Monday, January 9, 2023

Takeaways from the December 29, 2022 Council Meeting: Safety, Codes, RTK, ARPA, CEDC, TNR, etc

Citizens are not welcome at borough safety meetings. 
Safety meetings are no longer public, according to Columbia Borough Councilman Todd Burgard at the December 29, 2022 Columbia Borough Council meeting. A few years ago, the previous council held individual meetings for committees such as safety, community development, etc. but later abolished the practice. At that time, committee meetings - including the safety committee - were public. In answer to a question from councilwoman Sharon Lintner, Burgard said that current safety meetings are still held quarterly, during the day, with representatives of emergency providers: fire police, EMS, EMA, etc. - but not the public.

No consistency in codes?
Columbia resident Frank Doutrich asked why things are done differently every time the borough gets a different code inspector. Borough Manager Stivers explained that different code officers look for different things.

Doutrich also said that previously if he fixed a problem found by the code inspector, he could simply take a photo of the "fix" and submit it. Now, however, the officer must return for a second inspection and charge another $50. Stivers explained that photos were acceptable during the COVID pandemic to protect the code inspector. 

Doutrich noted that photos are still acceptable for some demolitions, apparently referring to 3 Shawnee Avenue. In that case, the owners submitted photos of the structure's interior to receive authorization for demolition. (NOTE: The demolition was approved, as Columbia Spy reported HERE.


Councilwoman Sharon Lintner asked how many right-to-know requests the borough received last year. Stivers said there were 34 tracked requests, adding that if a right-to-know is simple, no paperwork is required [thus no tracking and no charge]. Lintner asked why the borough has charged for some requests, and Borough Solicitor Evan Gabel said market research firms have requested information about the borough, at times amounting to 500 pages, and the borough has therefore begun following state law and charging for such requests.


Employee bonuses
Council authorized one-time bonuses to union employees for a total of $39,203. Full-time employees received $800, and part-time received $400. Councilwoman Sharon Lintner asked why the bonuses were authorized to come from ARPA funds when no borough employee was laid off during the pandemic. According to Stivers, the borough awarded the bonuses to avoid having to pay a larger percentage for raises over the next few years. 

Stivers previously announced the bonuses at the December 13, 2022, saying they would come from ARPA funds when the union agreement was voted on. Lintner said she disagreed with using ARPA funds. Stivers said, “ARPA funds - because we adopted a resolution to take it as lost revenue for the borough - it now becomes - technically - general fund money.”

(ARPA stands for American Rescue Plan Act. Municipalities can use ARPA funds to address the economic impacts of a public health emergency, and provide premium pay for essential workers, among other things.)

Sale of borough real estate
Council voted to enter into an agreement of sale with the Columbia Economic Development Corporation to sell borough-owned properties at 137 South Front Street and 400 South Front Street. Currently, both properties are occupied and are being rented by K.T. Graham and J.G. Environmental, respectively.

According to Stivers, the borough cannot sell the properties directly but must instead go through the CEDC, which will negotiate sales. The properties will be sold for at least the current appraised values.

Police Pension Board
Marlene Geltz and Columbia police officer Daniel Bell will serve on the police pension board.

CCAT adding distemper shots to program
At the request of Alan Landsman, chair of the Columbia Cat Action Team, council authorized distemper shots for cats trapped during the TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) program due to a feline disease recently found in local ferals. The disease has the potential to be transmitted to domestic cats. Funds will come from money already allocated for the program.

Columbia streets are clean
Stivers said that he was told that one of the reasons businesses want to come to Columbia is because "the streets are so clean."

Another real estate transaction
Council adjourned to executive session to discuss "potential land acquisition."

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