Honesdale ratifies disaster declaration, threatens legal action

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HONESDALE, PA — Last Monday night, Honesdale Borough went virtual with its public meeting for the first time since the pandemic hit. All seven council members participated, a rare occurrence at in-person borough meetings.

The meeting’s agenda was largely shaped by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and how Honesdale will respond. The councilors moved to ratify Mayor Sarah Canfield’s disaster declaration from March 24. Earlier in the meeting, the mayor’s declaration caused confusion about the borough’s ability to accept donations. Councilor Robert Jennings had moved to make borough hall a drop-off point for donations of items like masks, gloves, cleaning and disinfectant supplies for the Honesdale fire companies and police department. However, councilor Bill Canfield said that because the disaster declaration qualified Honesdale for assistance from federal and state emergency management agencies (FEMA and PEMA), he thought that the borough was therefore not allowed to accept donations. He “begged” the councilors to “be very careful.”

Borough secretary and manager Judith Poltanis noted that there was no guarantee when the borough would receive assistance from either agency. She said that they have not even received the forms they needed to apply for relief as of Monday night. Borough solicitor Richard Henry suggested that the councilors vote on Jennings’ motion, with an addendum that he and Poltanis ensure that accepting donations will not interfere with the borough’s disaster relief eligibility.

The councilors also voted to extend emergency measures until Wednesday, May 6, and also to authorize the filing of all necessary FEMA and PEMA forms.

In non-coronavirus news, Henry made a recommendation about how to deal with a neighbor-to-neighbor conflict which has been ongoing for 10 years. Last month, borough resident Bill Musgrove addressed the councilors during public comment, complaining about his neighbors whose property he described as “a dump.” He said that he’s been trying to get the problem resolved for years, but has gotten “the runaround” from Honesdale officials. Since then, zoning officer David Nilson submitted a violation notice to the property, the second notice that the owners have received so far. In response, the owners asked the borough to relax its measures until the end of the week, Henry said.

“Instead of taking action in district court, I think the only appropriate action at this time…[is to] file an action in the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne County,” Henry said, he added that the court has the power to force the sale of the property, force a cleanup, impose a fine or hold the property owners in contempt.

Canfield moved to take legal action against the property owners if no corrective action is taken before Monday, April 13. Councilor James Brennan did not understand the motion, so the solicitor put it more bluntly, “We’re going to sue [the property owners], sir.” All the councilors voted yes on the decision, except for Brennan who abstained because he still did not understand the motion.

At the end of the night, Canfield reported that she has been working to ensure workplace safety among public works, police department and fire company employees. She said that she is working on getting homemade masks to those employees. Council president Michael Augello thanked the mayor for her efforts, saying he was proud and impressed.

Councilor Jim Jennings thanked all the borough employees who are continuing to work during the pandemic. Canfield commended Augello and Poltanis on making the virtual meeting a reality. Augello gave all the credit to Poltanis.

“She sweated bullets to make sure this worked and worked right,” Augello said. “So, congratulations, Judy.”

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