Tunkhannock Borough Council announced Thursday Susquehanna County President Judge Jason Legg had ruled Aug. 28 in the borough’s favor concerning a long-standing case about property on 21 W. Tioga Street which developers believed should have been allowed to exist as a business.
The case involving Hand Break Holding with owners Steve Franko, Richard Huffsmith and Mike Irish having filed an appeal in Wyoming County Court after being turned down twice by the borough’s zoning board to have property’s zoning status changed.
Wyoming County Judge Russell Shurtleff recused himself in the matter which was then heard by Judge Legg. The partners in Hand Break Holding argued that the property which had been used as a veterinary’s office of Dr. Peter Cashin from 1945 to 1974, was a non-conforming use allowed by a 1964 ordinance which continued after Dr. Cashin’s death in 1974.
Under the current ordinance, however, an office is not allowed in an R-1 zone which is where the former Cashin house is located.
In his 18-page ruling, Judge Legg noted “A record amply supports the zoning hearing board’s determination that any non-conforming use that may have existed in 1964 has long since been abandoned.
He concluded “Appellant has failed to demonstrate that the board manifestly abused its discretion or committed an error of the law. For these reasons, the board’s decision is affirmed.”
Hand Break Holding has 30 days from the ruling to file an appeal. By consensus, Robinson and the rest of the council agreed that they will continue to oppose Hand Break Holding in court, if necessary.
Council also voted to approve a new zoning document, which has been under consideration for the past several months, on the recommendation of borough solicitor Paul Litwin.
Included in the changes:
*Standards for animal shelters.
*Required additional information for oil and gas wells and deletion of review fees.
*Establishing temporary dwelling standards.
*Revised parking and loading requirements for uses fronting on certain sections of Tioga Street.
*Revised provisions for fences and walls, general performance standards and noise standards.
The full text of the update is available for the public at the borough hall during regular business hours.
Borough Council also voted on Thursday to authorize using a bank loan obtained to help make up the difference of under funding in the borough’s uniformed pension plan for the police department.
The borough had previously voted to borrow $320,000 from People’s Security bank- $300,000 of which was applied to pension plan. As explained by council member Scott Douthett, $20,000 was used to pay the legal fees to set up the transaction.
Douthett explained that the borough has been under funding the pension plan since 2008, following the stock market crash. At the time, Univest, which was the borough’s pension adviser, informed the council that it was meeting its minimum municipal obligation.
Last fall, Tunkhannock hired the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, Municipal Retirement Trust to oversee its pension plans. Company auditors eventually uncovered the $770,000 shortfall and informed council of the situation.
Although the borough has enough in reserve to pay off some of the money it owes, Douthett said, council is required by state law to borrow the funds to trigger the necessary recalculation in the pension fund. The recalculation is reducing the overall unfunded liability for the uniformed pension plan to $37,491 for 2017, thus reducing the annual MMO payment. Next year, the amount will increase to $86,898.
President Robert Robinson said council will quickly pay off the loan, minimizing the amount of interest.
Without the loan, Douthett explained, council would have had no choice but to raise taxes by as much as six mills to cover the shortage. With the loan, council will be able to make up the difference over approximately the next eight years.
During the police report, Chief Keith Carpenter informed council that he had assigned Officer Paul Cokely to investigate some incidents of cars reported stolen in the borough.
“The guy is now in jail,” Carpenter said of the suspect.
The chief also told council the department has received reports of a ‘peeping tom’ operating in the area of Digger Drive. Cokely was again assigned to investigate the situation.
“This guy is also now in jail,” Carpenter reported.
The chief also reminded the public that school is now open and people should be cautious of students and buses once again going to and returning from school.
In other business:
*Robinson announced that state money may be available to help pay for a stormwater sewer project which has been under consideration by the borough for the past several months. He said council will continue to pursue the matter.
*The president also reported that PennDOT wishes to install storm drains along Franklin Avenue. After a rain storm, a lot of puddles collect on the street. But PennDOT has informed them that it wants the borough to assume responsibility for the storm drains after they are installed. Council agreed by consensus to obtain more information from PennDOT before agreeing to it.