By Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
While the overdue amount of water and sewer bills in Meshoppen has held relatively steady at about $62,000, no real progress has been made for years at reducing the total nor getting the property owners who have been delinquent the longest onto any kind of payment schedule. Borough council members expressed their frustration at Monday evening’s meeting with no solution other than putting the responsibility on council member Mike Voorhees to cut service to properties on a list that they passed among themselves.
Voorhees contends that one of the biggest culprits is landlords who collect water fees from their tenants as part of their rent but do not, in turn, pass that money on to the borough. He is reticent to cut service to residents themselves who are current on their rent and who trusted their landlords.
Secondly, there are a number of property owners involved in the PEMA CBDG flood buyout program who stopped making water and sewer bills a priority. When Gene Dziak and Lisa Hahn met with the borough council in April on behalf of the county and Housing & Redevelopment Authority, they assured the board that past due bills would come off the top before property owners receive their payments.
According to council president John Bunnell, another ploy used successfully by property owners in the past is to pay a portion of the amount due when threatened with a shut-off but not follow up with subsequent payments. Council member Bruce Priestner feels that particular game has been overplayed and suggested that anybody who has been late for three years – and there are many – should have service cut. Several customers owe the borough more than four thousand dollars and, not surprisingly, most of the delinquents are on both the water and sewer lists.
Meanwhile, Voorhees is waiting for representatives from Environmental Service Corporation (ESC) to follow up on a commitment made in March to meet with him to look at sewer pumps that are failing sooner than they should. Council at that time committed enough money to replacing pumps as they burn out but are looking to for guidance on the best pumps to buy.
Meshoppen mayor Bruce Marshall said that things are working well at the water plant and dismissed correspondence from DEP suggesting that the borough might consider switching from a course- to fine-bubble defuser in the aeration tank. “We’ve been maintaining efficient dissolved oxygen rates for years,” he stated. In the meantime, treasurer Christine Swilley reported that the annual sewer and water reports have been completed as to DEP’s specifications.
Bad Streets Addressed
Voorhees suggested that a portion of Mowry Street needs to be repaved and that further patching of potholes there would be insufficient. Bunnell said that the gutters were not up to par for a full repaving of the street and asked if the worst sections could not be addressed in three foot wide pavement replacements. The problem with that approach, other council members agreed, is that paving companies are already so busy at this time of the year that they are unavailable for smaller projects.
Voorhees suggested that the section he would like to see repaved would cost between $8,000 and $10,000, which would allow for the borough to get the work done directly from the general budget. Bunnell countered that he sees the cost reaching $15,000 to $20,000, which would require taking bids.
Council agreed that Voorhees should meet with the borough’s PennDOT liaison, who would assist them with writing up the project at no cost. In the meantime, Bunnell said, “keep patching.”
Grants Still Confusing Council
The Marcellus Legacy grant that the borough thought it was getting from the Wyoming County Planning Commission was still on the agenda, despite county planner Lynnelle Welch telling the council previously that she could not approve it until the borough fulfilled its obligation with DCNR to have a Master Site Completed for the community park.
Welch had said the same thing at the meetings of the Wyoming County Commissioners when the grant was not approved for the same reason. It was incorrectly reported however in the Wyoming County Press Examiner, leaving council members to believe that the money they wanted for playground equipment was on the way.
Borough secretary Phyllis Adams talked to Welch on Monday about the situation and was told to call DCNR to clear up the matter. Adams said she left a message at DCNR and had not yet heard back.
In the meantime, she reminded the board that they had discussed not accepting the $15,000 DCNR grant for the Master Site Plan at their previous meeting but had not made a proper motion nor approval. Voorhees made the motion not to accept the grant, which was seconded by Doris Pickett, then carried unanimously by the council.
Important Dates Discussed
Pickett indicated that she would help ready flags for Memorial Day, noting that there were at least 10 in storage. Meshoppen’s Community Day will be held on Saturday, June 30 in the park. Saturday, June 16 is bulk trash pickup day. There are restrictions as to what residents put out to the curb, and those with questions should call Adams at 570-833-5556.