Coaldale Mayor Richard Corkery's move to increase the speed limit on West Phillips Street, known locally as Kline's Hill, was met with furious opposition at a public borough council meeting Tuesday.
His suggestion, made Feb. 23, that the borough's fire siren be removed also drew heated protests Tuesday from Fire Chief Richard Marek and Assistant Chief/Communications Officer Kevin Steber.
Corkery wants the speed limit on Kline's Hill increased from 25 mph to 35 mph. He called the lower limit "ridiculous."
The 25 mph speed limit signs were recently taken down under Corkery's direction. That didn't sit well with residents, including Marek, former mayor Claire Remington and Angela Krapf, whose husband Keith is a borough police officer.
Corkery came under fire for directing the street crew to remove the 25 mph signs. As mayor, he does not have the power to do that. Only council can change the speed limits on borough streets, said Councilman Andrew Girard.
Councilman Tom Keerans said the borough Police Committee "did not enact or tell anybody to go ahead with this, or remove signs or anything else. The mayor brought up the subject, and we said we would look into it and bring it to council. All of a sudden, the signs are down."
Solicitor Michael Greek said the street is residential and, if not posted, by state law must by 25 mph.
It turned out that a miscommunication between Corkery and Greek led Corkery to believe he could have the signs removed. Corkery said his action was based on advice from Greek. Greek said he spoke about removing the signs as an option, but did not tell Corkery directly to go ahead and do that. Greek took responsibility for the miscommunication.
Corkery said the 25 mph limit was done improperly because no state traffic study was done. However, Greek said because it is not a state road, no traffic study was necessary.
Council had set the 25 mph speed limit in 1995, said Councilwoman Nancy Lorchak.
Angela Krapf, who lives on that street, said increasing the speed limit would endanger the people who must walk on the street because there are no sidewalks, and the children who play there.
Resident Perry Weaver also said that people "fly" through there now, especially when St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital has a shift change. If the speed limit is increased to 35 mph, he said, it will be worse.
"Please put the signs back up," Weaver said. "People need to see that it is 25 mph."
Marek, who lives on the street, called Corkery's action "totally disrespectful." He said that in removing the signs, Corkery "made a terrible mistake."
"You can't just arbitrarily remove signs," Marek said.
Councilman Joseph Hnat asked Greek to look into what would be involved with increasing the limit in some sections of the street to 35 mph.
Marek also took Corkery to task for suggesting the fire siren be silenced.
Corkery on Feb. 23 called the siren a nuisance, and said firefighters have pagers, so the siren is not needed. He said Nesquehoning has removed its siren because its firefighters have pagers.
Marek said not all Coaldale firefighters have pagers, which are expensive. If Coaldale had the budget that Nesquehoning fire department has, it could afford to purchase them for all of its members. The Coaldale fire department has a small budget based on fund drives - Marek said only 26 percent of residents donated last year - fund raisers and the small amount the borough allocates.
"Trust me, it's not a lot of money," he said.
The siren also alerts residents that there is an emergency. The siren was built by the federal government in the 1970s as a civil defense measure. He said surrounding communities, including Tamaqua, Lansford, Summit Hill, Hometown and Hauto, all have the sirens. In fact, he said, 47 municipalities in Schuylkill County have sirens; only eight do not.
Marek acknowledged the siren is a nuisance. "It is a nuisance. It's a big nuisance to us when we have to leave our families at all hours of the day and night and go out and do what we have to do to perform our duties. Even if it's a nonsense call, we're still out. But we do it."
Hnat said he was told that the siren's loud blast frightens children on the playground, which is next to the siren. He said two children were frightened and ran into a pole.
Marek said the playground was built after the siren was in place. "Why would you build a playground directly beneath an active fire siren?" he asked. "The siren was there first, not the playground."
For people who "move into the area and don't like (the siren), live with it or move," he said.
Hnat asked Steber about pagers.
Steber said the pagers cost $500 each. The Coaldale department has 13-15 of them, he said. Further, if a firefighter is mowing his lawn or if the tower is down, he will still be able to hear the siren. he urged council to "think long and hard" before taking any action to remove the siren.