Watsontown calls off July 4 festivities

In keeping with Centers for Disease Control Guidelines everyone in attendance at Tuesday’s Watsontown Borough Council meeting was masked. From left, council members Greg Miller, Dan Folk and Fred Merrill.

WATSONTOWN — While noting that community events with more than 100 people are forbidden even under a Pennsylvania county’s green phase of reopening from the coronavirus pandemic, members of Watsontown Borough Council on Tuesday verbally agreed the community will not be hosting its annual July 4 festivities this year.

Members agreed to not move forward with holding the festivities after hearing from Watsontown Area Business Association (WABA) President Barb Diehl. She said the organization decided to not hold its annual July 4 parade.

In reaching the decision to not hold the parade, Diehl said WABA’s members noted that all of the surrounding communities have also canceled their respective July 4 festivities.

“If everybody else has canceled, this town would be inundated with people (for a parade),” Diehl said.

She also recommended Watsontown not hold its fireworks display.

Borough Manager Jay Jarrett said it was prudent for the borough to not hold its July 4 festivities, given Pennsylvania guidelines for reopening prohibit community events of more than 100 people, even for green-phase counties. Northumberland County, where Watsontown is located, is still in the yellow phase.

“The governor has canceled this, not Watsontown Borough,” Jarrett said.

Police Chief Rodney Witherite applauded council’s decision to not hold July 4 festivities.

“It’s hard for us to police these issues, with masks and social distancing,” he said. “I agree with that decision. I appreciate that decision.”

Witherite confirmed he and Mayor Russ McClintock will be attending a June 3 McEwensville Borough Council meeting, where that council could act on an ordinance as the final step in entering into an Intergovernmental Police Services Agreement with Watsontown Borough.

Watsontown Borough Council in April approved a similar ordinance. In March, council approved the police services agreement, with Jarrett noting at that time that both communities needed to approve the ordinance in order for the agreement to be in place.

Jarrett previously said the one-year agreement includes a 30-day opt out for either side.

Under the terms of the agreement, McEwensville will pay Watsontown $8,190 for the year for the service. Jarrett said that was calculated on McEwensville’s population, with the borough being charged $30 per person.

Based on McEwensville’s call volume, as provided by Pennsylvania State Police, Witherite said on Tuesday he does not expect his department to have as many calls in McEwensville as Watsontown.

“They have approximately 200 citizens,” he said. “What they like, if they call a police officer, in need of assistance… we will be there, probably within seconds.”

While he referred to Pennsylvania State Police as “one of the finest organizations” in the world, Witherite said the agency is not set up to offer the kind of community policing which the Watsontown Police Department offers.

“We are going to focus on police services, which encompasses traffic,” he noted.

In other business, council approved a land development plan for LJS Real Estate Company to construct a four-unit townhouse on South Main Street.

Approval was also given to apply for a $65,000 grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). If approved, the grant will be used for flood mitigation work along Tannery Run, which has caused flooding issues along Matthew Street.

Jarrett said the borough also applied for the grant last year, but it was not approved at that time.

It was announced during the meeting that the Public Works Department will conduct weekly brush pickups in June.

After conducting the April meeting via phone due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday’s council meeting was held at borough hall, with all council members and public in attendance wearing masks.

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email kevin@standard-journal.com.

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