The worst part of the crisis is over now, but Mayor Robert Reid is not out of the woods. He's wondering how he's going to pay the price of fame.
Fame, such as it is, has come to Middletown in a big way. The nuclear emergency at Three Mile Island, just down the Susquehanna River from here, put Middletown on the map and made it a dateline known the world around.
But playing host ot the hordes of reporters and providing services during the emergency has cost the city of 11,000 a pretty penny - Reid doesn't know how much yet - and he's uncertain where the money will come from.
"The chief just told me that with all the overtime and other expenses, we've just blown next year's police budget," Reid said today.
"I don't know how we'll make it up, but it won't be with higher taxes. I hate taxes. We'll make it up somehow."
If ever there were a love-hate relationship, it is the relationship between Middletown and the Metropolitan Editson Co., the operator of the Three Mile Island plant.
Many residents depend on the plant for their income. But many more, in view of the traumatic experience they've undergone with the nuclear accident, would just as soon see the company go away.
The tricky thing is that Middletown is able to finance most of its municipal expenses because of an unusual arrangement it has with Metropolitan Edison.
In 1906, the company's precedecessor signed a contract to provide electric power to Middletown in perpetuity for 1 cent per kilowatt. The city in turn retails it to residents and uses the profits to pay city bills.
City residents pay somewhere around 2 cents a kilowatt, which is cheap. In contrast, customers of Potomac Electric Power Co. in the Washington area last year paid almost 5 cents a kilowatt.
Metropolitan Edison, however, has tried for years to get out of that arrangement with Middletown.The Federal Power Commission two years ago, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington this year, held that the contract is valid and must be observed by Met-Ed.
For Middletown, it's big bucks. The city budget is about $2 million a year. Some $700,000 of that comes from the federal government. And almost all the rest, Reid said, comes from electric power profits.
The people of Middletown got used to it quickly, keeping count of the interviews they were giving out, but they were subjected to a rather unprecendented media event.
Easily several hundred reporters, photographers and television people have been in the area since last week, plumbing every aspect of the crisis, elbowing each other out of the way at briefings, snapping and snarling.
Reporters are here from Canada, West Germany, France, England, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Argentina, Switzerland. The are here from every major newspaper in the United States, from all the major electronic outlets and the smaller ones from this part of the country.
In some cases, people turned to watching famous reporters in action. Jimmy Breslin, the New York Daily News columnist, drew smiles when he badgered Nuclear Regulatory Commission flacks for the names of four Met-Ed workers who received excessive exposure to radiation. "Why don't you give us their names?" Breslin demanded. "You're afraid of giving us their names because their - fell off!"
The NRC people wouldn't reveal names. Breslin went home to New York after a couple of days.
Another semi-celebrity here has been Mike Gray, who wrote the screenplay for "The China Syndrome." It is drawing crowds to area theaters. He's doing a piece on Three Mile Island for Rolling Stone magazine.
Confirmation that this was the event of media events is provided by the Columbia Journalism Review. It assigned a staff writer to do a piece on the media in Middletown.
Go through an emergency, identify a target and a protest rally is sure to follow - they've scheduled one, in fact, for this Sunday on the capitol steps at Harrisburg.
Three Mile Island Alert, a small local group that wants Met-Ed's two nuclear units shut down for good, is sponsoring the event. Planning for a major national rally in the spring, with regional antinuclear groups participating, already has begun.
In Washington, they're starting already. The Potomac Alliance has scheduled a protest rally for 1 p.m. Sunday in Lafayette Park and a 9:30 a.m. march from the park on Monday, passing by nuclear company offices and ending up on Capitol Hill.
Confusing and contradictory information - or an absence of it - led the Dauphin County Commission Tuesday to establish a 24-hour hotline to deal with rumors. Business was reported brisk.
And in Washington today, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service opened eight national toll-free phone lines to answer questions about Three Mile Island and nuclear energy issues. In the Washington metropolitan area, the number is 483-0045. Outside the area, the numbers are: 800-424-2422 and 800-424-2477.
Sick humor has its way of sustaining people in crisis, and the Three Mile Island situation is no exception. It has given rise to all manner of humorous depravity.
A sample: What's the five-day forecast for Harrisburg? Answer: Two days.
It was a major thing for Middletown when President Carter came here Sunday to look at the plant and cheer up townspeople. A reporter asked a teen-ager if a president had visited there before. "Nope," said the boy, "only Nixon." CAPTION: Picture 1, State chemist Michael Cohen tests raw milk with a geiger counter at Harrisburg.; Picture 2, Harrisbury children return to school, closed since Monday. Middletown and Goldsboro schools remain shut. AP photos