Friday, February 1, 2019

Tax hike/revolving loan fund citizen comments, Part 2

Citizen Comments, Part 2, 1/22/2019 Columbia Borough Council Meeting


Mary Wickenheiser: "Well all I ever heard about Social Security was, it was to help you in your retirement. It wasn't supposed to be your entire retirement. So somehow it has reached that point, and it's sad that it has reached that point, and I'm sorry there are people who are in that position, but the borough needs to do what is best for the borough." 

Mary Wickenheiser said she supports what previous speakers Taylor Callaway and Kay Leader said in favor of the recent tax hike. Wickenheiser, who noted she was a member of council for 13 years, said that back then, council had resisted raising municipal taxes due to the school district's tax increases - in order to avoid overtaxing residents. "We know the school district's going to raise the taxes," she recalled. "We can't hit our citizens with two tax hikes." She added that holding the line on taxes was what got the borough to this point. "That's what got us here. We were too good."

Wickenheiser said she read that people are saying they can't afford the recent increase, because they're on a fixed income. "I'm on a fixed income. Well all I ever heard about Social Security was, it was to help you in your retirement. It wasn't supposed to be your entire retirement. So somehow it has reached that point, and it's sad that it has reached that point, and I'm sorry there are people who are in that position, but the borough needs to do what is best for the borough."

Wickenheiser turned to council and said, "Truthfully, you guys are really taking the heat on this one, and it shouldn't just be you who are taking the heat. We had a previous borough manager. He was there for how many years that I was there. Mr. Doutrich sat on council while I was there. He was appointed to fill a position . . . You guys are taking the heat for something you inherited from the past. And I commend you for having the guts to step forward and approve this tax increase."


Mindy Blasick: "There isn't one citizen that doesn't want us to thrive and benefit from that, but it feels like you're sucking the blood out of the citizens, to do it, and you don't want to listen. Your minds are made up."

Mindy Blasick said she has a wide range of sentiments on the tax issue. She quoted Winston Churchill: "There's a price to pay for greatness, and that's responsibility." Blasick then expanded on that sentiment - and on Wickenheiser's statement, "Whether you inherited it or however you got it, it's your responsibility to maintain this town." She explained further, "There isn't one citizen that doesn't want us to thrive and benefit from that, but it feels like you're sucking the blood out of the citizens, to do it, and you don't want to listen. Your minds are made up."

She said council should have started managing their budget like a household budget 10 years ago. Blasick said that due to the tax increase, she will now need to work more overtime and won't be able to help businesses. "It's just very frustrating," she said. "You can see it from both sides, but there has to be a middle ground." Blasick noted that the issues are dividing us. She also believes the borough is taking a gamble. "It's a great risk, and we're all going to pay for it."


Travis McCarty: "The buzz in Lancaster is honestly this town, so if you don't think it's moving in the right direction, you're wrong, because every person that comes in that bar is talking about the waterfront expansion, the hotel, everything, so if you're against it, by all means you have no idea the buzz that's getting created everywhere else in this county."

Travis McCarty asked residents to stop the name-calling on social media, because he finds it "unbecoming." He said the remarks reach beyond just the people in Columbia. McCarty said he wants to open a restaurant here, but his investors are reluctant "because of the language." He said they are now going to open the restaurant in Lancaster. He urged residents to treat each other with respect "and show outsiders who we are."

McCarty said he works for Columbia Kettle Works, and the establishment just opened its second location in Lancaster. "The buzz in Lancaster is honestly this town, so if you don't think it's moving in the right direction, you're wrong, because every person that comes in that bar is talking about the waterfront expansion, the hotel, everything, so if you're against it, by all means you have no idea the buzz that's getting created everywhere else in this county," McCarty said. "Lititz is talking about it. Ephrata is talking about it."

He suggested that residents might not understand the different taxes and offered to talk to them after the meeting "to break down some of the stuff you may not understand as citizens."


Council heard citizen comments at the January 22, 2019 Columbia Borough Council meeting. 


Mike Shomody said he did the calculations and found that "$12 [per month] is what we're getting really upset about." He said the tax increase is the cost of doing business. "It has to go through, because the day-to-day operations have to be taken care of, and that does come from the general fund," he said, noting salaries and cost of living increases.

Of the loan fund, he said, "I look at this as an investment to the future of Columbia Borough. If we don't invest in commercial now, we will end up turning around, no one will move into this town, and then the buildings become vacant and fall over, and we have every other taxpayer in here bitching about that, then we'll pay for taxpayer dollars to demolish it and clean it up."


[A resident then stood up and began walking out, proclaiming, "Twelve dollars! 12 lunches for senior citizens. They're not supposed to eat for two weeks?!"]


Nate Bunty: "This isn't just a sudden thing. Columbia has been on an upward trajectory for several years, and people are starting to notice."

Nate Bunty said he has spoken in favor of what council has been doing over the last several years. "This isn't just a sudden thing. Columbia has been on an upward trajectory for several years, and people are starting to notice," he said. "I've gone to networking meetings with commercial lenders, realtors, business developers for 10 to 15 years. Lately, over the past several years, the buzz has been Columbia." Bunty said the negative perception of Columbia is "starting to go away."

Bunty noted that 96,000 people were on the trail last year and speculated: "Imagine if we build that expansion. 150 - 200,000 people might use the trail." Bunty is bullish about Columbia's future. "I think we're about to hit a hockey stick. We're going to shoot up. And again, I think those types of opportunities - those types of environments - scare some people. Change always scares some people."

He quoted author Seth Godin: "Those who accept uncertainty are the pathfinders for the rest of us." Bunty continued, "So if we accept some uncertainty, we can get pathfinder as a community. Some of our business leaders in the community are accepting that uncertainty. They're investing hundreds of thousands of their own dollars to change things in town here and accept that uncertainty and be a pathfinder for the community."


Sharon Lintner: "I want to see it thrive, but use your own money. Don't use ours. I'd like to have mine to put into my own home which is also my investment."

Sharon Lintner said she was born in Columbia. She told council she has made a huge investment in this town. As she was about to continue, Bunty shouted from the back of the room and was admonished by her and Murphy. "$12 a month is not what we're upset about," Lintner said. "We're upset about where and why - where it's going. I invested in my property. The developer in question will have a tax abatement. I will be paying more taxes while he pays less."

She pushed back on McCarty's suggestion that residents don't understand the difference between municipal and school taxes. "It doesn't matter if they're separate. We pay them all. I think it's wrong to take our taxes and give it to someone who stands to profit off our back." She said the ever-increasing taxes are "eroding away our lifestyle."

Touching on Wickenheiser's statements, Lintner said that not everyone is privileged to have access to a pension. "Fixed incomes for some are different for others," she said. She also explained that she is not against development in Columbia and has defended the town for years. "I want to see it thrive, but use your own money. Don't use ours. I'd like to have mine to put into my own home which is also my investment."

45 comments:

  1. Mary Wickenheiser, don't "we the people" make up the borough? Isn't the borough there to do what is best for us, as opposed to what's best for the employees? Or the friends of officials who need jobs? If you are living off of more than SS, then you should consider yourself lucky and shut up and sit down. Did nobody ever tell you that it's not nice to gloat? You represent a very, very, very small percentage of the elderly within the community.

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    1. In 13 years , if she put the time and our money into the town instead of the money pit the town would not be in the shape it is today

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  2. So Travis is choosing to open a restaurant in Lancaster, instead of Columbia? Did I read that right? Say it isn't so? Atta boy, way to put your money where your mouth is.

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    1. When you understand how to run a restaurant, the cost of day to day operations, the cost of a liquor license, and many other things that you’re ignorant to, please let’s sit down and talk. I went through 12 buildings in Columbia and we were still undecided because many were pretty much going to cost an arm and a leg to get up to code. Secondly, when everyone was saying they are going to boycott Columbia businesses, an investor is not going to put forth money to get boycotted.

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    2. Smart move on the part of the investors. No doubt their decision to not invest in Columbia had little to do with rumors of boycotts.

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    3. Your plans to open a second location had to have been in motion before this loan fund debacle so I find it hard to believe a late night rant by a councilor, or social media posts decrying tax increases were the sole reason for investor issues, which is what you alluded to at the meeting. You are now saying the issue was the properties available would be too expensive to bring up to code. Did you apply for a loan from the revolving fund? It seems your needs are the ones we should be meeting with the fund. I have not heard anyone publicly say they would boycott your business if you opened in Columbia. Seems to me you are just making excuses for not putting your money where your mouth is.

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    4. Maybe the citizens can break down what YOU don't understand Mr. McCarty. How condescending to suggest we don't understand the different taxes. I've been paying these taxes longer than you've been on this planet. Yes, for over three decades now I've been writing a check in the spring for county and municipal taxes. I also have been writing a check in the fall for the school real estate taxes. The bottom line is: More now per year in TOTAL taxes. Thanks to council's vote, the total tax has just gone up, making Columbia the highest taxed municipality of all 60 in Lancaster County. As far as "language," perhaps you need to speak with a councilman about "unbecoming". Sharon Lintner

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    5. The exact irony of all of this, first off my money that my investors are putting up is just that MINE so you’re opinion of it doesn’t matter. Secondly, why do you guys keep posting anonymously, how do you expect anyone to respect or value an opinion. Thirdly when you understand economics and investments, get back to me. Last but not least you want me to put my money where my mouth is but $10 for a home apraised at $100,000 is too much for you. Makes a lot of sense, I’m good on the discussion and negativity.

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    6. Maybe you should care what you look like in front of council and the public to be taken as a investor with someone else money.

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  3. How does Nate know what council has been doing for the past few years when he's only been to less than a dozen meetings within the past 4 months?

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  4. Sharon, your comments were all spot on and reflect the sentiments of the 1150+ residents that signed the petition. Thank you for speaking for us and representing us!

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  5. Let me just point this out and I won't name names. Two above who spoke in favor of this tax increase, one of you has an assessed property value of just over $50k and the other just under $50k, which means your tax impact is very minimal. A third one who applauded council has an assessed value of less than $75k, which said home assessment value actually was reduced at the countywide reassessment last year. Again, seeing a minimal financial impact from the increase.

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    1. I agree with you. Anonymous 1:29 my taxes went up excessively after the reassessment and it will be a good bit more than $12 a month with this increase.

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    2. 1.4 mills is objectively a small increase in total property taxes regardless of your assessment

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  6. While I may not necessarily agree with Mary, I do respect her right to say it. She should no more be told to shut up and sit down than Sharron or anyone else making comments. If you’re not willing to allow her to voice her opinion, why should anyone listen to yours.

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    1. First: I never heard anyone say that they are going to boycott Columbia businesses.

      Second: I did not hear anyone ask Mary to shut up or sit down.

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    2. I said it, and maybe I should have said it differently. While she has a right to speak, her opinion and circumstances do not represent the majority and the majority should not be mislead.

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  7. So why should a previous borough manager be held accountable for whether or not taxes are raised or decreased? Council makes that decision, NOT the borough manager. To you who said that, you should have had a clue about that since you sat on council for 13 years. Be accountable for your own actions, or lack thereof.

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  8. 1. All the Kissy Kissy comments sound good. Worthless!! Those are TRYING TO INTIMIDATE the town, that's all.
    2. People DO LIVE on SS, so suck it up. Good for you if you don't have to.
    3. The guy talking about the language and not opening a restaurant? Get real. People aren't STUPID. (That one was funny).
    4. People can't sell their lots of property to help with their retirement or move out because of the taxes. No one wants to move in.
    5. The population isn't growing so WHY is the town growing all these new jobs that are not needed? SPEND SPEND SPEND...............
    6. The "buzz"is just ringing in your ears called Tinnitus OR it is discussions of how you can't drive uptown because of the pot holes.
    7. 12$ may be one man's increase, not everyone is 12$
    8. This town is almost broke. HOW DO YOU THINK IT GOT TO BE BROKE? This is really very simple. When you don't have it,YOU DON'T SPEND
    IT. No need to hire a rocket scientist to figure this one out.

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  9. Yes, there were comments made by people in town about boycotting buisness, look back threw on columbia spy, people saud they were not going to support local buisness because taxes were going up and the little extra money they had is now, gone, look back travis did speak the truth about that... buisness needs to come to columbia, but if more buisness comes to columbia and fills the vacant buildings would there be a need for a tax hike?? Or is the big tax hike the reason that travis didnt bring a buisness to town???

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  10. Does Travis part own Kettle Works? I'm sure they didn't want 2 in Columbia so they have one here and one in Lancaster makes sense to me. My friends frequent the one here.

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    1. No, he is NOT an owner of Columbia Kettle Works.

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    2. Travis mentioned he was opening a restaurant, not a brew pub! Kettle works already has another location in Lancaster. So I'm not sure what business Travis is referring to.

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  11. We seem to forget why the waste treatment plant was sold? Norm was in favor to put $8.5 million dollars into savings for the future and eliminate ALL the employees which was a huge savings for the Borough. Then after the Council and past "Market House Trust" (who ironically attended all the sewer plant meetings) saw the silver lining to have these funds readily available, put this Borough Council together for their liking.
    Then the "letter scandal" which Greg Sahd never opened on behalf of Columbia's Municipal Authority's stay of execution. Council voted to disband the Authority and claim a little over $2 million dollars from their account. Now Columbia Borough has a nice fat account of $10.5 million dollars plus. Where is it?
    No more income of more then $900,000 per year income from the plant. How do you survive?
    Norm Meiskey was looking out for the taxpayers. Not tree grates, building loans, pipe dreams, studies and a slew of mishaps by this council. Investors are too invest, and thrive from the citizens of the Borough of Columbia. The rate of progress that I see is minimal for the money invested in the town. We still have over forty properties that need developed in the downtown district. I see no help extended to those who barely survive running their shops.
    If Rebecca Denlinger was hired to jump start this town with all her background. Still would love to know how the KOZ was done incorrectly, and lost the McGinnis Airfield deal.
    Double Crossing Columbia

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    1. Why do you bring up the Market House Trust? That board did not attend M. A. meetings. If you are speaking of one member of the board, then name the member. I assure the Trust board as a whole, had no involvement with the Municipal Authority.

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    2. Rebecca is a consultant , NOT A MANAGER , it is showing.

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    3. Very well stated! The borough is in a jam with MONEY they wasted!! Now there is no choice and i mean NO CHOICE but to CUT cost for the borough employees! When this takes place, you employees have better look at the magnificent SEVEN!! They tore this town apart and took it down! They should paint the whole town RED and call it HELL TOWN do to the Magnificent Seven!!

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    4. The Market House Trust's President was Cleon Bernthiezel, with other good friend's Don Haines, Elaine Beckley(escaped friendship, good for her), Rebecca Murphy (Council President's wife) and a host of other coffee house supporters. Big Spenders!

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  12. You bring up a good point. Maybe losing the McGinnis deal was planned. Then the borough had less to get approved from the State so they could continue to illegally fund the loan program and give their puppy all the benefits. Maybe at the next meeting if Mr. McGinnes comes, we should ask him what happened. I read in LNP what the one family member said. It clearly wasn't the family fault. It was Columbias fault that it fell through, BUT was it deliberate? It is all starting to make sense now. The underhand sneak just doesn't have any limits.

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    1. No Deninger just screwed up again.

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  13. The developer will pay less tax on his multi-million dollar hotel for the next ten years than I pay for my home. He stands to earn a profit off of his investment over those ten years, but as homeowners we don't. This is supposed to make the taxpayers of this borough happy. Add to that his request for a borough owned parking garage which will also cost taxpayers money and you've really sealed the deal to keep taxpayers happy.

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    1. Let it go KOZ you cant do a thing about it.

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  14. One day the empire will fall. I can't believe people can't see what's happening here. So if new people get elected could this all possibly change?

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    1. It's going to be hard, Jobs will go to cover the expense of the river park and if the hotel is built the parking garage expense will cost more jobs. By November if we get new people in, it's going to be very hard for them to decide. As far as the school goes It was wonder full when we had company's giving good retirements like Armstrong, Caterpillar, Harley, among others, Anvil wasn't one for any retirement. But when a retiring School Teacher brags she makes more money retiring when working, and she made almost $ 80,000 a year,really, at local and state taxpayers expense minus her 10% she payed, yes and the state still does nothing, over $ 20,000,000 to graduate 80 kids. Correct me if I'm wrong, and I can't spell.

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  15. a lot of good points. However, I really can't comprehend that all these 1150 people who oppose the county municipal tax increase doesn't petition and boycott school board meetings. The school taxes are really what's killing this town! Even the middle class is having problems trying to pay the exorbitant school taxes. Why don't you all attend those monthly meetings???
    there were people who DIDN'T want to sell the sewer plant because they had a crystal ball. I believe they have spent ALL that money plus many more HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS ON NONSENSE. the bottom line is: the councilors are NOT listening or acting on behalf of THEIR CONSTITUENTS. I do agree Columbia is seeing some what of a turnaround, a downtown revitilization, and that is thanks mainly to Don Murphy, any way you look at it. I still say thank you Mr Murphy. He is putting everything in trying to turn Columbia around. What are you doing? I also know MOST elderly in this Boro can't even afford their rent, their medicine, etc. That's on a higher level...the laws should be changed. You shouyldn't have to pay property taxes once you retire. You have paid them for decades. Tax the renters. Turn half of the 800+ rental properties into single family owned homes again. Then, you won't have the number of children in school that the taxpayer pays for. Lastly, the Phase III of River Park SHOULD BE SIMPLE, especially at this time. Revisit it in 10 years! Add benches and portapots on the existing trail. Add more parking for boaters with trailers. Add a water fountain. Stop this nonsense.

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    1. The school taxes are over the top, no argument there. However, our borough council has more flexibility to decide what money is spent on. It's easier to stop the municipal bleeding. Council can vote NO to tree grates, Christmas lights, trolleys, route 462 highway lights, fences, revolving loan fund ordinance, three new code trucks, a parking garage, etc.

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    2. The town is riddled with problems. A L L taxes are out of hand. Continue the fight with the Borough, but get the State involved to uncover the deception and Lord knows what else. The school district IS ALSO a major problem. Not only the lack of education for the kids already here, it is keeping people from moving in along with ridiculous A L L taxes. You don't fix one tax without fixing BOTH.

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    3. state involvement , please and hold these people accountable now. the loan program came in the back door with Deninger , now she is a manager , with consultant experience ,it is starting to show.

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  16. Good comments on the School Taxes. WHY DON'T YOU GET RID OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT. Get these kids into a school district that is rated to help them get into colleges and other promote their futures. Unfortunately, neither Hempfield or Penn Manor want the district. They have made that pretty clear and it's because of the MESS the schools are in. Get the state involved. My kids are grown, but I would NEVER let them to go that school. When you do the research on the curriculum, the attendance and other factors, it is a real shame the taxes are that high to support SUB PAR performance and results. You want people to move in?? GET THIS DONE.

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  17. If you want to change the school tax and have an effect on the number of rental units in the borough, why not pass a "flat" unit tax. If the building has three (3) units, charge three (3) fixed amounts with a variable value tax. This would help the single unit property owner and place the weight of the system on the landlords. Not sure if possible but maybe it should be looked into as an option.

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  18. What would happen at lets say the wagon works, or the st petes appartments? Can we say vacant.

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  19. oh hey, here;s an idea. STOP ALLOWING MORE PROPERTIES TO BE TURNED INTO RENTALS. IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. Create an ordinance or something. Do something. Stop this nonsense. The hidious amount of rental properties in this boro is a BIG reason we have all the problems we do. And don't forget it also has a HUGE inmpact on the Police Dept. Can't wrap my head around WHY. WHY can't any of you managers or councilors figure it out. It really isn't rocket science.

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  20. It 's not the single family rental houses, it's multi units cause problems.

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  21. Two things to keep in mind.

    The loan fund is either legal or it isn’t. Until that is settled, it doesn’t matter how you feel about it.

    Secondly, the borough tax increased by over twenty percent making it the second highest in the county. Twenty percent is “substantial” and unreasonable regardless of the dollar amount.

    Going forward, council must declare a moratorium on use of the loan funds until its legality is settled. Any attempt to use these funds now is a clear case of malfeasance and, perhaps, criminal. Council must also immediately develop and adopt a plan to recoup all loans if the fund is found to be illegal.

    Some further thoughts.

    There will be no relief from the burdensome school taxes until the state takes action on two fronts. First, PA must address the pension problem which now accounts for one third of educational payroll expenses. Secondly, the state must force a consolidation of the Columbia district or, more importantly, completely change how schools are funded.

    Might as well advocate for air conditioning in the hereafter.

    /2 - al dodson

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