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Emmaus Council–Fiscal Fools?

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Emmaus-council member Lee Gilbert and mgr. Pepe

2015 President Lee Ann Gilbert and Borough Manager Shane Pepe

In late 2014 into 2015 the Emmaus Borough Council made a dramatic decision to purchase the Rodale property at Klines Lane.  The cost was reported to be $2,950,000 with additional expenses to bring the property up to Borough needs and standards.  According to a report from the Borough Manager, estimated additional costs could run in excess of another $2,500,000 to $3,000,000.

Emmaus buys Rodale

Emmaus buys Rodale

The plan is to move all Borough operations to this site, including Administrative, Public Works, Police, Fire, and Ambulance.  The first glaring question is–WAS THIS MOVE NEEDED?  Second, WAS THIS MOVE COST EFFECTIVE?  The plans also called for the selling of the current Town Hall building, Fire Station/Ambulance building, Police Headquarters and other smaller buildings.  Furthermore, the Borough Council plans to lease some space to the Seven Generations Charter School. If all this occurs as the Council expects, it may work out financially–IT MAY!  But what of the other problems?

One of the major problems is with Fire Protection.  The Rodale site has two sets of railroad tracks running parallel to the property across the main access road.  There are approximately 80 trains per day running through town.  The current Fire Station at Sixth Street was built there because of its central location to maximize rapid response to fire situations. The Fire Department could reach any point in town in 4 minutes. Current response times for fire calls at the Sixth Street location is still 4 minutes.  When this response time concern was brought up by the public, Councilman Nate Brown said that the regional average response time is 14 minutes, so we could be closer to that average and still provide service.  Knowing that time is of the essence in fire calls and time can mean the difference between life and death, the Lehigh Valley Commentator voted Nate Brown our “Public Official Doofus of the Year for 2014”.  The railroad crossing will cause delays . When Council was publicly asked if there were plans to build a road to mitigate the problem, they replied that there were no such plans.  However, recently Borough Manager Shane Pepe advised a taxpayers group that they may well build a road through the Compost Area to get around the railroad tracks.  New road construction to handle heavy fire trucks will be very expensive (an added cost that the public was not told about).

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2014 Official Doofus of the Year Councilman Nate Brown

Was this Rodale purchase necessary?  Clearly there was enough space at Town Hall for the Administration to continue there, and this building could have been expanded to meet future needs.  The building was built in 1938 of stone construction and is still solid.  The Borough Manager reported that maintenance needs could reach up to $400,000. We note that $400,000 is a better deal than spending $6,000,000 plus on this newly conceived project. Buildings will always require upkeep. The Police Headquarters is less than 10 years old and cost the taxpayers over $2,500,000  to construct.  It was supposedly built to the Department’s needs and if designed properly should not need replacing.  However, the Commentator has learned that the building was designed poorly with water drainage problems and a lack of storage space. This police headquarters was supposed to be designed to meet all of the police department needs well into the future.  Was these millions of dollars wasted? And did the Borough Council screw-up when designing this project?  What we do know is that they spent at least $50,000 to $100,000 studying where to place the Police Headquarters and how to design it.

The Ambulance Corps move might be justified in that they appeared to be cramped at the Sixth Street location.  However, we still have the railroad crossing to deal with in emergency situations.

Overall, we believe that this Rodale property purchase was not necessary and will cost the Emmaus Taxpayers dearly in the future (Council has already proposed floating bonds/ that’s future increased debt).  If the plans do not work out as the Borough Manager and Council hope, then existing debt incurred will climb with huge tax consequences for residents.  This is how communities deteriorate.  When taxes run too high, property values tumble, people leave, and those who stay will use the funds that would normally go to home repairs to pay tax increases.  Add this to generally high School Real Estate Taxes and you have a formula for major economic problems!

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Therefore, we nominate the entire 2015 Emmaus Borough Council as our “Public Official Doofus of the Year for 2015”!  Congratulations!  As for the Emmaus community, good luck!

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