Council supports proposed economic development merger

By on April 12, 2017

Clarifies issues raised in Review letter

Ephrata Borough Council voted unanimously to support a plan to merge four economic development organizations.

Council approved a resolution recommended by the Development Activities Committee at its regular session Monday night.

The plan calls for launching a new entity for economic development that incorporates the Ephrata Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Ephrata Incorporated (DEI), the recently formed Ephrata Alliance and the Ephrata Economic Development Corporation.

Some members of council took exception to a letter to the editor on the subject printed in the April 5 Ephrata Review.

The letter referenced Ephrata Borough’s hiring of consultant Urban Research and Development Corporation of Bethlehem, which conducted an initial survey on the feasibility of such a merger in April, 2016.

Council President Susan Rowe handed the gavel to Vice President Tom Reinhold prior to addressing council with a few points of clarification on the matter, explaining that she felt compelled to correct some factual inaccuracies included in the Letter to the Editor.

“The money that was included in the 2015 budget for the Economic Development Fund did not come from the general fund,” said Rowe. “Tax monies collect by the Borough of Ephrata are placed in the general fund; therefore, one can reasonably maintain that no taxpayer money was used for this restricted Economic Development Fund.”

Rowe went on to explain that the money included in the 2015 Budget for Economic Development did not come from the water, sewer or electric revenue either.

“One can again maintain that no ratepayer money was used for this restricted Economic Development Fund,” added Rowe.

In her statement, Rowe explained that of the four non-profit groups that may be participating in the Economic Development process of Ephrata Borough, only three retain the status that allows them to accept money for memberships.

The fourth group relies solely on donations from the community, sponsorships to host events and grants from area or state foundations.

“What borough council is being asked to approve tonight is to take the next step to determine if a consolidation or merger is possible,” explained Rowe. “We are not agreeing to give any money to any of the four groups tonight. If or when money is disseminated, how that is done has yet to be flushed out.”

According to Rowe and Mayor Ralph Mowen, the research already conducted by URDC represents a great start toward a potential merger but that outcome could take as long as another eighteen months of very hard work overcoming a number of hurdles. Monday night Rowe reminded council of just a few of those hurdles.

“Do we take into consideration that some groups may continue to receive membership dues,” asked Rowe rhetorically. “Do we take into consideration the size of each of the non-profits bank accounts? Do we ensure each group has consistently filed [proper IRS forms]? Are we in compliance with PA state guideline in distributing the funds? These and other questions are all points for future discussion.”

In the interim, each of the four groups will continue to operate with business as usual, following each of their respective by-laws until next steps can be determined by URDC.

“As a reminder,” concluded Rowe, “all committee and council discussions are open to the public. Nothing we have done since the 2015 budget was open for public viewing has been done in secret or out of the public purview.”

Other council members echoed Rowe’s sentiments, starting with Vic Richard.

“When I saw the [letter] I was saddened,” said Richard. “They were way off the mark and they don’t come talk to me. I was flabbergasted.”

Rowe agreed, adding that when people read such letters, she is concerned they may be lead to think everything presented is completely accurate and true even if it is not.

“We are working here in the borough’s best interest,” commented Rowe.

Council member Linda Martin also weighed in.

“I’ve been on council for a little over a year and this issue has been on the forefront since I’ve been on council,” said Martin. “We have worked very diligently and looked at everything we could and for everyone’s benefit.”

In other borough news, council approved rates for the upcoming season at the Ephrata Community Pool which will remain unchanged from last year. Tickets are available now by stopping by the Ephrata Rec Center at 130 South Academy Drive or by phone at 717-738-1167. Those rates are as follows: Pre-school resident, $36; pre-school non-resident $48; pre-school day pass, $4. Student resident, $76; student non-resident, $95; and student day pass $8. Adult resident, $115; adult non-resident, $139; adult day-pass, $11. Family resident, 210; family non-resident, $257. Senior resident, $88; senior non-resident, $108; and senior day pass, $6.

It was announced at the April 3 working session that beginning this year a constable would be on hand during weekend hours as a monitor and support to pool conduct policies. This is a continuation of a policy tried late in the season last year to address issues raised by unruly patrons. Last year, with the introduction of a constable to be on hand throughout the day as well as increased police presence, the incidence of untoward behavior was put into check.

It was announced at the April 3 work session that beginning this year a constable would be on hand during weekend hours as a monitor and support to pool conduct policies. This is a continuation of a policy tried late in the season last year to address issues raised by unruly patrons. Last year, with the introduction of a constable to be on hand throughout the day as well as increased police presence, the incidence of untoward behavior was put into check.

During this month’s Municipal Moment, Penny Talbert, Executive Director of the Ephrata Public Library updated council on a number of key library metrics. Said Talbert, Library System of Lancaster County data indicates that Ephrata Borough accounts for 25.8 percent of the library’s total circulation. With 25, 203 library cardholders, that 85 percent of Ephrata borough households have active library cards is telling of the level of local support.

Throughout the year, Ephrata Public Library conducts 926 programs which, in 2016 drew 12,831 in attendance. Even more impressive is the breakdown of attendance numbers: 7,953 of those in attendance were children ten years of age and under, 1,693 were teens and the remaining 3,185 were adults.

Talbert reminded council of the days when the lion’s share of library funding came from the state. Not so now! Today, the library generates fully 72% of its own funding, with 15 percent coming from the state and another 12 percent coming from municipal funding. The county makes up the remaining 1 percent.

Recently a grant received from the Steinman Foundation has allowed the Library to partner with the Literacy Council of Lancaster County to begin offering free GED and HiSET Test Preparation Classes. Asked how many students the library could handle in this program, Talbert said as many would come out for it.

Previewing upcoming events, Talbert noted the Forbidden Art Exhibit. This is an exhibition, prepared by the Auschwitz Museum, which presents the story of 20 works of art made illegally and at great risk by prisoners of the German Nazi concentration camp. The library will also once again sponsor the Summer Reading Program this coming summer. Details on both programs will be forthcoming in the near future.

Council member Richard asked Talbert about the progress of renovations at the library-owned Exploratorium in the adjacent building.

“We are hoping that the next phase of construction will begin in the next couple of months,” said Talbert. “We will not be doing a capital campaign on that building.”

Recently the library was awarded $85,000 in grant money to be used for the next phase of building improvements.

And finally, Talbert brought a great new interactive tool found on the library’s website to board members’ attention. Called “Hooplah,” she said it is an awesome new service where music, books, even movies can be checked out of the library and downloaded even in the middle of the night with a valid library card. The beauty of Hooplah is that these resources then automatically check themselves back in. Through Hooplah, library patrons can download a maximum of five items per month. Hooplah is free to download and can even be accessed through smart phone or tablets.

“Hooplah offers a much wider selection than even the County’s Overdrive program,” said Talbert. “You should really try it out.”

During the open comments section, resident Tina Thompson questioned council on the possibility that the borough may be changing its policy with regard to paying for utility bills with credit cards. This policy is currently under review since this service to those who use it costs the borough upwards of $100,000 per year. In an effort to curb costs and more equitably assign bank fees associated with using a credit card to pay for utility bills, the Budget and Finance Committee is considering ways in which those fees might be covered by the consumer rather than the borough.

Rowe suggested customers consider setting up payment of utility bills directly through their checking accounts. In this way, there would be no additional charges to the customer or to the borough but would accomplish the same end.

Finally, Mayor Ralph Mowen has declared Friday, 21 April to be Arbor Day in the Borough of Ephrata. This was particularly timely as Ephrata has again been awarded the designation of being a “Tree City USA” thanks to the efforts of the borough’s Shade Tree Commission in planting, protecting and fostering the borough’s inventory of trees. Being awarded a Tree City USA designation also recognizes the progress being made to preserve and grow the borough’s vital tree canopy which helps to reduce erosion, cool the street scape in summer and promote an overall better sense of well-being due to the aesthetic beauty of our trees.

For additional information on Ephrata Borough, please visit their website at www.ephrtaboro.org. More information on Ephrata Community Pool rates and programs can be found on the Ephrata Rec Center website at www.ephratarec.com.

More information on Ephrata Public Library programs can be found at www.ephratapubliclibrary.org.

Gary P. Klinger is a freelance correspondent, in his eleventh year of welcoming your questions and comments via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

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