Friday, April 30, 2021

"Chaos" at borough hall: Who's running the show?

Councillors and other officials were conspicuously maskless at Tuesday's Columbia Borough Council meeting. Inadequate microphone volume, dropouts, and distorted sound once again plagued the livestream. And there were other problems...

Finances, unpaid bills, "chaos"
Councilwoman Sharon Lintner revealed that the borough received a shutoff notice in January for failure to pay its water bill. The water company typically sends such a notice after two months of non payment. She also revealed that a bill for workers compensation for the fire department also was not paid and there may have been a brief lapse in coverage. (The bills were subsequently paid.)

Two representatives of accounting firm BGA&F hired by the borough to sort out its finances noted similar concerns. Peter Barsz, an accountant with the firm, said he discovered unpaid invoices dating to this past January. He described part of the effort to organize borough finances as "chaos." Amanda Gattuso, also of BGA&F, said paperwork was in "disarray" and that she found unpaid invoices stuffed in desk drawers. "It was difficult to find everything," she said. Lintner asked what kind of a plan is in place to make sure bills are paid. Council president Heather Zink said one way would be to have monthly bills paid automatically so they aren't missed. Other options were also discussed.

Barsz also told council that it needs to monitor its finances. He pointed out that the borough suffered a $174,000 loss last year and that such a trend should not be continued. He told council to "keep an eye on it." He also projected that in June, July, and August the borough will have a good indication of how finances will probably end up for the year. Barsz stressed that council needs to watch expenses and do some planning before the middle of the year. 

Abolish HARB?
An application for a certificate of appropriateness for a Locust Street property triggered a discussion about the HARB approval process. [HARB is the borough's Historic Architectural Review Board.]

A contractor told council that a borough official told him he didn't need a permit to replace a damaged door at a property he is renovating at 142 Locust Street. After he replaced it, however, a "stop work" notice was posted on the property, because work was being done to the building without a permit. He explained that when he left a message at the borough office for someone to get back to him, he didn't receive a response.

Councilwoman Lintner cited the incident as one example of why the HARB approval process is flawed. She noted that there are also an increasing number of "after-the-fact" permits being issued to applicants who knowingly or unknowingly circumvent the process. She said council is basically endorsing violations by continuing to issue certificates of appropriateness in such cases.

Lintner added that HARB recommendations are made unfairly and that council should consider abolishing the board. Borough manager Mark Stivers disagreed about the need to abolish HARB but said that if the process is flawed, the borough needs to tighten things up and make sure the process is fair.

[Note: HARB reviews are required only in the borough's historic district. An application for a building permit may trigger the need for such a review. After a satisfactory review by HARB, a certificate of appropriateness is issued by council. In some cases, a review is deemed not to be necessary and administrative approval is given.]

In other business
Council approved a resolution allowing the sale of used borough vehicles at the Manheim Auto Auction, date to be determined.

Council approved a facilities use request for CHI for a "family and food truck day" at the Columbia Market House, with parking locations for trucks to be determined. After a brief discussion on event parking, Stivers said he is looking at plans with the borough engineer for parking around the Market House.

Council approved a revised facilities use request for this year's Bridge Bust, the time being changed to 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. In case the bridge is not approved by the state for such use, the borough is working with the chamber of commerce to find an alternate site for the event.

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