Several Columbia residents with concerns about a 21 percent tax hike, a controversial loan program and issues surrounding governmental transparency are hoping to gain four borough council seats up for grabs this year.
Since mid-December, concerned residents have huddled at the Chestnut street home of resident Sharon Lintner hoping to find solutions to shortcomings they see from the council, including transparency and taxpayer considerations.
“We’re ready to stop this madness,” Lintner said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Columbia Borough Council President Kelly Murphy, Vice President John Novak as well as council members Marilyn Kress Hartman, and Cleon Berntheizel all have terms concluding at year’s end.
“They all seem to vote in lock step,” she added. “We need someone in there with common sense and reason and ask, ‘Do we need this?’”
The group, which on the verge of naming itself either “Operation: Clean Sweep” or “Columbia Concerned Citizens,” met Sunday with nearly three dozen residents discussing potential council candidates, Lintner said.
One of those candidates is Columbia resident and business owner Rose Weaver, who said her top issues as both a resident and candidate is transparency.
Many questions asked by Weaver and others get vague responses such as “we’ll look into that” or “we’ll get back to you,” with little follow up, she said.
One serious concern involving transparency occurred late last year after Lintner lodged a complaint with the district attorney’s office for an alleged improper vote of a property inspector position in a closed-doors meeting in November 2018.
On Dec. 12, 2018, chief county detective Kent Switzer sent borough manager Rebecca Denlinger a warning letter, stating “now that you have been notified of the unlawful nature of the vote, upon complaint of a subsequent violation we will initiate an investigation of the Sunshine Act violation as it would have been done with full knowledge the action was unlawful.”
“If they’re going to do stuff like that, what are they doing that we’re missing?” Lintner said.
‘Four people control our futures’
Weaver, who owns Rose’s Deli and More on North 4th street, also finds an issue with the borough using as much as $1.5 million in taxpayer money for its revolving loan program.
The program, approved in an ordinance last March, allows for businesses to apply for low-interest loans for expansion or real estate purchases.
So far, one loan has been approved under the program — $250,000 to a company owned by Columbia businessman Don Murphy toward the purchase and renovation of Hinkle’s Restaurant on Locust Street.
Both Weaver and Lintner said they were opposed to the borough’s approach to spur economic development.
“I started my business with my own money (and) it is thriving and surviving,” Weaver said. “To fund one man’s dream at the taxpayer’s expense is not fair.”
Lintner, who is considering a run for council, said that while tensions are high, she’s worried about momentum fading before municipal elections on Nov. 5.
However, with recent attendance at her home meetings growing from about a dozen and swelling to more than 70 people, she’s optimistic for a change in the council.
“It just takes four votes — four yes votes to pass something through,” Lintner said. “Four people control our futures.”
An attempt to reach Murphy, Novak, Hartman and Berntheizel by telephone only elicited a response by Hartman, who declined comment aside from confirming she would not seek re-election.