Supervisors push for new building

PENNSDALE — For elected officials, finding the balance between what is fiscally responsible and thinking ahead to what is needed for future growth often is not an easy task.

Citizens don’t want their taxes to increase, but not acting now on an issue that will have to be dealt with eventually could mean even greater costs in the future.

This is what the Muncy Township supervisors are dealing with as they consider whether to build a new township building or remodel the facility they now occupy.

According to Supervisor Gregory Gilbert, the issue had been discussed for some time by the board before it commissioned a feasibility study to investigate the two options on the table.

“We had been talking about where we are and where we are going,” he said.

“At the request of some residents, which we felt was important,” Supervisor Tom Schaech said, “we looked at options, because looking at one option is not prudent; it’s not fiscally responsible. We commissioned the study to the tune of about $21,000 for feasibility at the fire company’s offering to give us some additional space on the ground floor of this structure.”

A remodel of the current building would be more expensive than new construction, Schaech said, due to the needs of law enforcement and the increased needs of administration due to new record storage standards that require more on-site storage of documents than in the past.

At last month’s supervisors’ meeting, the results of the study were revealed by Anthony Visco, of Anthony H. Visco Architects. Residents at the meeting were very vocal about their opposition to the proposals.

The new building, which would house the law enforcement and public works departments as well as administrative offices, would be comprised of a 6,800-square-foot garage and 3,350 square feet of office spaces.

One important aspect of the building is that it would create a more secure place for the township’s police department, separating it from the public. The projected cost would be almost $1.6 million.

The second option, which would be to remain at the current site, renovating it to make it more functional, would cost about $365,000. However, adding a metal storage building and improvements to the site would bring the total to $1.8 million for that option.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the township does not own the current building.

The structure was built in the 1990s to house the fire department. Revenue from bingo games had been projected to be sufficient to cover expenses, which was true for awhile. Then, attendance waned and there was not enough money coming in to cover the mortgage, according to the supervisors.

The township then took over the mortgage with a handshake deal with the fire company. The township police department moved into the building from offices they had at the Lycoming Mall in 2000.

Eventually, the township secretary, who had been working from her home, also moved into an office in the building.

Police Chief Chris McKibben said the move to the township building never had been seen as a permanent move, not even from the beginning.

“We moved out of the Lycoming Mall in 2000. From 2000 on, it has been a discussion that we are not going to stay in this building; we are going to build our own building. This isn’t anything new,” he said.

One of the main concerns in the police department is a lack of space.

“We’re running out of storage for files,” he said. “We don’t have enough storage for evidence. We can’t properly secure prisoners. We have no interview room. I can’t secure my facility. You can’t secure it sound or physical-wise.

“We only have a bench with a cuff rail. So, here is the problem,” McKibben said. “According to the Juvenile Justice Act, I cannot have an adult and a juvenile within ear-shout or eyesight of each other if I have them both in custody. So, if I cuff the adult to my cuff rail, where do I put my juvenile?”

The chief noted that there also is a problem with getting prisoners from the police car to his office.

“Right now, when we bring someone in custody in, we are outside of the structure. So if we have someone in custody to get them securely inside the building can be an adventure also if they take off running or if you have more than two people in custody. We have nowhere to pull in to offload a prisoner.”

One complaint that was voiced at last month’s supervisors’ meeting by township residents who opposed the project was that the township isn’t growing, so bigger facilities are not needed. McKibben challenged that idea.

“I went back to 1999, the day I started here, and we’ve added 56 businesses that I can come up with right now in this township,” he said. “If that’s not growing, I’m not sure what the word growing means.”

According to Schaech, the township is in the middle of the projected growth corridor created by the construction of the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway.

“There’s increasing pressures on us, if not (now), in the near future. Things are going to change. It’s not the intent of what we’re looking at; however, we need to be able to respond to those changes in a proactive manner,” he said.

In four years, when the mortgage is projected to be paid off, the fire department, not the township, will own the building. That is one of the reasons the supervisors are trying to resolve the issue.

The township currently spends $54,000 a year on the mortgage.

Citizens have expressed concerns that the township would have two mortgages if the new construction option is chosen, but the supervisors have said the remainder on the current mortgage would be consolidated with the new mortgage. Also, the supervisors stress there is no intention of discontinuing the mortgage payments.

Because of the age of the current township building, there are certain things that will need to be replaced in the next few years, such as the roof, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, which were factored into the costs of remodeling. In addition, the construction of a facility for the public works department increased the projected costs for remaining at the current location.

Renovating just doesn’t solve the issue of the logistics of having various departments at opposite ends of the Pond Road facility, as well as having the public works in a totally different location, according to Paula Miller, the third township supervisor.

“Doesn’t it make more sense, if you’re looking for a policeman, you should walk into a building and there’s a secretary sitting there and she says, ‘I’ll call him and he’ll be right over,’ “ she asked.

“We have outgrown this facility and the ability to expand within this facility to a fiscally prudent standpoint,” Schaech said.

The township property on Quaker Church Road consists of five buildings that are in poor condition, according to the supervisors, who recently approved demolition of the residential structure at the site.

Schaech noted that from the time the property was purchased, the intent was to build a municipal complex there to house administrative offices and the public works department, but it never was acted on.

The four buildings that house the public works department were built in the 1950s and are in need of repair, with windows that are falling out and no running water. A portable toilet serves as the bathroom. Public works vehicles are stored in buildings that are not temperature-controlled. The floors are collapsing in some of the structures and there is an infestation of carpenter bees.

“Nobody likes to raise taxes. There is never a good time to raise taxes — ever. But, all that said, this township is growing. The face of this township is changing, whether we like it or not. We have optioned this, discussed this and beat this into the pavement to look at every possible way to save every possible buck. We’re trying to do this on a very low cost, low impact, yet fulfill the needs of a changing municipality,” Schaech said.

“It’s either do it now or do it in the next couple years and who knows what the costs will be in the next couple years. For one reason or another, the check’s due,” he added.

The supervisors appreciate the input of township residents and will be giving updates on the issue at their monthly meetings.

“We understand and respect the opinions of our taxpayers. They are the ones ultimately footing the bill,” Schaech said.

The next supervisors meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the township building.