Open council seat filled

By on August 3, 2016
New Ephrata Borough Council member Greg Zimmerman is sworn in by mayor Ralph Mowen. Photo by Gary Klinger.

New Ephrata Borough Council member Greg Zimmerman is sworn in by mayor Ralph Mowen. Photo by Gary Klinger.

 

Three solid candidates. Three rounds of voting. But in the end, it was Greg Zimmerman who was Ephrata Borough Council’s choice to fill the vacancy created by the recent resignation of Dale Hertzog.

Tina Thompson, Richard Stewart and Greg Zimmerman had each stepped forward and completed the qualification process to be considered by council for the position. Each were seated at a table in front of council and given an opportunity to describe their interest in serving and field questions from members of council and the general public.

Thompson, a familiar face at council meetings, explained that as a lifelong resident of Ephrata, the mother of four had a strong interest in serving. In a resume handed out to members of council, she highlighted that she had served for two years on the staff of for former state senator Mike Brubaker and for the past two years for current state senator Ryan Aument. That experience, said Thompson, has opened her eyes to when constituents contact an office.

“There are always two sides to every story,” Thompson said. “Sometimes things are black and white; some things may take more research. If there were to be an issue, my heart would be to see what could be done to assist them for a satisfactory resolution.”

Stewart is not a new face in council chambers having once before served. He first joined council in 1976, being selected by council then to fill the last year of Gene Groff’s term after Groff resigned to leave the Ephrata area. Following that, Stewart was elected to serve two full terms, having also served as council president.

“A number of individuals have approached me about running so I could hit the ground running,” Steward said. “I would just need to get back up to speed. I’ve always enjoyed serving the people of Ephrata. Being retired I have a lot of time on my hands. And when it comes decision time, adding up the plusses and minus based on wise information.”

Like the others, Zimmerman is certainly no stranger to local government. For the past 24 years he has sat on the Ephrata Borough Zoning Hearing Board. He also served as vice president of the Ephrata Recreation Center Board of Directors for the past five years as well as finance committee chairman at OMPH Church.

“With the knowledge I have with my business background growing and developing teams, I feel my business background would be an asset,” said Zimmerman. “I’ve been around and involved with the community for many years. The borough has many great assets here with the rec center, library, the pool, the Cloister. It is important to continue to strive and support those assets and I feel the borough should continue to support those assets.”

Among the questions asked of the three candidates, council president Sue Rowe asked each, “What do you consider more important? A healthy fund balance or raising taxes or a combination of both?”

Thompson said a combination of both.

“We need the money to operate the borough,” said Thompson, “but nobody likes to see their taxes raised. Sometimes (the increase) does not need to be the maximum (amount).”

“We should have a six month (fund) balance,” Stewart said. “With taxes, it is always a tricky situation. When it comes time to raise taxes, find out what you really need and go accordingly. If a borough goes four years without a tax increase, watch out for year five because then you will get hit!”

Zimmerman agreed with both of his challengers.

“With the infrastructure in both the borough and the nation in need of repair, we need the money set aside,” he said. “A small (tax) increase routinely is better. Prices rise all the time, so if we keep doing a little bit all the time it makes more sense.”

When it came time for council to decide, member Tim Barr nominated Stewart, Linda Martin nominated Thompson, and Rick Ressler nominated Zimmerman. Council rules dictated that the vote would then proceed in order of nominations. In turn, both Stewart and Thompson both received two votes yes and four votes no. Zimmerman was elected when he received four votes yes and two votes no. Council member Tom Reinhold was not present for Monday’s meeting.

Zimmerman will now serve until the December, 2017. A special election will be held in November, 2017 to fill the remaining two years of Hertzog’s term. Following the vote, Zimmerman was sworn in by Mayor Ralph Mowen and seated at the table with fellow council members for the duration of the meeting.

Addressing pool concerns; attendance on the rise

In other council news, Ephrata Rec Center Executive Director Jim Summers updated members on improvements being made to address concerns about conduct at the Ephrata Community Pool.

Summers noted that even prior to the recent public meetings on those concerns, pool staff had already been working on a number of things aimed at improvements. He reported that already pool patrons are reporting on the success of those efforts and the numbers seem to show business is returning.

According to Summers beginning the weekend after July 1, pool staff began to search all coolers for contraband prior to being allowed into the pool area. Around that same time period, Ephrata Police Department staff conducted situational training of pool staff for how to deal with unruly visitors.

Following some additional challenges during the week of July 15-16, pool staff began to search not only all coolers, but all bags being carried into the complex as well. A second manager was added to staff to assist with monitoring and managing the perimeter of the pool. Summers added that the presence of this additional management staff has already lead to a noticeable reduction in unwanted behavior.

“We had some officers walk through on Saturday and Sunday. I had a gentleman come up to me and tell me that he felt there was a different vibe at the pool,” Summers said.

The documented results are hard to argue with: Two weekends ago the pool witnessed a very big weekend with a net of 1,248 patrons and a significant reduction in complaints of disrespect. Summers indicated that he felt that measures were in place to deal with the issues of contraband, alcohol and disrespect within the complex. As an added measure, the pool had taken a recommendation by adding an armed constable to help monitor the situation.

“There was a nice presence with him there,” noted Summers. “And he could provide additional help with any unruly patrons.”

This past weekend was difficult to measure the improvement trend with Saturday’s rain causing a complete washout of business.

Council President Sue Rowe thanked Summers for coming to council at her request and noted that while turnout at the recent public meetings was quite good, not all of the comments shared nor all those received by borough officials had been negative with regard to the pool. She said there has been a good bit of positive feedback received on the efforts of pool staff to deal with the situation which has not been previously reported.

Alcohol policies

And finally, the Community Services Committee will bring forward a Special Event approval for the Ephrata Alliance’s Party in the Plaza, proposed for Thursday, October 20 from 5:30 to 8:30 at the Whistle Stop Plaza. But unlike the typical Special Event requests before council, what makes this event different is that this event is requesting approval for alcohol to be served on borough property.

The event is being billed a free admission “block party” for Ephrata and the community to coincide with Ephrata’s weekend 125th Birthday Celebration and Friends of Eberbach festivities. Beer, wine and live music is planned, with the liquor license for the event being provided by the Ephrata VFW.

The topic of the distribution of alcohol on borough-owned property is not a new topic discussed in recent months by council. A review of borough ordinances is nearing completion, with a revised ordinance having been advertised for public review in local newspapers this past Sunday. Council is set to vote on it at its regular session on Monday, 8 Aug. at 7 p.m.

Rowe asked council members to carefully consider the precedent in deciding how to vote on this measure. She emphasized several times that she was not expressing a position for or against the event itself but merely urging her colleagues to look at the precedence presented by the request.

“I have some concerns regarding the sale of alcohol on borough property,” said Rowe in prepared comments. “This in no way reflects any concern I have with the organization bringing the request before council. My concern is for setting a precedent. We must consider what this could lead to going forward. Once approval is granted for permitting for sale of alcohol on borough property, it will make reversing that position difficult, not just for this council, but for future councils.”

Local resident, Rebecca Gallagher, later speaking during open forum, did not agree.

“At the end of the day, you still have the control,” said Gallagher. “If you have an event well-planned by responsible people, sometimes you have to take your foot off first base to get to second and have faith in the people running it. I feel it is a risk worth taking.”

The borough solicitor clarified that currently borough code does have a prohibition against the sale of alcohol on borough property but that draft ordinance revision addresses sale and not for sale alcohol on borough property.

Gary P. Klinger is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review and always welcomes your questions and feedback via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

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