At a luncheon yesterday, City of Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello presented the 2019 State of the City address.
The event was held at Hebron Fire Hall, which somewhat ironically lies just past the City of Lebanon limits in South Lebanon Township.
All Lebanon County Commissioners were in attendance, as were Magisterial District Judges Maria M. Dissinger and Thomas M. Capello. Also present were members of the Lebanon City Council, staff from the offices of local legislators, and the City of Lebanon’s senior staff.
The self-described “CLA MC” Jack Cantwell of SkyLimit Marketing also announced that this would be his last year emceeing the event, a role that dates back to Mayor Bob Anspach’s tenure.
The core message of the address was that Lebanon is improving. From a decrease in crime and an anticipated improvement in fire safety rating, to new economic development programs and other initiatives, the Mayor shared a number of updates that she described as positive changes and growth.
“Do we have more work to do? We absolutely do. But progress continues to be made in vital areas and I project additional growth in 2019,” she said.
“Therefore, I am pleased to report that the State of the City continues to improve.”
Find our full outline of the address below. You can also watch the address yourself courtesy of the Community of Lebanon Association.
- 21 career and approximately 40 volunteer firefighters responded to more than 1,300 calls for service (compared to a little over 1,200 in 2017). Statistically, 2018 was the second busiest year in department history with 2007 representing the busiest. A greater number of false alarms has come along with more fire detection systems being placed into service.
- Although the number of total fires went down to 104 in 2018 (from 108 in 2017), there were a a greater number of structural fires in 2018 (44 compared to 38). Losses were greater as a result: $2.6 million compared to $1.3 million.
- There was also the first fire death in over 7 years due to conditions caused by what is believed to have been a smoke detector disabled by tenants.
- Automatic and mutual aid makes up about 11% of overall call volume. The City does not summon automatic aid, bu did make 40 requests for mutual aid. Responses by the City to automatic aid outside the city nearly doubled in 2018, in what the Mayor called “a sign of the increasing use of partnerships between the Lebanon Fire Department and county companies.”
- Fire inspections rose 228% year over year.
- Through a grant, the City obtained 46 Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus paying about just 10% of the approximately $300k total cost.
- The City is targeting a further improvement in its Insurance Services Office rating of municipal fire suppression. If the pathway to improve to a class 3 rating by June 2020 is realized, Mayor Capello expects a drop in insurance rates to serve as an additional benefit to property owners and potential investors.
- The City is considering Fire and Safety Patrol’s request for a $127k yearly operating grant ($5 per person/year) and currently performing due diligence and waiting the results of an audit.
- Crimes against people and property decreased 12% from 2017 with 679 counts total. The Mayor said this is the lowest overall count since the City began formally reporting crime numbers more than 20 years ago. The Mayor said that serious crime has decreased by 45% over the past 20 years and City police have high clearance rates, with a 91% rate for assaults and 100% for robbery.
- Part II crimes (forgery, embezzlement, DUI, etc – anything not against a specific person or property) were also down by 308 counts to 548 total (a 27% decrease).
- There were two homicides in 2018. One was related to a drug nexus. Both are open cases and continue to be investigated.
- Service calls decreased by 10% with 1,681 calls total, the lowest number since 2011.
- Some of the departments goals in 2019 include:
- The City will work to develop training & a coordinated response to a local civil disturbance incident in the City/Count.
- Encourage an increase in the number of active Neighborhood Associations.
- Increase foot patrols.
- Continue to upgrade computer work stations.
- More than 6,000 rental units in the City, representing 60% of all housing. The City hopes to improve the rental inspection process over this year, as well as hiring a supervisor to oversee code enforcement operations. Property maintenance complaints increased 6% in 2018 with almost 3,200 new cases. The Mayor says that new cases have risen by 164% since she took office. The trash category represents about 36% of all new cases, with high grass and weeds the second largest violation at about 20% of all cases.
- The City is exploring a Land Bank that would give it right of first refusal on properties that go to judicial tax claim sales. This would give the City the ability to target “speculators and landlords who do not make significant improvements to them.” The City has been negotiating with the County and SchoolBoard on cooperation agreements.
- The City will conduct an assessment of blight this year and based on that the Mayor plans to ask City Council to adopt a vacant property registration ordinance. The registration ordinance would create a database of the owners and location of vacant properties. The Mayor said this database would help the City understand its vacant property challenges and promote responsible maintenance, as well as allowing for prompt contact between authorities and property owners.
- Keystone Opportunity Zone, LERTA’s, New Market Tax Credits, and Opportunity Zones among the economic programs in place currently to assist businesses. The Keystone Opportunity Zone allows for a tax abatement up to 10 years on specific areas (see the map here). LERTA’s must be approved by the County Commissioners and allow for real estate tax abatements on major improvements at 100% for the first 3 years and 50% for the next two years. New Market Tax Credits are being used in Kreider Commons, for which investors receive a federal income tax credit in exchange for making equity investments in community development entities like the Community First Fund. Opportunity Zones are a program which allows to defer capital gains for up to 10 years by reinvesting into low-income communities.
- The BID and new director Amy Kopecky were highlighted, as were a number of events like MakersFest, the Bologna Drop, the Ice Harvest, and more.
- The Mayor said that in 2019 the City and BID will place more emphasis on marketing vacant properties and institute an ambassador program “to further elevate the downtown experience by providing direct, on the street connection.”
- The Mayor also highlighted the Keystone Main Street program that will give Lebanon priority status for a number of grant opportunities. Mayor Capello noted that “this program is a community-driven approach to revitalization and will take involvement of the downtown stakeholders to succeed.”
Business & Entrepreneurialism
- The City will open an Entrepreneurial Center on April 23rd in partnership with the Chamber and SCORE.
- A number of business developments were highlighted, including:
- WellSpan renovation to emergency department
- Dollar General Store and Lebanon Community Health Center at the Shoppes at the Bridges, and Brothers Food Max is opening this summer. The last remaining parcel is slotted for a restaurant.
- A dispensary and grow facility for medical marijuana are both headed to Lebanon.
- EnVision Group, DiNunzio’s, and Central PA Tuxedo relocated to the Lebanon Daily News complex.
- The City is seeking to construct a downtown parking garage and City Hall complex. “Moving City Hall downtown will increase foot traffic, police presence, and improve vibrancy in the downtown,” said the Mayor. The City and Lebanon Transit are also exploring the project as a multi-modal transfer facility.
- A City website revamp is in progress.
- For the third year in a row, weekly earnings increased. Lebanon City has the lowest unemployment rate for the 6th year in a row.