How is it that businesses are only getting $50,000 of COVID relief money when the Southgate project is looking at $4 million?

October 11 — Chambersburg Borough Council will meet tonight at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at 100 South Second Street and it looks like both mayor’s veto of the NDO and Southgate Shopping Center rehabilitation project are on the agenda.

Mayor Walt Bietsch vetoed the nondiscrimination ordinance passed by borough council in a 7-3 vote a few weeks ago.

The nondiscrimination ordinance was created for members of the LGBTQ+ community in Chambersburg and was allegedly meant to bridge gaps in state laws.

Council will officially receive the mayor’s veto of the nondiscrimination ordinance.

Allen Coffman, Councilmember for Ward One joined Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen this morning on First News to preview tonight’s meeting.

Coffman said, “I don’t know that we have ever done this since I’ve been on council, that we’ve had a mayor that vetoed any ordinance. This is the first in my memory that it’s ever been used. Very interesting.”

Ryan wondered, “Are we having commentary? Are we getting a lot of yes, thank you, Mr. Everly? Thank you, Ms. Jansen? Are we going to actually have some people making some comment, having some thoughtful dialogue, questioning some of the things here. What happens tonight?”

Coffman said, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I know what it looks like on paper here. I’ve seen documentation here that says there will be some discussion on this tonight, which I certainly hope so. There was enough doubt in this thing to cause the mayor to say ‘no, I don’t think this is the right thing to do,’ so I certainly hope there is some dialogue for that. If there isn’t, it will be a huge mistake. If it just says we accept the mayor’s veto, okay now do we have a motion and a second, and we vote for it. I don’t think that’s being fair to the public at all.”

Jansen said, “We need some discussion and I would encourage people to come and just ask the council, please, for the love of heaven, have a little courtesy for the community and actually justify your vote. You’ve not done it yet. You’ve not addressed the 17 — I counted — questions and concerns that were asked directly by the community and the testifiers at the exploratory committee that you never answered any of those in public. As far as I know, people didn’t even get email responses. I know I didn’t. Let’s also talk about what the mayor exactly said. He said this ordinance does not provide any enforcement authority to either the borough government nor to the local Human Relations Commission. It does not provide penalties for violation. Supposedly there are laws being broken. Supposedly people’s civil rights are being violated. That’s what they kept harping on.”

Coffman said, “The records don’t show that.”

Jansen agreed, “That’s the other thing that the mayor said. He said that the exploratory committee and the council or any of the people supporting this failed to bring any documented evidence that this is actually happening in Chambersburg. Let’s say for a second well we care about what might happen and we don’t want people’s civil rights being violated. Well you didn’t pass anything that will actually really protect anybody.”

Coffman said, “It won’t change anything.”

Jansen continued, “So you either weren’t sincere about protecting people or what I’m afraid of because remember there were many questions asking exactly how this law would be used and what does it mean if this happens? Is this the kind of thing you’d go after? Those are the questions they wouldn’t answer. So you’re either setting up a Trojan horse here to attack people that you’re not being clear about or you have something that will do absolutely nothing and either way, you need to answer these questions, borough council.”

Coffman pointed out, “Or is it a building block to add on to later. That’s the thought in my mind. Let’s get this thing on the books, then we’re going to add something to it and we’ll put some teeth in it.”

Jansen said, “Remember the exploratory committee said this is how they expand those internal policies they already put in your nondiscrimination ordinances, which does have teeth in it. They can cancel people’s contracts or never let them have a contract with the borough if they don’t meet the behaviors and attitudes of social justice as defined by the borough council.”

Ryan asked, “How does this intersect then? So if the borough wants to get into the real estate business — real bad idea — then not only are you going to be paying prevailing wage for any construction going on there, you’re paying Pittsburg and Philadelphia prices for construction or reconstruction. Then you’re taking it off the tax roles here. You can’t help but think that this is going to directly impact taxpayers eventually. So Southgate then would fall under, if the NDO that’s going through the borough, then all those rules and all those regulations and all the banking and all the social media would have to go through a filter of the new property Southgate that they want to take off the tax roles.”

Coffman said, “The bottom line is those people would be subject to this ordinance that we’re talking about. That’s the bottom line.”

Ryan said, “If you thought seven years, as long as I’ve been here, of you guys drawing the line in the sand, and sending firmly, I’m vehemently protesting you, Joe Shafran, on some of these things. We’re going to send a nasty lawyer to you and we mean it this time. That’s the beginning of the last seven years. If you think Southgate is not going to fall into another huge mess when it comes to the taxpayers, you are sadly mistaken.”

Coffman spent two days at the Pennsylvania Municipal League Conference in Lancaster recently. He explained the idea of Southgate to some of the municipal people there.

Coffman said, “There wasn’t anybody that though that was a wonderful idea. It didn’t make sense to any of them. I didn’t prompt them. I said what do you think? What are you using your COVID money for? And most of them are using them for infrastructure projects. Especially stormwater, which is a huge thing here in Pennsylvania and no, it’s not going to go away.”

Ryan pointed out, “Remember as a small business owner the borough is taking what could be $4 million, probably going to over pay. If you had the courage, borough, you’d reveal the appraised price and what you’re paying for it. If you had the courage and you owe it to the taxpayers. Shame on you for not doing that. The idea that you’re a small business owner in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, you get maybe $150,000, while they’ll dump the COVID relief money…”

Coffman said, “No, it wasn’t $150,000, it was $50,000 to be distributed amongst those restaurant type businesses. $50,000. There’s over 200 restaurant inspection licenses that are in the borough of Chambersburg, so you figure the math out. $50,000 divided by over 200. We aren’t talking about much here, but yet, we’re giving our pool for their lost funds $380,000 I think it is. We’re going to give ourselves that much money because of lost revenue over a pool.”

Jansen said, “How business owners here in Chambersburg aren’t going to be just swarming this meeting tonight saying, wait a minute, you have $7 million of COVID relief money and you’re giving us $50,000 to help some licensing fees for the restaurants and $70,000 to help some licensing for real estate owners. That’s it? That’s all we get for all the pain we’ve been through? And the pool will get more than that? That’s insane. Just that alone is insane. And $4 million will go to this debacle.”

Ryan asked, “Is the vote going on for Southgate tonight?”

“I’m sure it is,” Coffman confirmed. “It’s on the agenda.”

Ryan said, “Remember this at Election Day. You’ve got to remember this. Barb Beatty was an NDO vote yes. Barb Beatty is going to follow lock-step with Alice Elia and the rest of them. Dennis Schmaltz was an NDO vote yes and he’s probably going to vote for Southgate as well. This Southgate thing, you’re a small business owner in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and you’re not paying attention to this. To understand your ward, Barb Beatty is Ward Three. Dennis Schmaltz is Ward Four. If you’re not sure about what ward you’re in and I talked to someone who’s lived here all her life, didn’t know what ward she’s in. So it goes by garbage collection, right?”

“Yeah,” Coffman said, “That’s a good way to figure it out.”

If your garbage gets picked up on Monday, your’e in Ward One. If it’s Tuesday, it’s Ward Two. Wednesday garbage collection is in Ward Three. Thursday garbage collection is Ward Four. Friday garbage collection is Ward Five.

Jansen said, “We say well why are they doing it? We’ve got the indication of why they’re doing it. I uncovered the emails that show that really the president of council and the vice president of council were more concerned about systemic racism and addressing that with Southgate than whether it’s really a good idea. Nobody is saying the plan itself is horrible. Nobody’s saying they wouldn’t want that community to be revived and do well. It’s just the plan they’re going by, it’s going to assuage a lot of guilty feelings, I guess, of people who feel guilty about what’s happened in the past. It’s not practically going to bring good things to this community. You’re just going to end up hurting them more in the end so you can feel good in the meantime and hand your friends some gifts.”

Southgate is in Ward Three. Barb Beatty’s ward.

Ryan said, “Barb Beatty has been on borough council for years now and Barb Beatty is part of the same crowd that can’t wait to draw a line in the sand and send out a strongly worded letter to lawyers year after year after year. Now Barb Beatty is up for election and you better make the right decision.”

Jansen said, “We’re going to overpay that horrible landlord? Give him all the money? Oh, he’s thrilled with this deal.”

Ryan said, “After we’ve peed away lawyer fees after lawyer fees to send strongly worded letters that probably Barb Beatty approved of. Dom Brown is running against Barb Beatty. Dom Brown was a solid no on the NDO.”

Jansen added, “And Dom Brown’s afraid that what will happen is the borough will end up holding the bag, the taxpayers will end up holding the bag. Then they’ll get desperate. Some developer will finally offer them something. They’ll go ahead and take it because they really won’t have any other choice and this developer will have no intention of following through and doing everything that community needs.”

The Southgate discussion was brought up at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last week.

Coffman asked the estimated cost of the artist rendition and what’s shown on paper. The answer — it might be $50 to $100 million when it’s all said and done.

Coffman said, “I did tell you that question did create some comments from people that are involved with this thing. This is a down payment on a huge project. I want to know who the developer is on this long before I buy and have anything to do with buying Southgate Shopping Mall. I want to know who’s going to spend that money and build something.”

Ryan added, “Listen, if you’re for this on borough council and Jeffrey Stonehill (borough manager) is for this, you guys co-sign the loan. How about that? If you’re that much for it, let me see the numbers and then you co-sign on the loan. If this is such a big, huge project for you…”

Jansen said, “All you wonderful, magnanimous people, where’s your money in this? You’re committing taxpayer’s to this is what you’re doing.”

“Shameful,” Ryan said. “Absolutely shameful. I can’t believe how much time we’ve lost on this. I can’t believe I’m losing my mind on this. Business owners in Chambersburg, you better wake up and you better find out who’s leading up your ward and you better be in contact with them because it’s almost over.”

Jansen said, “Are they answering your questions? I don’t know anyone who’s getting answers to their questions on this thing.”

With an estimate of $50 to $100 million for the Southgate project, why are we rushing this?

Coffman pointed out, “I will not hold Michael Baker to that number. That was the number that they threw out. They didn’t say it was absolute or anything at all, but nevertheless, if it’s half of that, if it’s $25 million, where is it going to come from? Please, somebody tell me.”

Jansen said, “We’ve got to do some more discussion before taking a vote.”

Ryan added, “Two weeks. They are cramming this down the taxpayers in two weeks. Shame on everybody on council that’s for this. You should’t do this in two weeks.”

Coffman noted, “And they wouldn’t give Bill Everly, he said he wanted to take it out another two weeks, can’t we talk about it another two weeks? No. We don’t have the time. The money has to be committed I think by 2024.”

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