Lititz approves second lowest tax rate in county Also, outlook not good for historic freight depot

By on December 19, 2012

By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

The last Lititz Borough Council meeting of the year brought bad news for a local landmark, but there were a few agenda items worth smiling about. Council voted unanimously to pass its 2013 municipal budget without a tax increase, staying at 2.1 mills.

That makes Lititz the second lowest tax rate among Lancaster County boroughs, bested only by Ephrata at 2.07 mills. But with projected revenues of $4.5 million outpaced by expected expenses of $4.8 million, the deficit will be covered through a transfer from the reserve fund.

"This is just a no fluff budget," said council member Kevin Zartman. "We are all but $3,000 ahead going in to the very end of the year."

Borough manager Sue Ann Barry also commented on the new budget.

"Our biggest purchase for 2013 will be the new radio system for our police and emergency services, and a new sewer truck," she said. "Replacing the truck is long overdue."

Barry expanded on the borough’s budget position as the current year draws to a close. She explained that while being about $3,000 ahead may not seem like much, it is, in fact, huge. The 2012 budget was expected to dip into reserve funds to meet an expected shortfall. That shortfall never materialized, and as such the borough expected to come out ever so slightly ahead.

"Plus receipts from the Earned Income Tax (EIT) has been so iffy," she added. "And by iffy we are not over-exaggerating."

Zartman added that the borough’s fiscal strategy has been to take a more conservative approach and have the EIT come in higher than expected.

"The important thing is that our level of services will remain the same," he said.

That was the good news Tuesday night.

In other business, it now appears the future for the Water Street freight depot could be in question. Council gave Barry the green light to send a letter to the building’s owner, Norfolk Southern, informing the corporation that Lititz Borough Council has decided to not pursue a lease agreement for the building.

It had been hoped the borough could come to terms with the railroad company, something that could have been beneficial to both parties in an effort to preserve the brick relic. In the end, the terms for such a lease being demanded by Norfolk Southern were simply unacceptable to borough leaders.

According to the letter, "in the event that Norfolk Southern decides to pursue a demolition permit, a plan showing the post demolition layout of the property must be included with the application."

Council President Karen Weibel commented that the terms being expected by the railroad company would be unacceptable to any serious business entity. With the borough planning work to expand and develop the rails to trials project in that area, the borough is certainly not abandoning plans to improve that portion of town.

But with the collapse of lease talks, it now appears all efforts to save the building have failed.

Council member Scott Hain has been an active participant with the effort to save the building. He conceded following Tuesday evening’s meeting that it now appears the building will likely be torn down.

A number of possible uses for the building had been discussed, including redevelopment of the space for retail or office space or as a community space. Studies of the building found that while it was in need of significant work, overall it was still in sound enough condition to justify the effort to save it.

But at what cost? That was the decision borough leaders had to grapple with, ultimately coming to the painful conclusion that saving the building on Norfolk Southern’s terms was simply not in the borough’s best interest.

The borough is still hoping to work together with Norfolk Southern on other projects in a spirit of continued cooperation.

Tuesday’s meeting also marked a changing of the guard for the Junior Council Person seat. Sitting JCP Robby Stoudt’s term concluded with the final session of the year. Sworn in as the newest JCP is Warwick senior Megan Rothermel.

She is the daughter of Keith and Lisa Rothermel. She is a student council member at Warwick High School and a coach with Warwick Midget Cheerleading. She is also involved with PALS and Interact, and she works in the childcare department at Grace Church.

Outgoing JCP Stoudt thanked Mayor Ron Oettel and the council for allowing him to serve.

"This was an awesome experience," he said.

It was also a night for honoring one of Lititz’s finest. Detective John Schofield of the Lititz Police Department was honored by the mayor and borough council in his promotion to Detective Sergeant. He will assume his new post Jan. 1.

"Thank you for your dedication to the borough of Lititz and its people," said Weibel in congratulating Schofield.

In other police related news, Police Chief William Seace commented briefly on the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut which took the lives of 20 young students between the ages of 6 and 7, along with six adult school staff members.

"In the wake of the Newtown situation we have been in connection and consultation with the Warwick School District," noted Seace. "Safety plans at all building will proceed with us all taking a second and third look at those plans."

Seace also commented on the important work of Lititz officer Steven Detz in a recent assault case in Clay Township involving the torture of three elderly Mennonite women. Seace credited Officer Detz with quick work noticing that the suspect wanted by Northern Regional Police was also a person of interest for Lititz police. Through close work between the two police forces (Lititz and Regional), a suspect was quickly identified and apprehended. That suspect, Dereck Taylor Holt, remains in Lancaster County prison on a $1 million bond. More BOROUGH COUNCIL, page A16