No chance for a mini-casino in Akron

By on January 3, 2018

At the Dec. 11 borough council meeting, council members voted unanimously to opt out of the opportunity to allow a satellite facility – often referred to as a mini-casino – within the borough limits. They joined 664 Pennsylvania townships boroughs and cities who had adopted, as of

Dec. 18, similar measures. Pennsylvania has 2,562 municipalities. The deadline for opting out of mini-casinos is Dec. 31.

Satellite facilities were authorized by legislation passed in October which enables current casino owners to establish 10 satellite facilities anywhere within the state, provided they don’t locate in a municipality that has resolved to prohibit mini-casinos. There are many other requirements as well. And they’re really not so mini, with the new law enabling each satellite to have up to 50 table games and between 300 and 750 slot machines.

Akron’s “not-in-our-town” resolution was the very last item on council’s agenda that night, and it passed without much discussion.

The meeting began with a presentation by Denise Dohner of Harbor Engineering in Manheim, who appeared on behalf of clients on the north side of Hillcrest Road. The clients own properties at 113, 115 and 117 Hillcrest. Currently the 115 property is T-shaped, with the wings of the T in the back of its neighbors. The property owners asked to to clip the wings of the T to reconform as three long lots, each squared off in the back. Council approved the change, which had already been approved by the planning commission.

In Mayor John McBeth’s report, he talked about the recent night when TV personality and philanthropist Mike Rowe visited the Cocalico High School football stadium to honor Akron’s own Carol Stark for her decades of good works for area young people facing tough times.

McBeth also presented some statistics from the Lancaster County Drug Task Force, of which he is a strong supporter. He said in the last quarter, the county’s task force agents had arrested 28 individuals, confiscated $86,000 in currency, seven semi-automatic handguns, two rifles and a shotgun. They also found 126 bags of heroin in a storage unit, went to the house of the individual renting the unit and found an additional 1,260 bags. In another arrest, agents stopped a vehicle on Route 222 that had 1,950 bags of heroin.

Police Chief Tom Zell reported that his department is exploring the purchase of security cameras for borough hall, the water works and other vulnerable areas within the borough. He mentioned that the department’s Facebook page, which was set up and maintained by Officer Paul Cook, had accumulated 250 likes so far. Zell discussed the possibility of patrolling the borough’s part of the rail trail with officers in cruisers, but council nixed that idea because the trail bed is not designed for vehicular traffic. Zell said one other possibility is getting more officers certified for bicycle duty. There currently is only one so certified. Zell also wanted council to consider the installation of some sort of vehicle-proof barrier between the borough hall parking lot and the room where council meets.

In his report, council finance chair Tom Murray said the total cost of the access path and the permeable sidewalk recently completed at Colonial Park was $21,576. It would have cost thousands more, he said, but Melron Industries donated the labor and the machine time for the excavation of the path that leads from Colonial Drive to the Rail Trail.

Murray also introduced these resolutions, which were unanimously adopted by his fellow council members: 2018 general fund budget of $1,791,710; water fund budget of $508,754 sewer fund budget of $691,610; highway aid/liquid fuels fund budget of $222,325. Murray also proposed an ordinance to reduce the borough’s real estate tax rate from 2.75 mills to 2.1 mills. That ordinance passed. Then Murray proposed an ordinance to raise the millage rate from 2,1 mills to 2.32, which also passed. Details of these ordinances have been reported on in earlier issues of The Review.

Murray presented two more resolutions related to borough finances, both of which were unanimously adopted. One measure allows employees to pay health insurance premiums from pre-tax dollars. The other provision would continue the borough’s self-funded health insurance program, which is administered by Benecon, Inc., of Lititz. The program includes dental and vision coverage. Catastrophic events are covered by a stop-loss provision in the contract with Benecon.

There was quite a bit of discussion about raising the rent on the borough-owned house in Roland Park. Nathan Imhoff, who chairs the water and parks committee, said he had investigated rents charged for similar properties in the area. He said market rate for the house is about $900 per month. The family that’s been living there for about the past 10 years currently pays $650 per month.

Mayor McBeth pointed out that the current tenants take very good care of the property and that he thought a 50 percent bump in rent would be a tough pill to swallow. Council members had similar sentiments. They settled on raising the rent to $775 for 2018, giving the tenants 90 days’ notice of their intention, with the new rent effective April 1. They also signaled their intention to raise the rent to $900 per month as of April 1, 2019, with, again, 90 days’ notice on January 1 of next year.

There was also some discussion about alternate uses for the house, which is the oldest structure in the borough. A cafe, for example, could be an option if and when the property became vacant. There was general agreement that such an endeavor would require a significant investment.

In her report to council, Borough Manager Sue Davidson said requests for proposals have been sent to three nearby auditing firms. Weinhold & Nickel, a CPA firm who had been auditing the borough’s books, is getting out of the auditing business.

Davidson said the street sweeping that had been planned for Dec. 4 and 5 was canceled because the sweeper broke shortly after it started sweeping. The streets will be swept at a date to be determined in the spring.

Council voted to authorize Davidson to negotiate with General Code on reviewing and updating the borough’s ordinances. General Code’s home office is in Rochester, N.Y. The company operates in 14 states, and has hundreds of municipality clients in Pennsylvania. Their business is to codify municipal ordinances. If the borough hires them, they will scrutinize all the town’s ordinances, looking for measures that may be in conflict with one another, out of date, redundant, unenforceable or poorly worded. The initial codification work would cost $2,700, with a yearly maintenance charge of $995. All Akron’s ordinances are available online at the borough website. If General Code is hired, the town’s ordinances would also be maintained on their website.

Council member Monica Hersh, special projects chair, said everything is in place for the New Year’s Eve Shoe In at the Broad Street park. The event starts at 9 p.m. Dec. 31, and ends at 12:15 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2018. As in years past, there’ll be free food, a roaring bonfire, a DJ, hayrides and all the excitement of a giant shoe dropping from the sky.

The next regular council meeting will be held Jan. 8, at borough hall, beginning at 7 p.m. The next meeting of the steering committee that is working on a new comprehensive plan for the borough will be held at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25, at the fire hall. All are welcome to attend these and other borough meetings and are encouraged to attend.

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