Are there options to consider for Kulpmont building plan?
Latest in a series of stories in advance of Tuesday's meeting to discuss a new municipal complex in Kulpmont.
KULPMONT - Consider some options, critics of the proposed municipal complex project have begged borough council members.
But officials said they have considered alternatives to a million-dollar building project, and, for the most part, there aren't any.
"Options" are a key point of interest for project critic Bob Chesney leading into Tuesday night's public meeting about the project. He wants to hear exactly what's been studied.
"There has been very little transparency with borough council about this," Chesney said Saturday. "They have said for the last two years that they have exhausted every possibility. Well, let's see those possibilities."
Council President Bruno Varano says he can provide that information, and says he's convinced building new, expensive as it may be, is the borough's best option.
Still, he said, council members are "willing to listen" Tuesday night to anyone who might have new ideas.
Kulpmont leaders four years ago began the process of finding a new home as the 75-year-old former Wilson Grade School continues to deteriorate. Experts have advised the building may be too expensive to renovate, so council got an OK in 2013 for a 40-year loan of up to $1.47 million and made plans for a new municipal building and maintenance garage.
There was little reaction as small steps were made toward possible bids, but when council approved a budget in January that increased taxes $35 to $40 per year for the average property owner, dozens of others joined Chesney and Walter Lutz in speaking up against the project. Since then, advancement of the project has been slow.
Chesney sites a few empty lots "ready for building" closer to the heart of town that council could consider. They are at Eighth and Scott streets and 13th and Chestnut streets.
It's not so much the location but the fact that site preparation and drainage needed at the lot that has been chosen, at Eighth and Fir streets, near the Holy Angels complex, is extensive.
In U.S. Department of Agriculture paperwork related to its loan OK for the borough, site preparation costs are estimated at $350,000, which would include a pond system to collect rainwater and runoff.
Councilman Stephen Motyka said earlier this year, however, that changes that include moving the municipal and maintenance buildings closer to the street will allow use of a different rainwater retention system that will lower the prep costs to about $100,000.
Varano said Sunday that final estimates on construction costs are expected from the engineer in time for Tuesday's meeting.
While the borough has been approved for a $1.47 million loan, Varano points out that in June 2012, council rejected two bids to design and build a new complex, the lowest of which was $1.36 million.
"That shows we are trying to be responsible with the taxpayers' money," he said. "If the price isn't right (with the latest numbers), which we hope is under $1 million, we will abandon this plan and come up with a new one."
Chesney, asked to name options of available buildings, mentioned the former Bressi building, across Chestnut Street (Route 61) from the Mother Pauline Center.
Varano quickly dismissed that one.
"We talked about the Bressi property and the owner would never give us a price on it," Varano said.
Also, he said, Councilman Phil Scicchitano once had a business in there, "and we know that we would need extensive renovation."
Varano said the borough has also inquired about the former Kuzo Brothers auto dealership and Dallazia Auto Sales.
"Either one of those buildings would have required a large amount to pay for the property," not to mention renovation work to suit the borough's needs.
The borough has been using its current facility rent-free through an agreement with Mount Carmel Area School District. Renting at a new site has been cast up as an option, but Varano said he's not buying it.
"They have been throwing out numbers, so here's one," he said: $2,084. Citing that as a potential monthly rental fee, at $25,000 a year, "over a 40-year period, we are still spending a million dollars."
Varano said building at the new location is a good opportunity for Kulpmont. First, the land isn't costing anything; it was donated by Susquehanna Coal Co.
"So we are not starting a couple hundred thousand dollars in the hole," he said.
Not only does the proposed location meet borough needs, it enables access to a natural gas line, something that cannot be done affordably from the Bressi location, he said.
"The closest natural gas line is up one block, so UGI would have to run a line down to the Bressi property," Varano said.
He cited an effort to get a natural gas line to his own home. To run 200 feet of line it would have cost $24,000, plus a tapping fee.
The borough hopes to reduce its heating costs through a natural gas furnace, but also with a geothermal heat pump as its primary heating and cooling source.
Realtors have little
The News-Item contacted Bressi and Martin Real Estate and Realty World Inc. to inquire about commercial building listings in Kulpmont.
Bressi and Martin has one, the former Tomol Auto Sales and Service building, which was damaged by fire in February 2013. The building is described by the Realtor as "a Kulpmont commercial building with lots of potential. This building has garage with storage and a workshop, upstairs office with other rooms which are framed and ready to finish."
The listed price is $136,000, down from the original $144,900. The building is 2,080 square feet on a .67-acre lot.
The borough's current building is 7,000 square feet on each of two floors, although the borough doesn't use nearly all that space. The municipal building at the proposed complex would be 4,000 square feet, while the separate garage would be 5,000 square feet.
Varano said the size and cost of renovation are strikes against the Tomol site. Another downside is that the building is oil heat, he said.
Kulpmont spent more than $28,000 in heating and electricity costs in 2013 for its current site, but hopes to cut that to $6,000 in the new building.
Realty World's only commercial listing was a half-double home.
Attempts to get information last week from a third local Realtor that serves Kulpmont were unsuccessful.
Frustrations on both sides
Tuesday's meeting will be the first time since 2012 that the issue is the sole reason for a public meeting, although there's been plenty of discussion at regular council meetings.
"For the past two years, council has put up a wall," Chesney said. "This should not be anything personal. When he held a taxpayers meeting about the project, the place was packed, but the mayor or even one council member did not attend."
"This whole situation has me at the end of my wits," Varano said. "We were elected to run the borough for the taxpayers and we're trying to do the best for our community."
He said no one comes to meetings until something is done that offends them, like the January tax increase, which raised property taxes 4.5 mills, 3 of them earmarked for municipal complex payments.
"We have maybe raised taxes three times in the last 20 years, and when we did, it was a mill or two," Varano said. "No one wants their taxes raised, not even us (council members)."
Despite all that's happened, Varano said nothing is set in stone.
"If someone comes to us with a viable option, we will take the time to review it," he said Sunday.