Photos and story by Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
Extra chairs had to be set up to accommodate a larger than usual crowd for a relatively lengthy meeting of the Laceyville Borough Council and the public. Topics addressed by residents on Tuesday night ranged from storm run-off and damaged drains to questions about the sustainability and effectiveness of the borough’s police department. Though no immediate decisions were rendered in response to the concerns, council members took each situation seriously and promised to follow up with the attendees.
“I know most councils don’t like to see visitors because it means trouble,” said council president Randy Brigham after fielding their comments, “but I like seeing visitors.” Council member Henry Laboranti, seated next to Brigham, agreed.
Several of those who spoke up had been invited to the meeting by Brigham after they’d voiced their concerns to him personally, and Brigham noted during the course of the meeting that he had invited others who did not attend.
The recurring topic, which the council had addressed in previous meetings and now wants to push to the top of their priority list, is the seemingly uncontrollable flow of storm water at the west end of town. Runoff from Orchard Terrace and farm fields above town jumps a culvert and runs down West Main Street into businesses and homes. The owners of Huffman’s Garage (below) routinely shovel mud from the floor of their shop, and water has come through the front door of the adjacent Meat Hook Restaurant.
Brigham, who owns the Meat Hook, said that he doesn’t want to make his business a focal point of the problem, “but when we have a heavy storm I drive around town to see if it’s this bad everywhere, and this is the worst part of town.”
Mark Franklin, who resides on the ironically named Washout Lane west of the Meat Hook concurred. He agreed with council members that an increasing amount of runoff from the hill in Braintrim and Tuscarora townships has been misdirected toward West Main Street over the years due to unchecked development. While his lane has always been private, according to mayor Phil Brewer, Franklin attended in hopes that the borough would work with him to rectify the flooding and erosion issues.
Brewer added that the problem grew worse after the sewer system was installed. “They filled in all the old drains that used to take the water away,” Brewer remarked.
“It’s a very complicated problem,” Brigham agreed. “We need some engineering up here.” It’s easy for residents and even council members to say that they need “to do something,” he continued. But if that “something” just sends the water gushing down Lacey street, the borough is no better off.
After pondering whether representatives from PennDOT and the Conservation Districts of both Wyoming and Bradford counties could be helpful in finding a solution, borough director of sewer services Jaye Butler said that he would reach out to the PA Rural Water Association to see what the engineers in the agency’s stormwater division might offer at little or no cost to the borough.
In the meantime, council acknowledged that a portion of the $6,958 in Act 13 funds recently received might be used to fund storm water mitigation. Repairs to several storm drains, including one on B Street and another shared by three residents of Second Street, also need to be repaired, replaced or raised.
Police Department Effectiveness Challenged
Fifteen-year Laceyville resident Tari Trowbridge told council that she is unconvinced that the Laceyville Police Department, staffed solely by officer Kevin Costello, is needed or worth what residents are paying for it. While acknowledging that some increases in cost and taxes are unavoidable, Trowbridge remarked, “There’s reasons that places with only 300 to 400 people don’t have police departments.”
Trowbridge thanked borough treasurer Ken Johnson for providing her with a copy of the borough’s budget and spending reports for recent years but found the figures concerning the police department to be confusing. “I don’t feel that we are getting $73,000 worth of effectiveness,” she stated. Noting that a Pennsylvania State Police officer is a permanent resident of the borough, she added, “It’s not like we don’t have any police protection in town.”
Trowbridge further said that she is concerned about “liability issues” concerning the police department, the details of which she chose not to elaborate. But she cautioned the council that litigation on those issues “could cost us even more money in the long run.” Trowbridge offered to assist the borough with the budget when it comes up for renewal in the fall.
Quentin Tiffany, who attended the meeting to address the council on a sewer billing issue, voiced support for Costello, saying that there had been several break-ins at a property on Franklin Street owned by him and his partner, Walter, and that Costello had been quick to respond whether or not he was officially on duty.
In his regular monthly police department report, Costello indicated that he has been fielding calls and concerns from residents outside the borough in Braintrim, Auburn, Tuscarora and Windham townships who would like to have coverage from Laceyville to address burglaries, trespassing, roadway hazards, and suspected drug activities for which he is not authorized. He is authorized, however, to follow a violator out of the borough for apprehension.
Costello has requested a Police Board meeting in the past and asked again that a public meeting be set up to specifically address residents’ concerns about local law enforcement. In reference to Trowbridge’s remarks, Costello said that the borough’s financial problems far preceded him.
Tree Trimming and Mowing Discussed
Other subjects that drew commentary from a variety of sources were general discontent with the maintenance of the ball fields across the river, the need to top some trees on Main Street that are growing into power lines, and the trimming of a tree in front of a Second Street home that the resident says was mutilated.
The monthly cost of mowing Donovan Park raised eyebrows as the treasurer’s report was reviewed. At about $700 per month, council members wondered aloud why no string trimming was being done. They also feel that, as grass growth slows down, the ball fields only need to be mowed every other week. “The fence is about to disappear,” the mayor said of the lack of weed control.
Subsequently, Officer Costello added, the weeds at the top of the river bank near the boat launch, which council assumes is part of the contract, have been allowed to grow so high that a resident recently provided photos to the police department of someone dumping off a couch there. “If it’s cleaned up, I’m sure that would be a deterrent to more dumping,” Costello suggested.
Second Street resident Kevin Brewer confronted the council about a tree in front of the home he moved into this spring that he contends was mangled without his consent nor prior knowledge. “I’d have gladly done it if I’d known it was to be done,” said Brewer, who said that he’d scoured news stories about previous meetings and saw no mention of trimming trees on Second Street as part of any right-of-way projects, as Brigham had maintained. In addition to what Brigham acknowledged was a less than perfect job of cutting back the tree, Brewer noted that the road was left covered with debris that he cleaned up.
Brigham apologized and related that he was short-staffed that day, had only a flagger to assist him, and that he did get down from his tractor to pick up the larger limbs as time permitted. Nonetheless, he committed to working with Brewer to rectifying the problem, and Brewer seemed satisfied with the response.
The next meeting of the Laceyville Borough Council will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 7 at 7 pm. The public is invited to attend.