A new storage shed set up next to the the Laceyville Borough Office that is primarily intended for storage of water company items is one of two significant purchases by the Laceyville Borough Council in the last year to recover from years without proper maintenance facilities.
By Rick Hiduk
(Also published in the Rocket-Courier)
Facing a tight budget and the task of rebuilding streets and parts of the drainage system after last year’s relentless rains, Laceyville Borough Council members admit that the future is wrought with challenges, but they are committed to making lasting improvements in Wyoming County’s smallest municipality.
“We’re above water. It could be a lot worse,” said council member Henry Laboranti at Tuesday night’s public meeting. “We have money – just not a lot of it.”
“We’re not going to be on the news as another town that has no money but keeps spending it,” fellow council member Kristi Fassett concurred. Fassett facilitated the monthly meeting in the absence of board president Randy Brigham. “Some days, it’s a losing battle. Everything that went wrong before has come back to haunt us.”
The council did not intend to begin the meeting on a conciliatory note but was pressed to respond to comments made by a couple who moved to Laceyville to invest in and renovate old houses but said they were often dealt with rudely and that their efforts were not supported. Quintin Tiffany related that he found a lack of support at the borough office and even more so with the water authority, from which he learned that he and his partner would have to pay the balance of delinquent water bills at their properties to have service restored.
Tiffany explained that they purchased two adjacent homes off Franklin Street with the notion that making their neighborhood look better might inspire others in town to do the same. That, in turn, they hoped could bring some businesses back to Main Street.
“Your homes are your greatest asset,” said Tiffany. New housing doesn’t follow stores and restaurants, he maintained. It’s the other way around.
Tiffany based his theory on the couple’s experience in Muskegon, MI, where they purchased and renovated a large Victorian house that spurred a renaissance in what was once a rundown neighborhood. By the time they left to return to their northeast PA roots, a half dozen homes around them in Michigan had been renovated, and other investors had opened a pair of microbreweries and shops in their neighborhood.
The couple has finished one house in the seven months they have been in Laceyville. Looking at an equally extensive overhaul of the second house at their own expense, Tiffany explained that they have lost their enthusiasm and have opted instead to put both homes up for sale. “We thought we were helping a little part of Laceyville and that it might catch on,” he lamented.
Tiffany still sees Laceyville as a charming small town and hopes that others will recognize its potential, so the rest of what he had to say was primarily advice to the council in the face of the couple’s planned departure. “As investors, your first experiences of going into a town are very important,” He told the council. “You should be greeting them with affection and embrace anyone coming to fix up properties.”
Council members were very attentive to the comments and responded in kind.
“I’m sorry that you felt that you were treated unkindly,” said Laboranti. “That’s not the way to welcome new residents and businesses.”
“It’s sad to see that happen,” mayor Phil Brewer agreed.
“That’s not what we intend for our town to be,” added Fassett.
Each of the council members suggested that the couple reconsider selling their houses and maintained that they and their efforts are appreciated. “I want people to know that we are different now,” said Laboranti. “All of us up here do care about our town and our people. Things are slowly improving.”
Fassett also noted that the aforementioned water bill issue had been settled in the couple’s favor and that she had been instructed to reimburse them for paying off the balance left by previous residents.
Tiffany also suggested that dissolving the borough’s police department at the end of 2018 was a mistake. He said that he has twice called state police to respond to break-ins at his properties and was told on both occasions that, if nobody’s life was in danger, troopers were not going to immediately respond.
Laboranti quickly addressed the concerns, indicating that he wishes that the borough could have kept officer Kevin Costello despite the tight budget. “I will always be pushing for the police to come back,” he stated.
Brewer said that he had been in touch with the Wyoming County Emergency Operations Center about the change and was assured that state police would start patrolling the borough.
The conversation shifted to what to do with the police cruiser that council purchased and had fully refurbished last year for Costello’s use.
“It has to be maintained and run,” said council member Mary Robinson.
“It needs to be out of the elements,” Laboranti agreed.
Council is looking for a suitable garage to safely store the cruiser. At this time, they have no intention of stripping it down for use as any other type of borough vehicle. They also agreed that the police department account must be maintained until it is certain that all bills against it, including vehicle maintenance, have been paid. Costello has at least one more court appearance scheduled for cases involving arrests that he made prior to his departure for which he will be compensated.