The petition heading states: “We, the undersigned taxpayers and/or residents of the Borough of Columbia, do hereby petition and demand that borough council hold a special meeting as soon as possible to do the following: 1.) To eliminate the $800,000 that was to be allocated to the Revolving Loan Fund in the 2019 budget; 2.) To repeal the Revolving Loan Fund Ordinance 897; 3.) To repeal the tax hike for 2019, thereby reinstating the 2019 tax rate at 6.6 Mills.”
Norm Meiskey addresses the standing-room-only crowd at Sunday's meeting.
Former borough manager Norm Meiskey led Sunday's meeting, telling the standing-room-only crowd that the 21.2% municipal tax increase was driven largely by a need to finance a $1.5 million revolving loan fund that provides funding to businesses in the borough at taxpayers' expense - and risk.
The program is capitalized through the borough's general fund and is administered by the Community First Fund of Lancaster. Community First requires no personal guarantees for the loan. At a special council meeting on December 13, 2018, Borough Manager Rebecca Denlinger said, ". . . we might not get paid back. There's a risk involved, certainly."
The borough allocated $300,000 for the fund in 2018, and another $800,000 - roughly two mills of real estate tax - was allocated for this year. The loan fund was created by ordinance in March 2018.
So far, only one loan has been approved: $250,000 to a business entity owned by developer Don Murphy towards the purchase of Hinkle's Restaurant. Another applicant, Eberly Myers LLC, which sought to construct a 33-unit apartment building on the first block of Locust Street, had requested $400,000 (later increased to $650,000) but was denied. At a recent borough meeting, it was announced that Murphy has expressed an interest in taking over the apartment building project.
Columbia Borough enlisted Community First Fund to administer the fund, ostensibly to avoid bias in lending. One of the principals of the fund is David Nikoloff, whose wife, Janice, oversees the Columbia Economic Development Corporation. Nikoloff joined Community First as vice president of real estate lending in November 2018. Nikoloff, as a principal of AIM Advisors, completed a $75,800 biogas study for the borough in 2016. Columbia Spy reported on the study HERE. He was previously on the staff of Centric Bank, which provided initial funding for the Eberly Myers project. Centric reportedly loaned Murphy $880,000 on January 11, 2018.