Council not getting behind Artworks housing projectBorough also passing measures to assist storm victims

By on October 5, 2011

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

Ephrata Borough Council has decided to not issue a letter in support of the proposed development of the former Artworks at Doneckers to create 40 affordable housing units for people over the age of 55.

Development Activities Committee chair Susan Rowe noted that the developer, along with the property’s current owner, Bill Donecker had appeared before her committee for a lengthy discussion of their plans. During that meeting, she said the developer had been able to answer most of their questions but the unanimous decision was to not support the project.

"The borough planning commission had also been consulted on the project," explained Rowe, "with their review not being favorable to moving forward."

The unified view of the committee, the borough planning commission and even Downtown Ephrata, Inc. (or DEI) was such a project was not consistent with the longer-term strategic plan, citing the fact that already Ephrata has a saturation in rental units, as well as units designated for lower income families. Members of DEI added that they did not feel the proposed project was the best use of that property in light of efforts to revitalize and grow the borough’s downtown district.

Members of the planning commission raised concerns that if approved, the property would no longer be fully taxable, further hurting the borough’s tax base.

Mayor Ralph Mowen concurred.

"This project, if it were to go through, would also increase the borough’s inventory of tax-exempt properties," added Mowen.

In other news:

Council held a brief, advertised hearing at 7 p.m. Monday, just prior to their monthly working session for consideration of a new Earned Income Tax Ordinance. Assessing an earned income tax is not new within the borough, and borough solicitor James McManus stressed that for a resident working within the borough there would be no changes to the existing code.

What makes such a new ordinance necessary is two-fold. First, the new ordinance is not only modeled after similar ordinances recently passed by other local municipalities and school districts, but makes the local ordinance consistent with municipalities statewide. The second reason for the ordinance is so that Ephrata’s Earned Income Tax policy will mirror other municipalities’ practice of assessing the EIT for non-residents who work within the borough limits. And in cases where those employees might be assessed in both places, their local tax burden would be the lesser of the two rates.

"This won’t really amount to a noticeable change for Ephrata residents who are already paying our EIT," said acting borough manager Bob Thompson. "And we don’t see the change yielding much of an increase in revenue, although that is always possible."

At next Monday’s meeting, council is expected to pass a number of motions which will help those who are still recovering from the devastation left in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee. Once such measure would waive all permit fees for repairs made necessary due to property damage caused by the storm. In another motion, council expects to waive the minimum monthly utility bill for those properties which have been condemned as a result of the storm. Municipal Enterprises Committee Chair Dale Hertzog estimated this would amount to between 5 and 22 properties where electrical service has been disconnected due to safety concerns, with the electric meters having been pulled by the borough.

"The feeling of our committee is that this would be the appropriate thing we could do to help these families in light of this flooding catastrophe which was of no cause of their own," commented Hertzog.

Council is also expected to approve a number of motions clearing the way for several annual events to be held in the coming months.

The first motion will be to approve the Ephrata Football Boosters request for permission to once again hold their Homecoming Bonfire on the War Memorial Field, contingent on them presenting their certificate of insurance for the event. Requiring the certificate of insurance would further insulate the borough from any liability in the event that there is an injury or loss due to the bonfire. Council Member Vic Richard was concerned that this could be already covered by a blanket policy through the school district at less cost than through an actual event certificate of insurance. This possibility will be shared with the boosters and with the school district. The event is planned the Thursday night before Homecoming on Thursday, Oct. 20. This year’s event will also be part of celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the current high school building.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity is seeking permission to close Sugar Alley from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct 22 to hold an Open House to commemorate the opening of its new addition.

The VFW is requesting clearance to hold its Annual Jack Frost parade on Wednesday, Oct. 26 beginning at 7 p.m., with a rain date set for Thursday, Oct. 27. As in years past, this would call for South State Street to be closed between Fulton and Franklin Streets from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

It was noted that the borough, in keeping with the county standard, has set Monday, Oct. 31 from 6-8 p.m. as "Trick or Treat" night throughout the borough.

The Highland PTO is seeking council approval to close Highland Avenue on Friday, Oct. 28 from 5-9 p.m. in order to hold their annual Halloween "Trunk or Treat" event. Several cars will line Highland Avenue with goodies to be handed out for Highland students participating in the event. The PTO is also requesting barricades be placed at each end of the street to alert drivers of the road closure.

And finally, those rumors that Santa Claus himself is planning another November visit to Ephrata have been confirmed. Santa’s office has officially requested clearance to land his sleigh on the roof of the Royer Building on Friday night, Nov. 25 at about 6:30 p.m. According to chief elves familiar with "the bosses’" plans, Santa would like to make an appearance at the annual Ephrata Tree Lighting ceremony. The Merchants Association plans to help Ephrata residents welcome the Jolly Old Elf by reserving several spaces in front of the Ephrata National Bank for a flatbed trailer to be used as a stage from which to lead in the singing of Christmas Carols. And several more spaces are to be reserved in front of the train station in order that a food stand can be set up.

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Gary P. Klinger welcomes questions, comments and suggestions via e-mail at More BOROUGH, page A6

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