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Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello concentrated on issues of everyday concern to city residents when she gave her annual State of the City address to about 150 guests at the Hebron Banquet Hall on Wednesday, March 29.
The event was sponsored by the Community of Lebanon Association and Buzgon Davis Law Offices.
Those in attendance included county commissioners, city council members, and a wide range of business and community leaders
The 45-minute review of the past year in city government was heavy on graphs and statistics and struck a generally positive note, broadly outlining the progress Capello said the city has made in her 13 years at the controls of city government.
Fallen officers honored
Capello took a moment to remember the five city police officers who responded last March 31 to a domestic disturbance at a home on the northern edge of the city. They found 34-year-old Travis Shaud inside, and when they entered, he opened fire on the officers with a handgun.
Lt. William Lebo, a 40-year-veteran of the force just a month from retirement, was fatally shot. Officers Derek Underkoffler and Ryan Adams were wounded. Officer Kristopher McCarrick returned fire and killed Shaud.
Read More: Community celebrates Lt. William Lebo’s life and service
McCarrick and Officer Andrew Harner rendered first aid to their wounded comrades until help arrived.
Lebo was just the third Lebanon police officer killed in the line of duty, and the first since 1903.
Read More: In memory of Lebanon’s officers who gave their life in the line of duty
“No matter how prepared you think you are, you cannot be for something of this magnitude,” Capello said. “Our officers are still healing and we thank them for their commitment to our city and to our community.”
Recognizing that “we cannot succeed as a city unless we provide residents, visitors, and the business community with the best public safety services possible,” Capello reviewed 2022 crime statistics.
There were 127 reported crimes against persons – homicide, rape, robbery, and assault – last year, versus 122 in 2021.
2022 saw a 34% increase in property crimes, mainly theft, with 460 versus 341 in 2021. And not just any theft. “We believe the increase last year was due to package delivery thefts,” the mayor said.
There were two homicides in 2022, compared to three in 2021.
Capello also pointed out “Lebanon city experienced the lowest serious crime counts in our statistical history,” and that “2022 was only slightly higher.”
While not citing a source, Capello also said that “when comparing to 20 years ago, serious crime has decreased by almost 59%. That is significant. The decrease has been a consistent trend over the years.”
Gun violence is a serious concern, said Capello, as she reported on the city’s efforts since 2010 to track street crimes involving guns and random gunfire not connected to a specific crime.
“In 2022, there were four street crimes involving gunfire and nine gunfire incidents. With the exception of an increase in random shots fired in 2012, the number of incidents [through 2022] has been relatively consistent.”
But Capello pointed out a disturbing trend so far this year.
“During the first three months of 2023, the city has experienced multiple gun incidents which have our numbers elevated. We believe some of these incidents are tied to two different groups of people, and in all instances, all the victims were targeted.”
“That is important,” she said, “because they are not random acts. Other cities across the nation have experienced a stunning increase in serious gun violence. Fortunately, this is not the norm for Lebanon.”
Going forward, Capello said the police department has started using Crimewatch, a software program designed to enhance transparency and community awareness by distributing criminal information to the public, media, and businesses.
“There were 1,500 calls for service in 2022, which is the highest number of calls in our history,” Capello said. “This represents an increase of 100 calls, or 7%, over 2021.”
The increase was not due to fires, but to false alarms, mutual aid to other municipalities, and aircraft landings. Responses outside the city were up 46% from 2021.
Overall, Capello said that 40% of calls in 2022 were for false alarms and 23% for hazardous conditions, such as vehicle accident cleanups.
Only 7% of all 2022 calls were for actual fires, 23 for structure fires.
Housing and food safety
Lebanon is a city of aging housing stock and rental properties, making their maintenance and safety especially important.
New code violations in the city were down in 2022.
“We believe this is due to the department primarily spending more time ensuring property owners and managers fix the root cause of the problem,” Capello said, “so we spend less time on recurring violations.”
Capello said the city “has been consistently around 110 condemned properties, which represents about 1% of the city’s total housing units. This is low compared to other cities.”
In 2022, there were 54 new condemnations, but the city lifted 75 existing ones, and ended the year at 99.
The mayor said that condemnations are split about evenly between interior conditions and utility shut-offs. “Our goal is to reduce not only the number of condemned properties in the city, but also the length of time a property is listed as condemned.”
The mayor said she believes aggressive property code enforcement by the city is paying off.
“Our actions have caused quite a number of owners to either finally repair their dilapidated structures or have encouraged them to sell to others who are willing to make the necessary corrections.”
Capello noted that the Department of Public Safety increased the frequency of restaurant inspections in 2019, especially for establishments who had already failed inspections.
That practice works, according to the mayor. “In 2022, there was only one eating establishment that failed two inspections in a row.”
Capello said that the city has invested more than $8,200,000 in street resurfacing over the last 15 years.
In 2022, resurfacing of 10th Street (Route 72 South), a part of Bashore Drive, and Lehman and Walton streets from 7th Street to Lincoln Avenue were completed.
On tap for this year is Phase 3 of the multi-year Route 422/Route 72 resurfacing project, which will resurface 9th Street (Route 72 North) from Colebrook Road north to Maple Street. Prep work will start in June with a projected completion in October.
The mayor added that “there will be quite a number of stormwater improvement projects occurring in 2023.”
Money for street improvements comes primarily from several state and federal sources and a small part from the city’s general fund.
But, driving on the targeted streets may get slightly, and temporarily, worse before it gets better.
“Along with all these projects comes utility work and other prep work, which causes inconvenience to motorists, residents, and businesses,” the mayor said. “We ask for your patience as we make these improvements.”
Finances and taxes
As she has in previous years, Capello touted the city’s sound financial footing and how it has steadily improved in her 13 years in office.
The city has had annual surpluses, with one exception, since Capello was elected. “My administration has addressed the serious deficits the city was facing before I took office in 2010.”
“We have improved our cash flow, eliminated deficits, achieved an ‘A-‘ bond rating, and have appropriately funded pension plans.”
“And,” Capello said, “we can proudly report that we have not raised taxes for eight straight years.”
“When comparing Lebanon to 14 other third-class cities in our region who did not raise taxes in the last eight years, Lebanon had the lowest real estate tax rate,” she noted.
Capello added that, “out of all third-class cities in our state, total, Lebanon had the second lowest real estate tax rate.”
Scranton has a lower property tax rate, but their income tax rate is higher than Lebanon’s, Capello said.
“Looking back 13 years, we have made a positive impact on the health of our city in many areas,” the mayor said. “We work for you and will continue to do so in 2023. It’s a privilege to serve as your mayor and I ask for your continued commitment to our local businesses and residents.”
- Following tough 2020, Lebanon Mayor Capello still upbeat about state of city
- Mayor Capello delivers 2020 State of the City address without usual live audience
- Lebanon Mayor to City: Crime lowest since tracked, economy improving
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