Why does the Chambersburg Borough Council seem to be in such a hurry to make serious decisions?

September 14 — With reports from various departments and other business at hand, last night’s Chambersburg Borough Council meeting also took a look at some major upcoming issues.

First is that next Monday, September 20, Borough Council will hold a regular meeting, the majority of which will be dedicated to discussing the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ+ community as well as a possible formation of a Human Relations Commission.

The meeting will be held in Council Chambers. It was previously going to be held at the Capitol Theater in anticipation of the crowds, but had to be canceled due to electric issues from Hurricane Ida.

The Zoom platform will be made available for those who would like to comment, but can’t attend in person.

Allen Coffman, Councilmember for the First Ward, joined Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen this morning on First News for a recap of last night’s meeting.

Jansen took to the microphone last night during public comment, pointing out that she has seen “further evidence that the borough council, at least the ones who control what happens is not very interested in hearing the community’s opinions on the upcoming controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that’s probably going to be voted on next Monday. They’re going to be considering it next Monday night at a regular meeting.”

Jansen said Council President Alice Elia clarified “that the meeting was scheduled for next Monday. She did not comment on my specific comments except to say well she appreciated that I was worried about the COVID spike, but that didn’t change her mind that we should still do this meeting to have the community come in and make comment during a COVID spike. She also didn’t make a comment on the fact — and I actually got some messages from a couple people last night saying they’re not comfortable using Zoom to make comments or they don’t know how to use Zoom to make comments. Not because they haven’t been given instructions, they don’t use Zoom. Unfortunately that could be a problem. My understanding is people can hear what’s going on inside the meeting if they’re out in that hallway and are they going to bring some chairs into the hallway if we have overflow people next week?”

Coffman said, “I’m sure they’re going to try to maximize the seating inside there. I don’t know what the chances are, how they project that sound out into the hallway there near the finance area. I’m not sure how that works, but here’s my important takeaway from your discussion with the council president last night. The comment was made, ‘everyone will have an opportunity to speak.’ That’s a quote from the council president, so that’s what I expect to have happen.”

Jansen said, “You’re right. She did say that and that’s important to note. Somebody asked me another question, they said what if somebody can’t come, can I speak for them or could I speak for several people. Do we know anything about the rules for that?”

“No,” Ryan said.

Jansen said, “Well I think both sides are saying they might do it. I’m hearing that from the other side as well.”

Ryan said, “Well, submit an email or something like that.”

Jansen said, “But then your comment won’t be read. But what if I’m a sick person? What if I’m worried about getting COVID and I want my comment to be read? I say yes.”

Ryan said, “I’m supposed to let you speak for five or ten different people?”

Jansen said, “If we’re not going to give people the opportunity to come when it’s safe, that’s the problem. And it’s not going to be safe from COVID.”

“Well when is it ever going to be safe at this point?” Ryan asked.

Jansen said, “If we’d gone to a bigger venue. That’s what the Capitol was for. And…Alice Elia acknowledged the reason we picked the Capitol Theater is because it’s bigger and people can sit farther apart, which is not possible in the council chambers.”

Coffman said, “To make things a little more complex to this, one of the very last things that happened in the meeting last night after the executive session, there was a couple motions made, we came back into a public session. One of the things happening now is anyone that’s going to be hired by the borough, will, WILL have the complete set of vaccine shots to be employed by the borough and sooner than later probably it’ll be back to probably masking for borough employees and probably visitors coming into borough hall, so this thing’s raising its head again. Isn’t it amazing it’s 50 days out from election and we’re getting this thing turned up again over the flu?”

Jansen said, “That’s why they should be delaying this important meeting, controversial subject when a lot of people would like to come and speak. It’s exactly why they should be delaying that. Secondly, what if you have antibodies? You’ve had COVID and I have antibodies, so I’m immune. Will they accept that besides vaccine or you still have to have the double vaccine?”

Coffman said, “It doesn’t look like that’s going to be accepted.”

The second big issue from last night’s meeting revolved around the project to restore Southgate Shopping Center.

Southgate is privately held right now and the borough wants to ask the county for $2 million of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money that they received and put $2 million of the ARPA money the borough received to purchase the Southgate property and get it restored.

And they want to vote on that decision soon.

The borough will receive almost $7.8 million from ARPA. At least half of that money will go to the Southgate project.

Coffman said, “They want to fast-track this one, too. We have a little time to work with it, but they really want to get this in front of the public and get it voted on. It was a very narrow vote that did pass last night. It was a 5-4 vote, which is pretty unusual with this council. I’m just fearful of this. I believe in the project of Southgate being dealt with, fixed, remodeled, rebuilt or whatever it is, but $7.7 million of this ARPA money being part of it, I don’t think that’s it. That’s not going to get that project done.”

Jansen pointed out, “That’s the money that’s supposed to have been given to help us out with the COVID problems. This has always been the fear for everybody. All this money is going come to these municipalities and it’s going to be Christmas and we want to fund all these things that we’ve been wanting to fund. And it’s not that the Elm Street Project is…not a valuable project. That’s not what people are saying. What we’re saying is that this is an awful huge rush for a very large amount of money that there’s a lot of questions about ongoing expenses possibly to the borough taxpayers. A lot of unknowns here. The community knows very little about this and I’d like to explore a little bit more about these transformational projects and how people came to that decision that this is what we have to do and what we could be on the hook for in the future if everything doesn’t go exactly according to plan.”

Ryan added, “And frankly, why doesn’t the borough buy the building across the street that’s been empty since I got into town here? I mean there’s plenty of places on South Main Street that could use a little help. There’s storefronts empty all over the place.”

Coffman said, “I made the comment if you build all this new area in Southgate with housing and businesses in it, we always seem to be all concerned about what happens on Main Street. Are the businesses on Main Street going to move to a new location in Southgate because it’s new? We have a guy that works for the Chamber that tries to keep those buildings filled and it seems like he no more gets one in until he loses one. So where’s all the business going to come from that’s going to fill up the new Southgate venue?”

The letter to ask the County Commissioners for $2 million for the Southgate project did get approved last night and will be sent.

Coffman said, “This is not a unique problem here to Chambersburg. The national trend is the same way. These big cities have gotten an influx of money like they never got before and they’re trying to figure out how they can spend it and spend it fast. I think the timeline on it is I think the money has to be spent by the end of 2026. That’s a little ways off yet. What’s the rush? The comment was made that $7.7 million is not big money. The vice president of the council, Mr. Herbert made that statement. I had to call him on that. That’s a lot of money. That’s almost what built our utilities building there at borough hall. That’s almost the money that built the Aquatic Center at Memorial Park. That is big money to Chambersburg. It was also 3 mils on the taxpayers for the next 20 years, too. I’d say it’s big money.”

Jansen asked, “That money that they’re saying ‘oh we only have 45 days,’ they want to just give this to that man that owns it, right? Isn’t this the guy you’ve had all kinds of problems with over the years? Joe Shafran?”

Coffman said, “Absolutely. I made that statement last night.”

Ryan said, “They don’t want to give it to him, they want to buy him out.”

Jansen said, “That’s what I mean. Give him a buttload of money and then the borough’s stuck with this and who’s going to come in? A developer should come in and buy this. It shouldn’t be stuck in the borough’s hands. Why should we give this…not a very good partner with the community at all and we’re going to just give him a big payoff? This doesn’t sound right to me. It sounds like they just want to get it done before the November election. That’s what it sounds like to me.”