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Borough projects moving forward

During the March 18 Catasauqua Borough Council meeting, borough Engineer Vanessa Nedrick shared some updates on engineering projects in the borough. She noted the Walnut Street stormwater project is at the preconstruction meeting phase, and progress should be moving forward depending on availability of materials. Additionally, the inflow and infiltration project is out for bid.

She requested council approval on awarding bids for two projects. Grace Industries was approved to work on the Race Street parking lot project. Nedrick noted it made sense since the company is currently working on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation project on Race Street.

Barrasso Excavation was approved to work on the water interconnection project with Northampton Borough Municipal Authority.

The final council action for engineering was the approval for Nedrick to move forward with design and planning for the wastewater treatment plant operations building roof repair.

Additionally, Councilman Eugene Schlegel reported there is a traffic safety issue with the current construction being done on Race Street. Nedrick said she has spoken with PennDOT, and the issue is being reviewed.

In other business, Sean O’Boyle, a Catasauqua resident and member of the Civil Service Commission, had some concerns about the recent changes in the police department. He said he and the other Civil Service Commission members never received notice about “the police chief’s suspension.”

“Once there’s a suspension of a chief, the commission is supposed to receive a copy,” O’Boyle said. “It’s in our procedures, and we did not.”

Former police Chief Douglas Kish officially retired in late February after more than 20 years with the borough, according to borough Manager Glenn Eckhart. When asked to confirm O’Boyle’s statement of the police chief’s suspension, Mayor Barbara Schlegel responded by saying he is retired. Eckhart did not comment.

During the meeting, council President Howard Cunningham asserted these changes to the police department were not council decisions but, rather, were made by the mayor.

O’Boyle also shared concerns the borough moved forward with these changes while the department is understaffed. He questioned if this will lead to more overtime for the remaining officers.

“The community is being covered,” Barbara Schlegel said.

She reported they shuffled and rescheduled the officers to ensure adequate coverage, adding the chief was seldom out on patrol. She also noted they are expecting officers to return to duty from injuries, and they are actively working to bring in new recruits. Additionally, she and Eckhart reported overtime is down by half from a few years ago.

She said also she is working with Officer John Wiseman, officer in charge, to smooth out some of the concerns noted in a recent Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development peer-to-peer management report for the police department.

In a related manner, council discussed appointing a solicitor for the Civil Service Commission to address concerns and ensure everything is being done correctly and legally. Eckhart recommended David Knerr to fill the role. Knerr already serves the area as the solicitor to Catasauqua Area School District Board of Education.

Elyse Cuttic and Aaron Gasparetti, of Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce, attended the meeting to introduce themselves to council. They emphasized the Chamber is the largest in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and the sixth largest nationwide. Cuttic reported the Chamber works to facilitate new business initiatives and events such as ribbon cuttings and networking nights.

The Chamber also offers grants to local municipalities. It was noted Catasauqua received grant funding from the Chamber for new banners and benches.

The Chamber also assists with planning and marketing events, such as the Catty EATS Fest, which is scheduled for 11 a.m.-3 p.m. April 27 at Catasauqua Park and Playground, 501 American St.

In other news, council members voted to approve changing the traffic pattern on a section of Front Street. Ordinance 1435 was approved, with a vote of 5-1, to revert Front Street, from Union Street to Bridge Street, to one-way traffic traveling northbound. Councilwoman Kim Brubaker was the sole no vote. Council Vice President Brian Bartholomew was absent.

When asked about budgetary matters, Eckhart noted the borough is currently ahead of budget in most areas of revenue and under budget in most areas of expenses, so the budget is not a concern at the moment.

This prompted the resident to ask a follow-up question. He noted the plan a few years ago was to reduce taxes for residents and asked if they are still planning on the reduction. Eckhart said if his plans and projections stay on track, he is hoping to have a tax reduction for residents included in the 2025 budget.

Councilwoman Tara Nicholas commented there are openings on the borough zoning hearing board and planning commission.

Eugene Schlegel noted the Friends of Catasauqua Parks group is planning to hold a Cinco de Mayo event May 4 at Catasauqua Park and Playground. He noted there will be festive music, food trucks, dancers and more.

Additionally, Eugene Schlegel noted the shade tree commission is planning tree inspections. An Arbor Day program is planned for April 27, starting 10 a.m., at the municipal complex, 90 Bridge St.

Spring and summer events are being planned.

One resident reminded council about the importance of tone in addressing their colleagues and the public.

“It’s not what you say, but how you say it,” she said, adding she understands the job is challenging and often thankless, but they can be kinder and understanding in their exchanges. The sentiment was echoed by another resident.

Borough council was expected to meet for committee and workshop meetings April 1. A 7 p.m. April 15 regular business meeting will be held at the borough municipal complex, 90 Bridge St.