Weaver: “Putting a hotel on Second and Locust Street – what is that going to do for the town?”
Rose Weaver, owner of Rose's Deli on North Fourth Street, said she was disheartened when she heard that such a large sum might be allocated for the project.
“I do not ask the borough for anything, but I feel sometimes as a small business owner I get overlooked," she said. "I don't see any of the borough council members come into my building.”
“Putting a hotel on Second and Locust Street – what is that going to do for the town?” she asked.
She asked council to help small businesses, such as hers. She said she is trying to provide a service for people that they can enjoy and afford.
“We're already here, and we're trying to make Columbia good. I'm trying to do good things,” she said.