LANSDALE — The next keeper of Lansdale’s books is now on board.
“I am pleased to announce that we have hired Melissa Gemelli as our new finance director,” Borough Manager John Ernst said.
In December 2020 borough council announced that previous Finance Director Ramey was departing after holding that role since December 2016. In January Ernst said applications were being accepted for the post, and on Feb. 17 he announced the hiring of Gemelli, who had previously worked in various roles including finance director for the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority, which Ernst called “the Allentown version of SEPTA,” for nearly two decades, and had a start date in Lansdale of Feb. 22.
“We have had several conversations about strategic planning, looking forward to working with all of the department heads in their capital budget planning, and as we move forward with our own capital investments and strategic planning in the future,” Ernst said.
In addition to department heads, Gemelli was starting to meet with borough customer service staff, and would likely get to meet and greet council during the March 3 committee meetings, according to the manager.
Electric equipment upgrades prompted by PPL: Council unanimously approved, after a lengthy debate, a series of equipment upgrades for the borough’s electrical grid.
The roughly $23,000 upgrades were mandated by regional energy provider PP&L as a condition of connecting the borough’s newly-constructed solar power arrays at the Ninth Street utility complex and atop borough hall to PPL’s network, according to borough officials.
“This was designed based on the international electric building code. It meets all codes, got all of the building permits, was done correctly. On several occasions, we reached out to PPL to engage them, get their input, and did not hear anything,” said borough engineer Chris Fazio.
“Until the last hour, when they came out to see it, once it was constructed, and basically are saying they want redundancy, a secondary way to meet that level of safety, which is in excess of the international code,” he said.
That secondary safety system is needed before the borough solar arrays can be activated, according to several members of council’s electric committee, who discussed and ultimately voted ahead the equipment upgrade in early February.
“I don’t like being held over a barrel on this at all, particularly when we feel pretty strongly that the measure we put in place, at least for what we designed, are more than adequate and safe,” said council President Denton Burnell.
Electric Superintendent Andy Krauss agreed, saying he thought the forced upgrade was “very premature, and it’s holding us up from turning our solar panels on now, which we’re ready to do.” Those two borough-owned arrays do not cross the one megawatt threshold, Krauss added, but “one more large-scale commercial solar project” could, and not proceeding with the upgrade now could lead to the potential for litigation with PPL, Krauss said.
“I don’t want my folks to be unsafe, or in danger, at all. We wouldn’t put it online if they were. This is just a bigger utility, requiring us to have a redundancy there, that unfortunately we have to pay for,” Krauss said.
Electric committee chairwoman Carrie Hawkins Charlton added that she was “really irritated” with the late word from PPL, because the solar panels could have been producing power much earlier if not for the now-needed upgrade.
A separate action item, with firm Blue Sky Power to develop a borough long-term green energy plan, was also approved unanimously on Feb. 17. Mayor Garry Herbert thanked council for doing so, calling it “a really critical first step in a long journey toward becoming more energy independent, and to generating more of our own green power.”
Postal problems still ongoing: Council also fielded comments from resident Nancy Frei that problems with mail delivery in town are still ongoing.
“I don’t get mail every day, and when I do get mail a lot of it is junk. I’m still not getting important things,” like work-related documents that are time sensitive, Frei said.
Residents have sounded off about post office problems and delayed mail delivery for years, and borough officials have vowed to work with the local postmaster to try to resolve bottlenecks and speed delivery whenever possible, efforts Burnell said have continued.
“I know we continue to work with whoever will listen. I don’t have any good answers for you there. I know we continue to push on local, regional authorities, and politicians at the federal level,” he said. Resident Jean Fritz added that she recently received a mailer from Verizon advertising a discount “by January 3, 2021, and I received this piece of mail on Feb. 10,” and Burnell said he had received holiday cards as late as early February.
Fire safety fees now on books: Council also voted unanimously to adopt an update to the town’s 2021 fee schedule, to add new fees for commercial fire safety inspections.
“We’ve been talking on and off, at various venues, about how this is going to be a phased introduction,” said Ernst.
In January 2021 council adopted a new ordinance establishing the fire safety inspection program, after hearing the month before from the town’s fire marshal on the need for the new program, an outgrowth of fire-code-related talks that started in 2018.
An updated fee schedule is included in council’s meeting materials packet for Feb. 17, and spells out a stepped schedule of fee charges from $40 to $355 for fire safety inspections, depending on building square footage. Councilman Leon Angelichio asked if those charges would be rolled out slowly for local businesses, and Ernst said they would.
Several other items were also approved after prior discussion in committee meetings earlier in February, including a resolution supporting a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures beyond the end of the COVID-19 emergency; a set of property assessment settlements resulting in a net refund of roughly $42,000 to the owners; a grant application seeking county “Montco 2040” grant funding for upgrades to Whites Road Park; and hanging of decorative banners for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Montgomery County on various streets from April 1 through Oct. 31.
Lansdale’s borough council next meets at 8:45 p.m. on March 3, with various committees starting at 6:15 p.m. For more information or meeting agendas and materials visit www.Lansdale.org.