Wyalusing Council Tackles Spring, Summer Projects

Participants in the March 6 meeting of the Wyalusing Borough Council included (seated, from left) Mayor Suky Burgess, councilmen Steve Lewis and Brook Blemle, (standing) councilmen Josh Kilmer, Micah Dietz and Josh VanDeMark.

Photos and story by Rick Hiduk

(originally published in the Daily Review)

After a slow start to the new year, business has picked up for the Wyalusing Borough Council, members of which had no problem filling an hour meeting with numerous agenda items, including accepting bids for the upcoming mowing and paving seasons. Other topics brought to the board included concerns about key fire hydrants not functioning properly, the potential for borough residents and businesses to take advantage of a reinvigorated state tax incentive program, and updates on Creekside Park.

Chris Desrochers of the Progress Authority brought back to the board a redevelopment initiative that he’d shared with them just prior to the pandemic that was forced to the back burner for a few years. The Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Act (LERTA) is geared to economically depressed communities to encourage repairs and improvements to deteriorated industrial, commercial and residential properties and can delay reassessment of the property values for periods of five or 10 years.

As Descrochers put it, it allows for property owners to reinvest in properties for long-term gain and not get punished for it “right off the bat.”

You keep the tax base as it is right now,” he explained. The borough would need to pass an ordinance that defines the parameters of the area of improvements, possible exclusions, and a timeline for completion of projects. The tax assessments are conducted at the county level, and the Progress Authority serves as a facilitator for the initiative, which has already been adopted by the Sayre Borough Council.

It’s not retroactive,” Desrochers said of projects underway or recently completed. “It behooves the landowners to apply for it up front. You make everybody aware of it, and they come to you to apply.” He has had introductory discussions with the Wyalusing Area School Board, representatives of which he said viewed the ALERT more positively than other incentives. Desrochers offered to officially take the matter before the school board when and if the borough council passes the ordinance, as the school board would have to be in agreement with the initiative for it to move forward.

When asked for a timeline for the start of construction and improvements, Desrochers suggested that three months would be a best-case scenario.

The concept is interesting to us, and we should discuss it further,” council president Josh Wilmer stated. He and fellow council members posed several more questions as to the scope and limitations of the ordinance, most of which Desrochers maintained would be up to them.

Wyalusing Fire Department chief Brandon Carter was on hand to discuss a number of hydrants in the borough that are broken or not functioning properly. He was unaware of the full extent of the situation and was seeking guidance from the council. Wilmer thanked Conner for the report and suggested that he attend the next Water & Sewer Authority meeting, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, March 14 at 6 pm to get the answers he needed.

One of his biggest concerns that was echoed by other council members and Mayor Suky Burgess is a hydrant near Community Bank that has been turned off for years due to a leak under Route 6. “If there were to be a fire at the Farm and Home Plaza, that would be a disaster,” Burgess remarked.

That’s serious and needs to be remedied,” Kilmer stated.

The borough has been working with the fire department in recent years to enhance access to Wyalusing Creek for water withdrawals, mostly via Creekside Park. In an event of a fire at the Farm & Home Plaza, Conner related, “If we can get to the creek, we can get water. But we still can’t get it over Route 6.”

On a related note, Burgess asked how local fire companies and emergency response units would react if a derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals – such as what happened in East Palestine, OH, last month – were to happen at Wyalusing. “Where do we stand with trains going through the borough?” she asked, further questioning Conner if he or the fire department are informed when potentially volatile substances are transported via the railroad.

Conner’s response was frank and not at all encouraging. The only visual cue they get about the content of rail cars are the placards posted on the exteriors, and there is no Hazmat crew in Bradford County. Bradford County EMA has a contract with an external Hazmat organization, he noted, and is looking to Harrisburg for a solution to the problem. Conner is hopeful that a deal might be struck with a Hazmat outfit in lower New York State that could cover Bradford County in the event of a crisis.

Until then, he lamented, if there were to be a derailment of the scope experienced in East Palestine, “We would have to evacuate the town and let it burn itself out.”

Public Works Director and Code Enforcement Officer Bruce Pitts offered an upbeat report on Creekside Park, which he noted has been in use often during this mild winter despite having initially been closed for the season. The chain at the park entrance at Route 6 has been opened several times when there was no snow on the ground, and residents have been taking advantage of it. Pitts was pleased to announce that people were cleaning up after their dogs and taking their trash out with them.

A sliding board for the park is in shipment to the borough, and swings have been ordered. There was further discussion as to the future construction of a more permanent boat landing that could also benefit the fire department as a withdrawal site. Kilmer felt that there was not enough money in the park budget for it to happen this year but suggested that it be included in next year’s budget. As the waning winter continues to fluctuate, council member Steve Lewis suggested that a sign reading “Walk-In Use Only” be placed at the entrance when the chain is closed.

Burgess said that there are still individuals and business owners who are asking what they can do for the park, so the boat access could happened sooner as a public/private partnership. In the meantime, she announced that she had accepted an offer from the Wyalusing Area Rotary Club to cover the costs of port-o-lavs at the park for the coming summer.

Pitts also reported that the flushing of water lines and hydrants in the borough is going well, but he has noticed some storm drains that are deteriorating. Lewis said that they could be addressed as part of the upcoming paving projects. As to some issues with nuisance properties – primarily those littered with non-operating vehicles – Pitts asked that he have a chance to speak with the owners directly to see what could be done before the borough had to take any official action.

Bishops Paving was awarded the paving contract for the year with a bid of $327,916, slightly above the budgeted amount of $325,000. Council member Josh VanDeMark had reviewed contracts submitted by Bishops and MR Dirt and confirmed that they were both compatible. Though the MR Dirt bid was lower at $318,761, council members agreed that the difference was negligible in lieu of the fact that Bishops has done well by the borough in the past.

There were six bids for mowing and maintenance of Wyalusing Borough Park and Creekside Park that were not as compatible, especially when it comes to the responsibility of removing storm debris, which has become the norm. One bidder offered free removal, and another added a charge of $60 per hour for debris removal. The selection was narrowed down to C.M. Earthworks, Shey Sterling, and Bruce Ashley, who has held the contract for the past few years. The final vote went to Ashley, who was in attendance, when he agreed to free debris removal excluding a significant natural disaster such as a flood.

In other news, Aaron Woodruff and Brad Kintner were approved unanimously as new members of the Wyalusing Municipal Authority Board. Spring Cleanup Day in the borough was approved for May 13. And the June council meeting was moved to June 12 so that borough secretary can attend a PSAB conference from June 4 to 7.

Borough Council president Josh Kilmer (left) and Steve Lewis open mowing bids for the upcoming season.

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