Factoryville borough lost an invaluable employee with the tragic death of maintenance manager Steve Swift.
At the first council meeting on Wednesday since his Jan. 30 death in an explosion, borough officials maintained their composures while acknowledging the giant hole Swift has left behind.
Borough Manager Mary Ellen Buckbee said that the borough is exploring ways to honor Swift. “We are talking about various suggestions, such as naming something in his honor after him, for all of the blood sweat and tears he put in there,” she said.
Roads and maintenance committee chair and councilman Bill Edwards shook his head and said, “It’s been a crazy week.”
He said he has been dealing with the aftermath of the explosion, getting structures fixed, and cleaning up the remains of the brush and Christmas tree pile at the garage.
Chris Bergey said that the County Emergency Management Agency Director Gene Dziak told him, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to let them know. If you need a declaration tomorrow, let me know,” referring to the oncoming storms that had been predicted.
Council president Chuck Wroebel said that Clinton Township had offered the use of a truck and plow if the borough needed them. “Clinton Township has three trucks and uses two,” he noted.
The council said that they wanted to thank all of the municipalities, agencies, residents, and volunteers that stepped up to help after the tragedy.
“We are heartbroken but buoyed by all the support we’ve been shown,” Buckbee said.
Chuck Schirg offered to “do anything I can do” to help fill the gap left by Swift. “I just feel that with the current political situation and what’s going on in our community, the least I can do is show up,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 10 years.”
Buckbee explained that while Swift was stealthily doing things for the borough on his own time, Schirg was usually helping him as a volunteer and knew about Swift’s work in progress.
An executive session was held after the borough meeting for personnel matters, which seemed to focus on replacing Swift in his numerous roles and stations.
Buckbee was given the authority to temporarily hire a maintenance manager for the borough until the March meeting.
At that point, the borough council would weigh in on the final choice.
The sewer plant operator job would have to be dealt with separately.
In addition to his work on the borough’s roads, infrastructure, sewer, and parks, Swift also put his time into numerous projects around town.
Swift put in many evening hours with volunteer Tom Adams installing all of the plumbing in the concession stand in the joint park, which was constructed in time for soccer season last year. Funding remains in the Greenways Trails and Recreation grant that will allow for the remaining construction this spring.
Buckbee said that the salesman of the playground equipment had said that it would be a simple matter to go ahead with the next stage of the park, which will include a toddler playground, “as long as Steve can be there,” so she asked the Clinton and Factoryville park board if they still wanted to proceed under the circumstances, and they said they did.
The toddler playground will be installed for children who are too young for the existing larger playground.
The stone dust trail at Christy Mathewson Park connecting the “play pockets” is completed and getting a lot of use.
Buckbee noted that Swift was recently appointed to the park board, and would need a replacement.
During both the sewer authority meeting and the regular borough council meeting, a moment of silence was observed in memory of Swift, who ran the sewer processing plant.
Buckbee said that the temporary operators had done a great job running the plant over the past week. The authority is planning to replace the existing lagoon as mandated by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The engineering of a new, better-aerated wasting lagoon is underway, which will help the plant to run better as well as reduce future operations and maintenance costs.
“Steve was like three guys,” Edwards said. “For us to hire someone like that... It’s not just riding a lawn mower and plowing snow. You can’t pay someone to pay that kind of attention. You can’t replace someone who worked for almost 20 years.”
Edwards said, “We need to set up checks and balances. To be as organized and safe as possible. Right now everything is just reopening wounds.”
He told stories of working alongside Swift, who was also his close friend since childhood. He said that once, Swift was doing snow removal while Edwards directed traffic. He said that “Swifty ran into a barber shop to find a customer and ask him to move his car. It took a few minutes, then he came out and said, ‘While I was waiting, I got a quick trim.’”
“We’d be driving around in the borough truck and he’d stop and help someone carry their garbage can out to the curb. If the fire whistle went off, he’d go. We knew he’d get his jobs done no matter what.”
Edwards concluded, “Gary is the official mayor of Factoryville, but Swifty was the unofficial mayor.”
“I’m gonna miss my buddy,” Edwards noted. “He and I used to text during meetings if a council member was ‘beating a dead horse.’”
Buckbee said that there are constant reminders of Swift’s absence. “When people started coming in tonight before the sewer meeting, there were no chairs for the audience,” she said.
She realized that Swift always set up the chairs ahead of time.
During the road report, Edwards said that there was a dump truck accident, and since then the transmission is leaking and “may be cooked,” Edwards said. “There’s a problem of nothing to spread salt with. We will have to make a deal with Clinton Township for the time being.”
Since the meeting, the truck has been fixed.
He said that he has been filling in potholes in town, and doing a garage clean-up and inventory, as many of Swift’s personal tools are intermingled with those of the borough.
Edwards noted that Keystone College should be commended for its graciousness after Swift’s tragic passing. The college held a luncheon for mourners after Swift’s funeral, and also will be donating some much-needed kitchen equipment to the Factoryville Fire Company, of which Swift was a member.
Officer Scott Gaughan passed out the Dalton Police Report to council members.
The Dalton Police have been making extra patrols around the garage, sheds and recycling station.
“I’ve had quite a lot of contact with the insurance company. We went to the site, and the adjuster came on Monday. The fire adjuster came today (Wednesday) because it was a catastrophic event.” Mayor Gary Evans said that a sluice pipe is dislodged on the bridge near the credit union.
Councilman Gregg Yunko said that there have been disturbances near his home by college student residents and that the music was so loud that windows were vibrating.
Edwards said that he has been getting complaints about noisy parties.
Buckbee said that the borough’s copier has reached the age where it is too old to be serviced, and while a printer can do much of a copier’s job, it would probably make sense to replace it.
Yunko, a retired electrician, said that he checked into replacement bulbs for the period style streetlights and that they required an 8-inch bulb made by General Electric. He brought in a sample bulb he had ordered, which he said was 250 watts and cost $118. Because it is an LED bulb, it should last for many years, he said.
The council approved his testing the bulb to see if it was satisfactory as a replacement for the street lights in the borough.
It was noted that the DEP had blocked off the creek to contain a fuel spill.
The grant funded stormwater repair on Church Street will be been put out for bids.
Councilman and Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Bergey secured the funding to fix the problematic stormwater management system beneath that street.