TOWANDA - At its meeting this week, the Towanda Borough Council approved a three-year labor contract with the borough's public works and clerical employees, reduced the pay of the borough tax collector, and approved an option agreement to sell land in downtown Towanda to the Trehab Center Inc. for a planned $11 million development.

A mediator from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor was called in to participate in the negotiations on the labor contract, Towanda Borough Manager Tom Fairchild Jr. said.

In a unanimous vote, the Towanda Borough Council approved the labor contract on Monday, which gives the workers a wage increase of $1 per hour in 2013; 60 cents per hour in 2014; and 55 cents per hour in 2015. The workers will contribute $20 per week toward their health insurance over the life of the contract, Fairchild said.

The employees have already ratified the contract.

The council also voted unanimously to go forward with a reduction in the pay for the borough tax collector.

Fairchild said he checked the pay for tax collectors in Sayre, Athens, Canton and Troy boroughs and found that, with the exception of Canton, those boroughs pay their tax collectors "a lot less than we do. There is money to be saved."

The council decided to pay the borough tax collector $5 per real estate tax bill collected, which is the same rate that Troy Borough's tax collector is paid. Currently, the Towanda Borough tax collector is paid 3 1/2 percent of the real estate tax revenue that is collected, Fairchild said.

The change will save the borough $15,000 to $16,000 per year, Fairchild said.

The Towanda Borough tax collector will continue to receive 3 1/2 percent of the revenue collected from the per capita and occupation taxes, he said.

The borough will need to advertise the planned reduction in the tax collector's pay and formally approve it at a special council meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 13.

The agreement with Trehab approved by the council on Monday gives the agency the option to purchase land the borough owns in downtown Towanda for $175,000. The land is the site of the planned $11 million development in the 400 block of Main Street, which would include a four-story building containing commercial space and apartments for the elderly, as well as a parking garage behind the building.

Trehab needs to show that it has control of the site when it applies this month for funding from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for the construction of the development, Fairchild explained.

The $175,000 sale price is based on an appraisal of the property, Fairchild said.

Trehab will not purchase the property until the rest of the funding for the construction of the development has been lined up and Trehab is certain that the project will proceed, Fairchild said. The land that would be sold includes the mid-town parking lot off Main Street, while will remain in use as a borough-owned municipal parking lot until the construction starts, Fairchild said.

The development is a joint project of the borough and Trehab.

The council unanimously approved the option agreement.

Towanda Borough Council President Mark Christini said that so far, 27 people have applied for the Towanda Borough manager position.

The borough will accept resumes until Feb. 28, Christini said.

"We have some very good resumes so far," Christini said. "We're optimistic" that a good borough manager will be found, he said.

Fairchild is retiring from the borough manager position on May 31, but said he will stay on after that on a part-time basis to finish some ongoing projects and to assist the new manager in his or her transition to the job.

Towanda Borough Police Chief Randy Epler announced that, during a couple of days at the end of February, the Towanda Police will be working with Towanda School District officials and a security firm the district has hired "to look for weak spots in the schools." The work to improve the security in the schools is being done in response to the recent mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

At the meeting, the Towanda Police Department received praise from Second Street resident Pat Taylor, former Towanda Borough Councilman Roger Brown, and from Mayor Garrett Miller.

Brown praised the police for finding, within five minutes, the person who stole his wife's wallet in December.

Taylor praised the police for showing up to assist his wife on Dec. 6 after she had fallen and broken her hip, while she waited for an ambulance to arrive. The Towanda police had heard about the fall over their scanner, and came to assist her, even through they were already busy, due to a bomb threat that had been phoned in earlier that day to the Bradford County Courthouse, Taylor said.

The mayor praised the police for the professional conduct they displayed when they assisted the state police in a pursuit of a 12-year-old boy who took a vehicle in Wyalusing a couple weeks ago. When the police saw that the boy was driving in the oncoming lane, they slowed down, hoping that he would calm down and move back into the right-hand lane, Epler said. But the boy continued driving in the wrong lane, he said.

Eventually, the boy drove the vehicle into a corn field in Athens Township, where the chase ended. The boy was uninjured, Epler said.

In other business:

- Towanda Borough Council President Mark Christini said that Chief Epler was interviewed for a recent six-minute National Public Radio segment titled, "Boomtown, Towanda," which was related to the effects of the gas industry.

- The council said it is looking for someone to serve on the Towanda Borough Police Civil Service Committee, who would replace Roger Brown. Brown resigned from the committee, effective Feb. 1, because he has moved from Towanda Borough to Ulster Township.

- The council also said it is looking for two people to serves as alternates on the Towanda Borough Zoning Hearing Board. An alternate would be called in to attend a meeting of the zoning board if one of its three regular members could not attend the meeting. An alternate needs to be a Towanda Borough resident. The zoning board currently has no alternates.

- Fairchild said he expects the fire-damaged house at 219 Poplar St. will be demolished this spring. The borough has received Community Development Block Grant dollars to demolish the building. The demolition work will need to be bid out, Fairchild said.

- The council approved the route for a 5K run/walk on Saturday, March 16, which will benefit the Abuse & Rape Crisis Center and the Bradford County Branch YMCA. The run/walk will begin at 10 a.m. at the Bradford County Branch YMCA, with registration starting at 8:45 a.m.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.