When: Columbia Borough Council meeting, Oct. 13.
What happened: Council voted 5-2 to hire York-based marketing agency Gavin to handle messaging around the borough’s potential purchase of the vacant McGinness Airport property one mile from Columbia. Council members Sharon Lintner and Howard Stevens were opposed to hiring the marketing firm.
Why it matters: The meeting was the first time council publicly discussed the possibility of the property purchase since the borough abandoned the idea three years ago. In a phone conversation after the meeting, Borough Manager Mark Stivers said the borough is considering the purchase in order to create a small industrial park development or something similar, with various businesses on the property.
Background: Council meeting minutes from July 24, 2017, show the borough considered purchasing the property at that time, but chose not to proceed “because Borough Council has determined that the title, environmental, and/or subsurface conditions of the property, are unacceptable to the Borough.” At the Oct. 13 meeting, council member Todd Burgard referenced environmental contamination on the property. When asked for environmental assessment records after the meeting, Stivers said they were not yet available to the public.
Gavin contract: The contract with Gavin runs Oct. 15 to July 1 next year. It includes a monthly retainer of $2,500 plus any hourly overages incurred. The contract recommends a budget of $6,000 per month for the first three months. Gavin’s services will include crafting “strategic issue messaging encompassing the project plan,” coordinating with the borough on communication materials and conducting media training if needed, among other services.
Quotable: “I don’t understand why we can’t communicate with our public. ... Why do we have to pay someone to communicate with them?” Lintner asked. On the other hand, Burgard, who voted in favor of the motion, said the firm would help lay the groundwork for “future success with other people, entities, stakeholders wanting to be a part of our conversation,” and that professional services were needed for a conversation of that scale and importance.
What is known about McGinness purchase: Council has been sitting in private executive sessions regarding the property for several months, but did not communicate anything publicly until the Oct. 13 council meeting. In response to questions from resident Frank Doutrich during the meeting, Stivers said the property is listed at $1,495,000 and that borough solicitor Evan Gabel is working toward a purchase contract. Stivers also said the property would be paid with a bond taken out in 2016 for a different project that did not occur. He said developing the property would greatly increase its taxable value, reducing the tax burden on citizens.
What’s next: After the meeting, Stivers said Borough Council will publicly discuss more specifics of the redevelopment plan for the McGinness property at the Nov. 5 meeting.