Ligonier Borough passes 2020 budget, mini wireless communications ordinance

Ligonier Borough Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas presents a proclamation to fire chief Steve Barron.

Ligonier Borough Council is facing another tight budget for 2020, yet a balanced one.

Council members on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution approving the $1.3-million budget and maintaining the property tax rate at 24.5 mills. Ligonier Borough receives more than $17,000 in revenue per mill.

Councilwoman Mariah Fisher told the Bulletin last month that the finance committee did not make any significant changes or cuts to the 2020 budget compared to previous years. The budget projects a small $280 profit at year-end.

The public works department expects to hire a fourth employee next spring, which boosted its budget about 17% from 2019. Notable expenditures planned for next year also include new phone, computer and security systems for Town Hall, according to Fisher.

Council also adopted a small cellular wireless communications facilities ordinance for the borough in the works since the beginning of this year.

The new ordinance addresses networks of miniature wireless antennas — measuring about 3 cubic feet in size — that are designed to fit on utility poles, buildings or other support structures. It outlines design, location and installation standards for this technology and the permit application requirements wireless companies must follow.

The ordinance also allows Ligonier Borough to charge companies permit and annual right-of-way fees for this equipment.

With Pennsylvania and federal laws supporting the expansion of the next generation 5G cellular data service, this ordinance will be a way that Ligonier Borough can govern where these devices can be placed and their visual impact, particularly within public rights-of-way.

The ordinance prohibits small wireless facilities from Diamond Park, given the multi-million dollar renovation of the historic space in 2018.

“If you don’t have this ordinance, then you have no control,” solicitor George Welty said.

Zoning officer Rick Schwab said he expects an application for a small 4G wireless antenna from Crown Castle in Canonsburg, which inquired about installing one on an existing pole near Church and Market streets. He said the company liked Ligonier Borough’s ordinance.

Council approved the transfer of an existing retail liquor license from the former Kowboys Lounge in Unity Township to the Ligonier Giant Eagle on South Walnut Street. Council members held a public hearing prior to their regular meeting to hear testimony on the license transfer.

Jim Faccenda, who owns and operates the franchise under C&J Grocery Co. LLC, wants to mirror the on premise consumption and to-go sales of beer and wine at nearly a hundred other Giant Eagle and Get-Go locations, his attorney Ellen Freeman of Flaherty & O’Hara explained.

Freeman provided council with a preliminary floor plan for the proposed alcohol section with cold beer coolers and wine shelves slated for the back left corner of the store near the bakery. Per Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) regulations, the area would also offer prepared food items from the deli.

Alcohol sales would follow the store’s daily 7 a.m to 9 p.m. operating hours. Customers would be able to purchase a maximum of 192 fluid ounces of beer (or roughly two six-packs) or 3,000 milliliters (or four bottles) of wine in a single transaction.

A maximum of two drinks may be consumed on site and must be purchased with food as a dine-in experience.

Store associates operating the dedicated register in alcohol section or involved in the handling, stocking or purchasing of the products would undergo Responsible Alcohol Management Program training. All customers would be asked to show ID.

Faccenda is hoping to offer alcohol sales by Easter, but the timing depends on how quickly the PLCB reviews and approves his license application.

Thanks to a grant, the Rotary Club of Ligonier will conduct geotechnical testing of soil and water beneath the Friendship Park tennis and basketball courts to see if the site can support a proposed new outdoor recreation center. Councilman Jim McDonnell said Construction Engineering Consultants of Pittsburgh would notify the borough before it proceeds with drilling.

Council also voted to approve a new ordinance amending the vehicles and traffic chapter in Ligonier Borough’s Code of Ordinance to add references to new stop signs on Bell Street at the intersection with Washington Street that were approved at its Nov. 14 meeting.

The Ligonier Valley Police Department will finish its first year of operation close to on budget, councilman Jeff Craig reported, which is remarkable given some unforeseen expenses for the force. He credited Chief John Berger and Assistant Chief Michael Matrunics for covering many hours of part-time shifts to help maintain the budget.

“I think that things could not have gone better from any number of standpoints,” Craig said, noting that the department saw ideas they conceived in theory successful in practice.

For example, as Matrunics pointed out, no outside agencies were called in to deal with a dual drug and burglary arrest at an apartment on East Church Street in November and that the search warrants were solely handled by the combined department.

Looking toward 2020, Craig said the Ligonier Valley Police Commission hired The Hill Group of Pittsburgh to conduct a site evaluation for a possible new regional police headquarters. While the study is not a commitment to a brand new building, it is a step in that direction, Craig said.

The police commission hopes within a few months to have a preliminary decision it can bring to Ligonier Borough Council and the Ligonier Township Supervisors and believes grant money would be available for the development, according to Craig.

The commission also plans to purchase two new patrol cars and finish wrapping the fleet with the department’s new logo.

Fisher announced that Ligonier’s first annual National Night Out in August received a first-time participant award from the national organization that promotes these community events featuring local law enforcement, fire and emergency personnel.

A local doctor appealed to council for relief on a parking issue she claims is now disrupting the practice she has operated in Ligonier since 2013.

Dr. Diana Denning of Ligonier Gynecology told council that starting this year there has been almost daily encounters with borough parking enforcement of the spaces in front of 113 South Fairfield Street, which she said are critical to her patients with health issues.

Bridget Coyne, whose family owns the building that houses Denning’s practice as well as Ligonier Pharmacy, said she was notified by the streets department that the curb cuts would be paved over and the parking would be eliminated and not replaced with metered spaces due to Dollar General’s delivery truck.

Coyne questioned the borough’s general parking requirements, given that the building’s use has not changed and the structure has not been enlarged or undergone any significant improvements.

“I’d like to have some clarity on what way we are violating parking regulations and how we can just remedy that.” Coyne said.

Welty said he would meet with engineer Ben Faas of the EADS Group, streets supervisor Ron Ross and possibly the police department to review the issue and determine a solution

“I think we want to stay within the law but we want to be as fair and equitable to all parties as we can,” said council president Sam St. Clair.

Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas presented Fire Chief Steve Barron with a proclamation recognizing his 42 years of service to Ligonier Volunteer Hose Co. No. 1. Barron is retiring after a three-year term as chief but will serve as company president.

Barron attributed the success of the all-volunteer fire department to the hard work and dedication of its members. Through November, the department spent more than 7,000 man-hours between responding to calls and participating in training, fundraising and other activities.

Thursday’s meeting was also the last for councilmembers Terry Murphy, who was absent, and Jim McDonnell.

McDonnell served 20 years on council. His fellow members, the mayor and borough staff thanked him for the thousands of hours that he invested into guiding and governing Ligonier Borough.

“It’s been a privilege. It’s been an honor to be a steward for the borough, an advocate for the taxpayers/residents, employees and the retailers here from the get-go. I don’t have any regrets. I can look in the mirror when I shave,” McDonnell said.

Council will hold its 2020 reorganization meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan 6, followed by its first regular meeting of the year at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9.

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