The subject of open fire and burning was a hot topic at Tuesday’s Derry Borough Council work session.
Councilman Jim Ritenour expressed concerns about some residents not adhering to the borough’s burning ordinance, while other council members believe most residents comply with the borough’s burning times and items permitted to be burned.
According to the borough website, residents are allowed to burn yard waste Tuesdays and Saturdays from dawn to dusk. Yard waste, per the website, includes only trees, branches, logs and stumps. Borough officials remind residents that it’s unlawful to burn garbage of any kind, including but not limited to rubber, plastics and metals, because of toxicity levels.
“It’s getting out of control — the times that they’re burning and what they’re burning,” Ritenour said during the meeting, which was held virtually. “We have certain individuals in town that are burning anything but than what they should be burning.”
Council vice president Al Checca and borough police chief Randy Glick said a recent burning “incident” in the borough — where authorities were called to the scene — was determined to be a legal fire.
Borough mayor Alanna DeRito-Gaudiello stressed that residents with concerns about their neighbors’ burning call 911, not the police or fire department. Borough officials said calling 911 for a burning concern provides documentation of the incident and potentially lessens the burden on police and fire departments.
“We’re short-handed and have a pandemic going on — let’s keep our priorities where they need to be. We sent the fire department and the police to a non-illegal fire,” Glick said. “We’re at the point where we can’t put criminals in jail and we’re running around chasing fires. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“We have other things to worry about,” Checca said, adding that he is in favor of residents having the option of regulated burning. “... I don’t want to let a couple bad apples ruin it for everyone, because most of the people (follow) the ordinance. It’s easy to pick out the one burning construction material.”
In other business Tuesday, council discussed an upcoming vote to fill a vacancy on the Derry Borough Municipal Authority (DBMA) board, as borough officials received letters of interest from Richard Thomas and Barbara Phillips. Thomas, a former authority manager who recently served as board chairman, saw his term expire in 2020. Phillips, a Fourth Ward resident who dealt with another major flooding incident last summer, currently serves on council.
This past fall, Thomas was presented with an Extended Service Award from the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, recognizing his 30 years of service with the authority. Thomas was appointed to the authority board in 1991 and eventually became authority manager, serving for 14 years until retiring in 2015. He later rejoined the board and served as chairman.
Council president Grant Nicely suggested that council consider Thomas for another term on the board, given his knowledge of the authority and the borough’s infrastructure.
“He’s an encyclopedia when it comes to the water authority,” Nicely said. “I think it would behoove the community to keep him on the board at this time.”
Checca said the authority, ideally, would have a more even representation of board members who reside in Derry Borough and Derry Township.
Once council fills the vacancy, Checca noted that the DBMA would have “five borough residents on the water authority. In a perfect world, there would be two or three from the borough and two or three from the township.”
Phillips, if selected to the board, said she would place an emphasis on residents who have dealt with flooding issues in the recent past.
“I want our entire community served, but most specifically the Fourth Ward residents that are dealing with flooding — not just flooding, but sewer water flooding,” she said.
Borough solicitor Lee Demosky said Phillips, if selected to fill the vacancy, would only be excluded from any executive sessions discussing litigation related to her personal flooding issues.
“It’s a tough decision and should not be taken lightly,” Checca said of filling the authority board vacancy, which council is expected to consider at next week’s regular meeting.
Also Tuesday, Checca said borough officials recently held discussions with the City of Latrobe regarding a cooperative agreement with Derry Borough for a joint code and zoning enforcement officer.
Phillips noted that Latrobe “is definitely willing to work with us” and will provide Derry Borough the ability to terminate the agreement in the future, if deemed necessary. Borough officials said roughly $8,000 is budgeted for the code and zoning enforcement officer position.
Latrobe City Council last month voted to authorize city manager Michael Gray to advertise for the position, and the city is currently accepting applicants. He said a draft will be presented to council for its Jan. 25 meeting.
Also discussed Tuesday:
- DeRito-Gaudiello suggested that council explore holding an annual reorganization meeting, as opposed to doing so once every two years. Nicely and Checca, who hold the top two leadership positions on council, had no issues with council potentially bringing the matter up for a vote at next week’s meeting;
- Council received a letter from Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. regarding 2021 rates;
- Council received a letter from Demosky regarding 2021 rates and reappointment;
- Council held an executive session regarding a part-time police officer position.
In other business, council will look to approve these items next week:
- Lee Demosky as borough solicitor in 2021;
- Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. as borough engineer in 2021;
- 2021 membership to the Central Westmoreland COG and Indiana/Westmoreland COG;
- A resolution that borough police officers will not be required to make contributions to the police pension fund;
- For the borough secretary/treasurer to pay bills between meetings to take advantage of discounts and prevent bills from becoming past due;
- To appoint a primary voting delegate and secondary voting delegate for the Westmoreland County Tax Collection Committee;
- To allow Derry Volunteer Fire Company Chief Josh Campbell permission to change 911 call outs;
- Police services contract with the Derry Area School District in 2021;
- Contract with Sable Kennel in 2021;
- Amendments to the 2021 budget.