Newville Borough Council discussed revisions to the rental inspection ordinance, among other items, during a virtual public work session on May 5. The meeting was live streamed on YouTube.
The following members were present: Joey Diehl, Jack Ericksen, Edward Sinkovitz, Michael Croutch, Robert Darius, Scott Penner and Michael Croutch. Also present: Borough Manager Fred Potzer, Mayor Randy Finkey, and Borough Solicitor Marcus A. McKnight III.
The following minutes were recorded during the meeting, as published on the borough’s website: www.newvilleborough.com.
Citizen comments: Potzer shared an email from Lucy Jansema who complimented Mayor Randy Finkey and Carol Graham for the work they have been doing at the community garden. She also inquired about cross training for the water and sewer team. Potzer responded that cross training has not started yet, but an agreement has been reached between the Borough of Newville and West Pennsboro Township. Jansema also asked if the water plant would continue to operate in the instance of a power outage. Potzer responded that the water towers would supply the system with enough water for up to three days. Outside generators would be needed to run the water plant and Laughlin Mill. The sewer plant can be run from generators that are currently on hand.
Potzer also shared a letter from Steven Naugle, who is a landlord in the Borough of Newville, who feels it is unnecessary to have a reinspection five months after passing inspection.
Potzer clarified that the new proposed ordinance would require rental property inspections once every three years instead of five years. The first inspection would be paid for by the Borough of Newville, and landlords would only be responsible for paying for subsequent inspections if the initial inspection results in a failure.
Diana Mollen and Shani Shenk also reached out to the borough office regarding the proposed tenant property inspections and wanted clarification on the cost of the inspections.
Currently, the cost for rental property inspection is $65, but administrative fees would be incurred for properties who fail inspection multiple times.
Penner shared that Shani Shenk sent a thank you letter on behalf of the Big Spring Area Food Bank for the $500 donation from council and also for the assistance provided by the public safety team at the food distribution events.
Finkey thanked Jansema for her kind words on the progress of the garden, and assured council that everyone working at the garden has been doing so unaccompanied in order to maintain social distancing.
Darius inquired about a potential conflict of interest in voting on the proposed ordinance on licensing and inspection of rental units since he is on council and also a landlord in the Borough of Newville. McKnight explained that owning rental property in the Borough of Newville would not preclude Darius from voting on the proposed rental ordinance. Darius went on to say that multiple landlords had reached out to him to state that they feel the new ordinance is considered “punitive and anti-rental business.” He reminded the board that the council represents the taxpayers.
“There are many people who are opposed to it, and we should not seem arrogant and indifferent to taxpayer concerns,” he said.
Penner later presented the ordinance to the board, which amends the licensing and inspection of rental units located within the Borough of Newville, Cumberland County. The ordinance combines two previous rental licensing and inspection ordinances. The proposed ordinance includes the reduction of inspection frequency to every three years from five years and places the burden of paying for reinspection of a rental property on the landlord. Finkey explained that the purpose of the proposed ordinance is to prevent the Borough of Newville from bearing the expense of landlords who repeatedly fail rental property inspections. The program is designed to cover the operating expenses and not to make a profit. The fine structure outlined in the proposed ordinance remains unchanged from previous ordinances in the Borough of Newville. Fines are set at the district court by the magisterial district judge.
Potzer further clarified that the borough follows the international property maintenance code for both rental properties and homeowner properties.
“We are making the first inspection free, and if it’s not taken seriously, they will have to pay,” Finkey said. “We send out a list of what the inspectors are looking for prior to the inspection. It’s not anti-business. But, we can’t run a program of any kind that costs us more than we take in. That’s not a very good business practice.”
Darius noted landlords feel because the borough is considered a mid- to low-income area, they should not have to worry about paying a $500 or $1,000 fine.
Potzer said the ordinance’s purpose is to build an incentive to get properties fixed, and encourage landlords. He also noted that doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the fine they pay, but that is the maximum fine amount that could be issued.
“This is for people who have ignored the inspection process, and have been warned several times,” Finkey added.
Potzer said penalties would only apply to the units in violation, not an entire building of units. Though, he did note landlords who fail to seek a rental license will be fined $500 per unit.
“Good landlords can take advantage of the ordinance and never get fines,” he said. “This is for the landlords who don’t comply.”
Penner said, “We want to remind the landlords that our desire is the same as theirs. We want to protect their most valuable assets, their real property. We want to make sure they are maintained, and they get the maximum value if they sell.”
The board voted unanimously to advertise the amended ordinance, and will hold a public hearing prior to the Tuesday, May 26, virtual meeting.
Penner presented Resolution 2020-05, “A Resolution of the Newville Borough Council, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, extending the real property tax discount period and waiving penalties in accordance with Act 15 of 2020.” Penner explained that the discount period could not be extended since the tax bill is in collaboration with Cumberland County. Instead, the face period will be extended to Nov. 1, 2020, with the penalty period starting Nov. 2, 2020. The board voted unanimously to pass the resolution.
Penner also presented proposed zoning ordinance amendments relating to prohibited signage in all districts in the borough.
This ordinance serves to prohibit signs that exhibit statements, words, or images that are obscene or pornographic in all districts. This ordinance will be voted on at the May 26 borough council meeting.
Another proposed guideline presented by Penner would establish a shade tree ordinance for the borough. This ordinance serves to clarify that the Newville Borough Council is in charge of oversight of shade trees. Robert Over contacted Potzer to thank the council for keeping the shade tree regulations in the borough. Croutch asked about removal of trees and their replacement of trees. Finkey explained that there is a list of trees that have been approved to replace existing trees. He also noted that some residents have opted to not replace the trees and instead brick over the pits or install planters in place of trees. Potzer commented that the list of trees recommended to replace existing trees are small and medium in size so that the root structure will not damage the sidewalks. This list was adopted from Carlisle Borough, which is a tree-certified community. Finkey noted that in the past Newville Borough Public Works personnel helped with removing trees, but that the homeowner would be responsible for the financial burden of replacing the trees. This ordinance will be voted on at the May 26 meeting.
Administration Committee: Penner presented a resolution naming Potzer as the applicant agent to PEMA for claims of expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Potzer reported that the PEMA process has already been started and information is being gathered and categorized. Only wages, equipment, personal protective equipment and modifications to structures purchased from March 31, to the end of September can be claimed.
Potzer spoke about two landlords who have still not complied with Ordinance 2006-01 which requires landlords to pay their property taxes before receiving a rental license with the Borough of Newville. A notice of violation had previously been sent by Potzer. Ericksen made a motion to permit McKnight to send a compliance notice to the two delinquent landlords, seconded by Sinkovitz. All were in favor.
Potzer outlined the proposed budget adjustments to accommodate revenue deficits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cumberland County Tax Bureau projects that there will be a reduction of 6 to 7 percent earned income taxes over last year. Other revenues including code enforcement, vehicle and local ordinance revenues are also expected to be on the decline. Potzer reported that the projected revenue loss is going to be $82,000. The proposed budget cuts are as follows: summer recreation program- $10,000, trailhead maintenance- $1,200, contracted services including street paving- $35,000, stormwater management- $7,500, and police operating supplies- $1,000. The following have been eliminated from the 2020 budget for a revenue savings of $8,500: building renovations, EMA supplies, building equipment, snow plow operators, and shortening the Fountain Festival to a one-day event.
The proposed cuts would result in a budget savings of $84,200. These adjustments will allow the borough to apply for federal grants to assist with revenue loss.
Potzer also presented improvements that were made to the borough office in line with the Department of Health’s recommendations. A customer service window has been installed in the front office door and the entryway has been fitted with a bench. Necessary forms have been made available for residents. Occupancy in the foyer will be limited to one person at a time. The borough manager’s office will have the door changed to a dutch door for further safety measures. These modifications will cost the borough less than $350.
Potzer also discussed the adoption of a construction acknowledgement form, which requires construction contractors to furnish a certification stating that they have received a waiver from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to perform construction work. These guidelines are in line with the Department of Health.
Potzer also noted the importance of setting aside money for the second half of 2020 and suggested purchasing a CD from Mid Penn Bank. The proposed amounts would be $50,000 for 90 days and then a second CD for $20,000 for an additional 90 days. The current interest rate is .4 percent. The resolution will be voted on at the May 26 meeting.
Economic Development Committee: Ericksen reported that the consultants for the EDA were onboarded last week. The EDA is focused on projects that will assist the Borough of Newville in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Gulotta put together a survey for businesses in Newville to determine what effects the shutdowns have had on them. Shovel-ready projects have also been discussed that could utilize state and federal funding grants.
Crowdfunding efforts have also been discussed to assist local businesses who may need assistance getting their businesses back in operation.
Parks and Recreation Committee: Sinkovitz reported that the DMC softball league has requested to use the softball field. Finkey reported that in light of issues with discouraging the public to use the park it was not advisable to set a date for the field to be available to the softball league.
Potzer informed the council that the certification for General Recreation has arrived and that they will be able to start their work on the park improvements. George Ely is still working to source replacement parts for existing park playground equipment.
Penner noted that a member of Boy Scout Troop 174 is still interested in creating the gaga ball pit and will be presenting before the council at an upcoming meeting.
Penner also shared that the Joint Veterans Council plans to cancel the Memorial Day Parade, but the Newville Borough Council is looking to do something to honor fallen Veterans
including playing taps and a 21-gun salute.
Penner went on to share that Big Spring High School is considering a caravan for graduating seniors on their original graduation date of June 5. Seniors would be allowed to decorate their car and would need to ride alone or with a parent or sibling. Teachers would help to ensure students maintain social distancing during the event. The event will be further discussed at the May 26 meeting.
Quality of Life Committee: Diehl discussed the Newville Together signs that are currently for sale. Signs are being sold at the Newville Borough office for $10 each with $6 being donated towards Neighbors in Christ. Half of the signs have already been sold.
Penner discussed recent complaints regarding barking dogs in the borough. All complaints should be directed to the police department who will issue a citation based on the Ordinance 2001-06 if necessary.
Future Agenda Items: Penner asked the Newville Borough Council to discuss the format of the Newville Borough Council meetings via Zoom. He further explained that the current format allowed the water sewer operators to be protected from coming into contact with a large number of people, which would occur if the meetings were held at the borough garage.
Finkey pointed out that with the members of the council, Borough Manager, Borough Secretary and himself we were already at the maximum number of 10 for an in-person meeting.
He also felt that the virtual meetings were not precluding the council from having thoughtful dialogue concerning the issues at hand. McKnight also mentioned that testing was not widely available for the COVID-19 virus.
Penner also reminded the board that a President Pro Tempore would need to be elected and suggested that it take place at the next meeting on May 26.
Finkey reported that Cadet Jason Brady has completed his 60 days of ride-alongs since the Police Academy had shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was originally scheduled to complete his course work at the end of June. The Police Academy has opened up online classes, which will now allow Brady to finish his coursework on time. He has already completed the weapons qualification and agility testing successfully. This has also resulted in savings to the borough as Brady was paid at the cadet rate during his ride-alongs. Potzer also noted that Brady’s ride-along time will be reimbursed through FEMA.
Diehl asked for an update on the police K-9. Finkey responded that they were waiting to hear from the breeder since the dog is coming from the Netherlands who has had a high rate of COVID-19 infections. The dog has already been paid for in full. He also reported that Chief Todd Koser is still in recovery, but no longer on crutches. A return date had not been set at the time of the meeting.
The next Newville Borough Council meeting will be held virtually on Tuesday, May 26, beginning at 7 p.m.