Ephrata Borough now has nuisance ordinance

By on September 13, 2017

With an eye toward protecting the health and welfare of borough residents, Ephrata Borough Council unanimously passed three nuisance ordinances Monday evening.

The new laws deal with noise control, nuisance properties and rental permitting, an ordinance which gives the borough greater ability to revoke permits for addresses identified as nuisance properties.

Railroad Avenue residents Darryl and Michelle Gibbs came to urge council to pass the Nuisance Ordinance and the couple brought a posse with them.

More than a dozen people, neighbors and friends of the Gibbs family came to support Gibbs in his quest to have the Nuisance Ordinance become law.

Gibbs and his family have nearby neighbors who, they say, qualify as nuisance neighbors.

“My family and I have suffered for four years,” Gibbs said. “Please get this ordinance passed.”

Gibbs, his wife, and son, have all been awakened numerous times during the night by noise from the neighbors, he said.

“It’s an eyesore for Ephrata; there are countless issues,” Gibbs said.

Constant noise, garbage making its way onto Gibb’s property, arguing and fighting at all hours, car doors slamming at night, bottles being thrown, and motorcycles being revved up all serve to make for an uncomfortable neighborhood.

“People are coming and going all through the night and there’s drug use,” Gibbs said. “Police have been called several times and they’re sympathetic, but they say to us ‘we can’t do anything until the ordinance is passed.’”

Rita Hufnagle of South State Street agreed with Gibbs.

“I hear the motorcycles running at all hours, and loud music, too; it’s been going on for too long,” Hufnagle said.

“None of you council members would want to live next to these people,” Gibbs said. “If you turn a blind eye to this, it’s only going to get worse; Ephrata needs this ordinance.”

In recent months, the police have seen an increase in the number of properties with repeat issues, said Borough President Susan Rowe.

The nuisance ordinance was enacted to address properties that have three or more violations that go uncorrected. If additional violations occur, the property owner or renter will face fines. The ordinance applies to all properties in the borough, both rentals and those owner-occupied.

The ordinance’s definition of nuisance activities includes a bevy of unlawful behaviors, including noise control, unlicensed sale of alcohol, public drunkenness, bookmaking, gambling, endangering the welfare of children, noxious weeds and high grass, open lewdness, sanitation violations, animal welfare violations, and drug violations.

Whoever is responsible for a nuisance property can be fined up to $1,000 for the first offense, and if not able to pay, can land in jail for a period not exceeding 90 days.

The Noise Control Ordinance was also approved unanimously, and identifies and prohibits certain noise disturbances, while providing penalties for non-compliance.

Councilman Gregory Zimmerman requested that the time of day for the ordinance to take effect be changed from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., and council agreed.

Offensive noises must be “plainly audible” at a distance of 50 feet from its location on public property or private property open to the public.

Loud noises from vehicles, repeated shouting, whistles or sirens, construction noise, power equipment, sound equipment, fireworks, squealing tires, and unnecessary horn blowing all come with parameters that, if exceeded, make the noise illegal, especially if the noise is found to be disturbing the peace and comfort of others.

The Residential Rental Permitting replaces a current rental ordinance, outlines duties for both occupant and owner, and allows for permit revocation if the property is deemed a nuisance property.

After the nuisance ordinance passed, vice-president Thomas Reinhold expressed his appreciation, both to council and the people who came out to support the Gibbs family.

“This is the power of local government, and it’s really nice that so many of his neighbors came out to support the Gibbs family,” Reinhold said. “We took a very big step tonight in making this community a better place to live.”

The formation of the nuisance ordinance goes back to 2012, Rowe said, starting after a number of complaints were lodged.

“We got a lot of response from the community and we went with (recommendations from) the police department,” Rowe said. “It took a bit of time, but we got our ordinance.”

Councilman Ricky Ressler said he is hopeful the ordinance would have its desired effect.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of things we can do about bad neighbors,” Ressler said. “But hopefully this will give some relief.”

In another matter, Mayor Ralph Mowen updated council on the drug task force he has formed.

A few months ago, Mowen, concerned about the rise in opioid addiction and resultant overdose deaths, contacted several professionals from various disciplines to come together to form an anti-drug coalition.

The group is now called “Ephrata Cares,” and will be meeting Thursday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m. in the Ephrata High School auditorium for a community forum.

The acting secretary of the state’s drug and alcohol program will be the keynote speaker.

“The meeting is to solicit community involvement and we’re hoping for a large turnout,” Mowen said.

People from law enforcement, prevention, treatment clinics, and health care will be in attendance.

Mowen has posters for businesses and larger yard signs to advertise the event.

“We here in Ephrata do have a problem and we need a good community response to this drug crisis,” Mowen said.

The borough has the highest number of Narcan saves in the county (for boroughs), Mowen said, referring to the medication that can reverse overdose symptoms and many times save an individual from death.

Along with ambulance first responders, many police officers carry a dose of Narcan while on patrol.

“I say that with some pride, because it shows our officers are fast to respond to save lives, but also with (sadness) because it does show we have a situation and a problem,” Mowen said.

Mowen said he remembers when borough officials thought it was bad when they learned of one drug overdose a week, while that number has significantly increased now.

“This is a problem we have to do something about; it’s far worse than it was 20 years ago,” Mowen said.

In another matter, Lieutenant Thomas Shumaker, standing in for Police Chef William Harvey, told council that the Ephrata Elks held a large picnic for first responders this week, and he wanted to extend his gratitude.

Ephrata Recreation Center Director Jim Summers gave a presentation outlining the services provided by the recreation center.

“We pride ourselves on a good product at a fair price,” Summers said.

Referring to the Center’s mission statement, Summers said the mission has stayed the same: “To improve the quality of life by providing wholesome, affordable recreation activities to the citizens of the Ephrata area.”

Defining “affordable” is difficult, Summers said, adding that they do try to keep prices reasonable and affordable for everyone.

Summers said the recreation center helps the Ephrata Concert Band, providing storage for instruments, coordinates the Fourth of July fireworks display, and allows non-profit groups like the Lions Club to use the facility free of charge.

With the summer municipal recreation program, they provide free programs for residents of municipalities who have contributed to the program.

The recreation center also participates in the “Power Packs” program, which provides food and menus to low-income families for weekends when the children are home.

The center is also open for a before and after school program, opening at 5 a.m. for kids whose parents are going to work before the school day starts.

Discussions on membership issues with the pool are ongoing and will be addressed by Councilman Tim Barr at the next Community Services Committee meeting, to be held Monday, Sept. 25 at 4:30 p.m. in the borough hall. The public is invited.

“We want to get some changes in place before the pool opens next Memorial Day,” said Reinhold.

Council also approved a request by Ephrata VFW Post 3376 for the annual Jack Frost Parade to be held on Wed., Oct. 25, with Thursday, Oct. 26 as the rain date. To accommodate the parade route, South State Street will be closed from Fulton to Franklin streets between 6:30 and 8 p.m.

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