Payments for boro tax-exempt sites?Council announces moving of skateboard park; seeking vendor for new outdoor pool snack bar

By on October 12, 2011

By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer

The possibility that owners of tax-exempt property within the borough might be asked to make a payment in lieu of taxes was a matter of some discussion, both in committee as well as at Monday night’s regular session of Ephrata Borough Council.

Councilperson Susan Rowe informed the committee that her research identified that the total cost of tax revenues not collected on tax-exempt properties is $232,269 per year. Of that amount, 49 percent is for tax-exempt borough or school district facilities. Churches are another 18 percent of the total. Therefore a total of 67 percent of tax-exempt properties (borough, schools and churches) are likely entities the borough would not interested in collecting taxes from due to the services that they contribute to the community — leaving a total uncollected taxes on the remaining properties are around $76,649.

According committee figures, assuming the borough could collect 20 percent of that total, it only amounts to $15,329. The committee agreed that the cost outweighs the benefit to attempt to collect payments in lieu of taxes. The committee discussed that there is some legislation being introduced that will allow municipalities to charge users for services received such as snow removal, street lights and the like. The Committee will monitor the progress of the legislation. No further action is required regarding this item.

In other borough news, council again discussed the proposed redevelopment of the former Artworks at Doneckers building into forty low income apartment for people over the age of 55. Thus far, council has agreed to stand in opposition to the project by voting down a request from the current owner, Bill Donecker and developers to issue a letter of support in hopes of securing proper funding to move forward.

Council President A. Anthony Kilkuskie noted that one of the main reasons that council voted down the request for that letter was due to the fact that the borough already has more rental units per capita than most other municipalities throughout Lancaster County. He added that Downtown Ephrata Inc. (or DEI) likewise has taken a position in opposition to the plan, citing their view that this would not be the highest and best use of the historic former shoe factory.

"I recognize that we cannot always get the highest and best use," said Kilkuskie, "But I struggle with the fact that sometimes it’s better to have development than no development. I think we should continue to keep an open mind on the matter."

Kilkuskie also disclosed that he had, at some points in the past, represented Donecker in other legal matters.

Council member stated that currently the borough enjoys 62 percent homeownership with 38 percent as rentals.

"That is the highest rental percentage in Lancaster County and it is higher than it should be," noted Rowe.

Rowe added concerns that with older people moving in that they would be targeted for crime in the area. She said that while that was not a high crime area per se, it did experience a good bit of crime.

"On the Development Activities Committee we tried to take a good hard look at what would be in the best interest of our community," said Council member Bob Good of the decision. "We may as well be frank: Ephrata is getting into a situation where raising revenue is getting harder and harder and harder. Revenue goes down but expenses go up. We are looking for things to come into the community which would be viable but also bring some value in terms of business and / or even tax revenue. We just felt that another low income type of housing unit was just not in the best interest of the community."

Good went on to say that the Development Activities committee even went as far as to consider whether such a project might actually help to enhance the downtown district.

"We did not think that would happen either," added Good. "The other thing was that DEI came in and they also were not in favor. Their position helped to enhance our positions as committee members. What other interest does DEI have but to prosper the businesses downtown? I don’t necessarily disagree with Tony’s comments that it’s sometimes better to have something than nothing, but unanimously the committee felt it was not in the interest of borough council to support a project we just could not agree with."

However, to clarify, Rowe pointed out that while the committee had unanimously voted to not offer a letter of support for the project, the project could still potentially move ahead. She explained that like any proposed project, plans would not face the approval of that committee so much as the scrutiny of the zoning hearing board and planning commission prior to receiving final approval of the full council. She added that regardless of a letter of support or not, if the project can clear zoning and planning requirements, the project may yet proceed.

The Community Services Committee reported to council on two current measures affecting the Ephrata Community Pool project underway by the Grater Memorial Park. The Committee reviewed a Request for a Proposal to operate the snack bar at the community pool. The Committee expressed their desire that the proposal should allow for the snack bar to operate during hours other than when the pool is open. In addition, the Committee was concerned that the contract that the successful vendor will execute with the borough includes detailed language regarding conditions to terminate the contract. The staff will prepare the contract document with the borough solicitor and review it with the committee prior to awarding the proposal.

The committee also reported its discussion of the closing and demolition of the skateboard park in conjunction with the community pool project. The staff reported to the Community Services Committee that the skateboard park will be removed from the Grater Memorial Park beginning in the 2012 season. The plan is to relocate the skateboard park to the Terraces Park, but it is not in the Capital Budget until 2014. The committee members discussed eliminating the skateboard park from the park system altogether. However, there was concern where the users may go to fulfill their skateboarding needs. The committee asked the staff to discuss this item with the police department for further input and discussion at the next committee meeting.

Council member Russell Shirker noted, with regard to the recently ended pool season that receipts were up $121,000 from the total revenue of $209,000 in 2010, without an increase in the cost of tickets into the pool.

"It was a very good year," commented an enthusiastic Shirker. "Maybe it was in part due to those wanting to go in for one last time. Either way, I think the pool did a nice job for this year."

Interim Borough Manager Robert Thompson provided council with an update to the Borough’s wayfinding project. The borough has submitted to PennDOT an agreement to establish a wayfinding district here. Once the agreement is in a form acceptable to PennDOT, it will be reviewed by the committee for execution. Once approved, the staff will prepare the bids to fabricate and install the signs.

Thompson also updated council on the Railroad Station project. DEI is in receipt of a new reimbursement agreement for executions thus extending the project’s completion date beyond October 2011, allowing the project to be completed in 2012. Final plans are still under review by PennDOT.

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