Lower Mac takes hard line on assistance for residents

Posted: 9:28 AM EDT Nov 02, 2012   Updated: 10:40 AM EDT Nov 02, 2012
Lower Macungie Commissioners

Lower Macungie commissioners stood firm in the face of a crying woman who asked them to reconsider their decision to not help purchase her flood-prone home.

On Thursday night, Lisa Makuta asked commissioners to reconsider their decision to not help buy-out her home and two others on Woodbine Lane, which she said have been flooded out at least three times in seven years.

She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is picking up 75 percent of the cost to buy the three homes and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is picking up 22 percent. Several months ago, she asked commissioners to put up the remaining three percent-- $21,000.

A couple days ago, Makuta got a letter saying commissioners had decided not to pick up the cost. “May I ask why?”

“Excellent question,” responded Commissioner Ryan Conrad, who said the letter she received probably should have explained the rationale behind their decision.

“It was not an easy decision,” said Conrad. He explained commissioners were concerned about setting a precedent by picking up the cost, because a number of other homes are in flood plains in the township.

Through her tears, Makuta said she loves the township, pays her taxes and “we hoped you guys would be here for your community.”

She said Lower Macungie previously helped buy two other frequently flooded homes, paying more than $80,000.

Conrad said that decision was made by a previous board of commissioners, a decision the current commissioners “don’t necessarily agree was the appropriate thing to do. Not because we don’t want to help you. We certainly want to help you. But the precedent that it may set could be very expensive for the township and our taxpayers. It may not end if we start with one other property owner.”

“We’re not asking you for a million dollars,” said Makuta. “It’s $20,000 to make three families whole. We’re asking for a lousy $20,000. I don’t think that’s much to ask from you guys.”

Commissioner James Lancsek said it’s about the principle, not the money.

“Sometimes our decisions, even though we think they’re correct, are not popular,” said Lancsek. “That’s just part of this job, unfortunately. ”

Lancsek reminded Matuka that she bought a home in a flood plain. “You bought distressed property.”

While the resident maintained very few other homes in Lower Macungie are impacted by flooding, Lancsek said hundreds of homes in the township are in flood plains, not just a few.

“That may be true,” she said. “But none of them get flooded to the extent that we have.”

Board president Ron Eichenberg said the commissioners sympathize with her situation but the commissioners have made their decision. “We’re sorry.”

The township also is taking a hard line on another issue where it assisted residents, just one year ago. By consensus, commissioners supported township manager Bruce Fosselman’s decision that Lower Macungie will not remove trees that fell on private property when Hurricane Sandy rumbled through Monday night.

Removing downed trees is the property owner’s responsibility, said the manager.

Fosselman acknowledged the township did assist residents with downed trees in their yards after the destructive heavy snow that fell in late October 2011, but said “that was monumental.”

He said trees are down in yards, “but nothing like we had last year.” He added tree damage from this year was miniscule compared to the October 2011 storm.

“We are not tree trimmers, we are not tree collectors, we are leaf collectors,” said the manager. “We don’t have the manpower to do what we did last year. That’s what they get contractors for. It’s private property. If your roof fell off, we wouldn’t be there collecting your roof.”

Fosselman said if the township just collects downed trees along streets, people also will take trees from their backyards and put them out front, adding that’s what happened last year when the township set out to take downed street trees.

Fosselman told commissioners Lower Macungie was hit by winds up to 81 mph during Sandy. He said trees started to fall at 10:30 p.m. Monday. The township used three front-end loaders to clear trees from roads, “but it was not our intent to pick these trees up.”