Shippensburg Borough Council held a tele-conference Tuesday evening for its regularly scheduled meeting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The board discussed potential impacts that the borough could face if the closure of businesses extends and the number of unemployed were to increase through the health crisis.
Borough Manager Kevin Plasterer told the board if every resident of the borough was forced to stop working, and every business forced to close for six weeks, the borough would lose between $45,000 and $90,000 from its General Fund’s earned income tax and local services tax revenue. Plasterer said the General Fund supports numerous borough operations, including the police department, code enforcement, office staff, parks and rec and street improvements.
“Those numbers are very rough estimates,” Plasterer noted. “There are still businesses open in the borough, and people are still working. If it continues, though, it’s going to be more.”
Plasterer said they are hoping some emergency disaster relief funds will become available to apply for, but he doesn’t know when, or if, that will happen.
“Council will have to decide what to do within the next several weeks to address the potential loss,” Plasterer added.
Solicitor Sam Wiser reminded council during the meeting that unemployment is taxable at the federal level, but not at the local level.
The borough staff has been working with first responders, the fire and police departments and Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Lindenmuth to stay up-to-date with coronavirus-related news.
The borough office is currently closed to the public, but phone calls are answered between 8 a.m. and noon daily. Plasterer said employees are on a rotation of shifts to get daily tasks completed within four-hour windows.
“That will probably extend into next week. After that, I will determine how to move forward depending on if things get worse or better. We are trying to keep the residents and the staff safe.”
Plasterer recommends residents continue to check the borough’s website, https://borough.shippensburg.pa.us/, because it is updated regularly with important information.
During the meeting, Plasterer asked council if it wanted to continue using the basic version of Nixle to alert residents of emergency situations, or upgrade to a different version. The Nixle system will send text messages and emails to residents who sign up for alerts through the borough’s website.
Plasterer said in August, the borough had 178 people signed up for alerts. In March, the number jumped to 401, and April 1, jumped again to 551.
“There are still a lot of residents we should still be able to try and reach,” Plasterer said. He said other area municipalities use different systems like Code Red and Hyper-Reach to send alerts. However, those systems can cost a few thousand dollars a year, plus start-up fees.
Plasterer said he feels Nixle is suitable for the borough’s needs, but asked the board if they wished to upgrade to the Engage package that includes unlimited text and email capabilities, as well as pinpointing geographic areas of the borough. The upgrade would cost $2,600 a year.
Vice President Mitchell Burrows said he feels the borough can reach a variety of audiences using different social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, along with Nixle.
“I think with current budget and financial restrictions, we should use free resources available,” he added.
The board agreed to continue using the basic service, and utilize other platforms to reach residents.
Plasterer asked which items the board wished to be broadcast on the platforms, and it was suggested that a list of priorities be established.
Councilwoman Sandy Mailey noted the borough needs to publish altered trash pickup schedules where it is accessible on the website and on Facebook because there are always trash issues in the West End during holidays.
In the other business portion of the meeting, Wiser noted there is legislation in the works that will help the borough through this crisis, including the ability to hold tele-meetings to satisfy Sunshine Law requirements, freezing planning code deadlines for 60 days and extensions for real property tax deadlines and penalty periods. He said the borough would have to pass a resolution within 30 days for the measures, and they would likely be discussed at the April 21 meeting.
Councilman Keith Swartz suggested the borough look into the borough’s recycling system to see if there are any cuts that can be made there while streamlining the process.
“I think we should contact our recycling buyers, and ask them what is useful that they get and what is not useful. If we cut the cord with glass, maybe some packaging, and if we can educate our public on meaningful recycling products, we could cut down on the expense,” he said.
President Bruce Hockersmith commended Plasterer and the borough for the work they have been doing during the pandemic.
“On my behalf, I would like to very loudly say thank you for what you have been doing the last several weeks. It hasn’t been easy, but you are doing a remarkable job,” he said.
Mayor Kathy Coy echoed his sentiments, and added the borough’s task force has been meeting weekly to continue planning during the crisis.
“Everybody has been very supportive across the board,” she said.
Plasterer said he feels Shippensburg is really trying to do its part in helping to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Traffic volume is down, and I think the majority of people are staying home as requested,” he said. “People are keeping their distance, and children are staying off of the playground equipment. Overall, Shippensburg is doing really well. It’s just a rough time for everybody.”
Borough council will hold another telephone meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 21. Visit the website to receive instructions to call in.