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Huge changes for DEI in year ahead Downtown group eliminates paid staff, but will continue taking on big projects
By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Big changes will be coming to Downtown Ephrata Incorporated, but the mission of the group will remain largely unchanged.
Ephrata Borough Council member Sue Rowe briefed her fellow council members on the changes at Monday night’s council meeting.
The biggest change is that beginning on Jan. 19, DEI will operate entirely with volunteers, including that of the previously paid executive director position held by Marsha DiBonaventuro. DiBonaventuro will continue on as the group’s leader, but on a volunteer basis.
In an e-mail blast sent to local leaders and supporters on Tuesday, the group expressed the ongoing commitment of volunteers to making a difference in Ephrata’s downtown business district with "more popular, fund-producing" activities to continue.
The move allows DEI to maintain it’s non-profit status.
"Establishing a non-profit entity can be time consuming and expensive," noted the e-mailed newsletter. "DEI envisions the necessity of a 501-c-3 non-profit somewhere down the road. Should funding sources re-emerge, local support strengthen, etc., DEI’s tax status will remain intact and thus ready to step up and serve the community as needed. In addition, this tax status will be important as DEI moves forward with its 2013 projects. Though the number of activities have greatly decreased, the singular development project on the 2013 agenda is massive."
In addition to the change in paid staffing positions, DEI will also now need to begin collecting a fee for most of its services. A prior injection of public funding in years past made it possible for DEI to provide a variety of those services without charge. Going forward, most projects undertaken by DEI will need to be revenue-producing.
As a case-in-point, the newsletter pointed to a policy change with regard to the DEI website.
"As the DEI website is very popular, the board is looking at Google Ads, allowing non-downtown business advertising, and fees for premium listings on the Downtown Business Directory page," stated the newsletter. "Also note that, as attractive as this website is, DEI feels it is in need of an overhaul. Look out for a dynamic new website in 2013 that is easier to view on iPads, smart-phones, etc."
The main project DEI will be focusing on throughout 2013 is the Tool Box Project. In this capacity, DEI will step into the role of developer as the group spearheads efforts to bring an "entrepreneurial center that combines elements of an incubator, a modern shared-office facility and historic preservation" to a 4,500 square foot space on the second floor of the Sprecher building.
The group intends to bring the project into successful operation within three years, supplying significant revenue to fund other DEI projects.
Currently the first floor of the former Sprecher Hardware building houses The Fun-est Toy Store Ever, Pinky La Rue, as well as Comics and Paperbacks Plus.
During the group’s recent reorganization meeting, 2013 DEI board members were named. They include: Greg Hamsher, Don Dombach, Melissa Palermo-Spero, Ralph Watts, Joanne Eshelman, Deb Wiegand, Bill Warrell, Lori Royer, Dawn Mentzer and Todd Ellis. Rowe will continue to represent Ephrata Borough Council on the board. Wiegand will serve as the group’s president, Dombach as vice-president, Royer as treasurer and Mentzer as secretary. Outgoing president Warrell will remain on the board as past president. And while outgoing vice-president, Kim Fasnacht, will be leaving the board, she will continue her commitment to DEI through volunteer activities in other roles.
Mayor Ralph Mowen, a long-time supporter of DEI’s efforts, expressed his concerns with the group’s changes.
"I hope the new structure will work," said Mowen. "My hope is that the efforts of DEI won’t slip backward and undo all of our progress over the last couple of years. I will be personally keeping abreast of the situation."
In other borough council news, resident Brian Hoffman utilized the portion of Monday night’s meeting open to public comment to raise questions about the enforcement of the 2009 Property Maintenance Code throughout the borough. Specifically, Hoffman was questioning whether the code affected only rental properties or all buildings within the borough.
"In reviewing the code, I got this impression this was for all existing properties," stated Hoffman. "My office was notified about fire safety and noted that all future inspections must meet code for either hardwired or 10-year lithium battery-powered smoke detectors, one per bedroom, one per floor and perhaps another place for each rental unit. If the code applies to all properties, when do private home owners get their notice to bring their homes up to code?"
Hoffman expressed a concern as much about how the new code was to be enforced as with what was being enforced.
"My opinion is that if you are not applying this to all properties uniformly across the borough, how can you pick residential rental units," Hoffman posited. "Sure there are things in the code which need to be addressed if one is building or improving a property, but if I am not renovating my old house I don’t need to do that."
Feeling that the borough may perhaps be targeting owners of residential rental units for code enforcement, Hoffman also took issue with the manner in which the borough takes account of rental units within the borough. According to Hoffman, the only way the borough knows a property is a rental unit is when the service under an old tenant is terminated and started again with the new tenant.
Borough manager Bob Thompson weighed in on the matter.
"When the borough adopted the 2009 International Property Maintenance Code last year it replaced the 1993 BOCA property maintenance code," explained Thompson. "The 2009 property maintenance code requires more smoke detectors than did the 1993 Code. The borough issues permits for owners with rental properties, and a notice of the additional smoke detectors was sent out to all rental property owners in our database so that they are aware of the new requirement, and that when the borough conducts rental inspections they will be compliant."
Responding to Hoffman’s concerns that perhaps the code was being enforced differently for different types of properties, Thompson explained that "the borough has not changed the way we enforce the code. The code requirements we enforce are in some cases different from that of the former code for property maintenance issues."
Thompson added that he has asked the borough’s code officer, Nancy Harris, to review the concerns about building code requirements raised by Hoffman and report back him him.
Council president Dale Hertzog referred the matter back to the public safety committee for further review, inviting Hoffman to attend the next meeting to be held Monday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the borough hall.