Pottstown Borough Budget Meeting

Today, November 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm, Pottstown Borough Council and borough staff discussed the proposed 2011 borough budget.

I must commend Jason, Janice, Councilor Weand, the Finance Committee and our borough staff for the effort they put into finding ways to cut costs and maintain services.  I do not think it is possible to ask Jason a question he can not answer.  Janice Lee has more than earned her salary by walking into the abyss aka borough finances and taking the bull by the horns!  So much has been accomplished to get our financial house in order.  As I said in an earlier post, accounting is boring to write about however, the changes implemented by Jason, Janice and Finance will pay huge dividends down the road.  We now have a clearer financial picture than ever before.  Frankly, things are not all that bleak now that Generally Accepted Accounting Principals have been returned to borough hall.

Council asked some tough questions of Jason, Janice and the department heads.  I was impressed with how well the questions were answered and the manner with which our borough staff handled themselves.

The bottom line is that council unanimously approved the 2011 budget with a 3.1% tax increase.  The increase equates to $25.66 per year on a home assessed at $85,000.  We have a $177,000 deficit that unfortunately makes this necessary.  The increase can go down if more spending cuts are found or unexpected revenue comes in before the end of the year.  However, the increase can not go any higher than 3.1%.  The projected property tax collection rate is 92% for 2010.

Getting to a zero tax increase would mean selling a park, laying off Parks and Recreation staff, cutting programs or messing with the paid driver’s health benefits in the Fire Department.  Our parks are a big plus for existing borough residents and attracting new residents.  We can barely maintain our parks system with the staff we have and cutting programs affects the quality of life for our residents.  Fire Department drivers can not afford to pay their health benefits at their current salary levels.  It is not their fault costs are skyrocketing.

The assessed value of all Pottstown real estate came in a million dollars higher than projected which also helped the process.  The rate of decline in assessed property value seems to be leveling off and council is hopeful that this trend may reverse itself as some development projects in the pipeline are completed.  Unfortunately, the assessed property value of Pottstown still declined $1.9 million dollars from last year.  This brings in less tax revenue. 

PCTV has agreed to reduce their management fee to $331,000.  The borough can ill afford to absorb their $147,000 revenue shortfall so going forward they need to break even.  PCTV has lost revenue because of the recession and now when FIOS comes to Pottstown, Verizon will not allow PCTV to be a for-profit community access channel.  PCTV could potentially lose 25% of their viewers as residents switch from Comcast to Verizon.  Council will be scrutinizing PCTV very closely in 2011.  PCTV is trying to get grant money, however, until such time as a grant is received, they will still continue to struggle.

The Latest Bloviation From Tom Hylton

Mr. Hylton’s latest “advertorial”, which appears in today’s Pottstown Mercury, would lead us to believe that the most pressing danger to Pottstown residents is car accidents.  Hmmmmm.  I also live in Pottstown Borough but fortunately in a different neighborhood than Mr. Hylton.  Being a resident of this community I also have some insight into what goes on in this burg (although in a more limited capacity than Mr. Hylton, of course).

To think that after the events of the last several weeks, capped off by a historic summit at Invictus Ministries, our greatest threat is car crashes and accidents leads me to wonder if Mr. Hylton lives in Pottstown.  Especially since the events leading up to and after the meeting at Invictus Ministries are in his supposed neighborhood.  Maybe he’s been out-of-town being a keynote speaker?

I do not believe the topic of conversation at Invictus Ministries was car crashes. I could be wrong, but I do not think so.  I had to leave early but from all accounts it was not a topic of concern to residents.

I am certainly not afraid to live here.  I go downtown frequently for events.  After living in and around Pottstown for almost 30 years I am no worse for wear.  However, to say that crime in Pottstown is the same as other towns around us indicates no research was done to support that statement.  Ignoring the current wave of shootings and stabbings is irresponsible.  This problem will not fix itself!

Here is a crime index for selected cities/towns in our area that I researched on City-data.com.  I think the figures speak for themselves.  Car crashes are not included in the crime statistics.  Auto theft, yes.  Auto accidents, no.  Nice try Tom.  A score of 350 – 700 is considered moderate.  Over 700 is considered high.

City 2009
   
City-data.com Crime Index  
   
US average 319.2
   
Royersford 242
   
Spring City 177.9
   
Birdsboro 135.4
   
Emmaus 131.1
   
Pottstown 454.7
   
Norristown 543.5
   
Coatesville 567.2
   
Downingtown 301.5
   
Easton 303.7
   
Boyertown 150.4
   
Reading 547

 

Phoenixville                               167.8 (2008)

Pottstown’s $86,602.64 Question

With the recent abolition of the Shade Tree Commission, a lingering question remains.  What should be done with the $80,000+ remaining in the Trees Inc. checkbook?  There was some debate in council about this money and it was mentioned that since the borough made donations for several years, that money should be returned if it was not spent.  The problem is that taxpayer money was commingled with other funds and Mr. Hylton has not provided an itemized list of how the taxpayer’s money was spent.

Council would like to use some or all the remaining money to set up a tree fund.  It would seem right that this money be turned over to the borough now that the Shade Tree Commission is no more and the borough will be responsible for tree maintenance in Pottstown going forward.  What exactly does Trees Inc. need this money for now?  Trees Inc. and the Shade Tree Commission seem, to many people, to be the same entity.  For example, by clicking on the Shade Tree Commission link on the borough website, one is redirected to the Trees Inc. website.  Mr. Hylton was in charge of both entities, simultaneously.

Trees Inc. received $104,970 from Pottstown Borough between 2003 and 2007, according to what is published on their website.  Yet looking at a screen print from the Trees Inc. website there was a paragraph that stated beginning in 2001 the borough began contributing about $21,000 annually.  Another curiosity is that under Financial Info there appears to be no record of any contributions between 1988 and 2003?  I must admit to being rather mystified that either no records were kept or no fundraising was done to keep adequate reserves for the maintenance of over 2500 trees for more than a decade!

Councilor Rhoads sent emails to former Shade Tree Commission Chairman Thomas Hylton requesting copies of all the original donations to Trees Inc. showing specifically what the money was used for, per contributor.  This information would pinpoint what taxpayer money was or was not used for.  Councilor Rhoads also requested a copy of the Trees Inc. budgets for 2001 and 2002 regarding the above mentioned paragraph stating Trees Inc. received contributions beginning in 2001 from the borough.  Mr. Hylton has never responded to Councilor Rhoads’ request for this information.  Also, the paragraph mentioning borough contributions starting in 2001 was removed from the Trees Inc. website.

The Trees Inc. website claims that “Pottstown has among the best maintained street trees in Pennsylvania at no cost to the taxpayer.”  Since public funds were contributed this appears to be an inaccurate statement.  Having sat through the last several Shade Tree Commission meetings, I can attest to the fact that taxpayers were treated very poorly when they approached the Shade Tree Commission for financial help with shade tree problems.  Taxpayers were repeatedly told there was no money to aid them with tree problems.  This cavalier attitude left homeowners to make choices like paying their property taxes or having a problem tree removed.  I would say there was certainly a “cost” to the taxpayer.  Trees Inc. had money available but refused to help residents claiming if we help you we will have to help everyone and then all the money will be gone.  Did it ever occur to anyone to raise more money???  Fundraising should have been a continuous process thereby ensuring adequate money was available to maintain thousands of street trees.  Again, what went on between 1988 and 2003???

Like the Shade Tree Commission, it would seem there is no longer a need for Trees Inc.  Taxpayer money was given to Trees Inc. so unless Mr. Hylton can produce an itemized list showing specifically what the $104,970 was used for, he should give the remaining Trees Inc. money back to the people of Pottstown for the establishment of a tree fund.  We are a financially challenged community, so do the right thing Mr. Hylton.

Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” Coming To An End

The Food Network‘s popular show “Ace of Cakes” will be airing its final season in 2011.  The show has had a long run and “Ace of Cakes” star Duff Goldman may be continuing his association with the Food Network.

Upper Pottsgrove Township native Geoffrey Manthorne stars on “Ace of Cakes” and also works as Executive Sous Chef at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore which is owned by Goldman.

Camden New Jersey Falls To Second Place On FBI’s Most Dangerous Cities List

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St. Louis, MO replaces Camden, NJ as America’s most dangerous city in 2010 according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The ranking is based on murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft.

Other cities in the top 25 include Detroit, MI (3),  Oakland, CA (5), Compton, CA (8), New Orleans, LA (13), Washington, DC (22) and Atlanta, GA (25).  No Pennsylvania cities were included in the top 25.

What Will It Take To Make Pottstown Safe??

Less than a week after a historic meeting at Invictus Ministries, to address the recent wave of shootings in Pottstown, another shooting occurred Sunday afternoon! 

In broad daylight, a young man was shot after being “dropped off” in Pottstown’s central historic neighborhood.  This youth was evidently from “out of town”.  That raises all kinds of questions and could be another article.

With an admitted “drug war” being waged to control Pottstown, where does this leave us, the residents of Pottstown?  We were told Wednesday, that as citizens, we are not doing enough to aid police.  We need to step it up and report crime when we see it.  Okay, I will admit citizens need to be involved and help the police.  However, this situation seems to be beyond the scope of our own police department so “citizen involvement” at this juncture is fairly dangerous other than anonymous reporting of crime. 

If these “gangs” are willing to shoot someone in broad daylight it tells me they are fairly confident they can get away with it.  They are not afraid of our local law enforcement.  This brazen attitude would suggest we need to enlist additional help.  More preventive measures need to be put in place.  Telling people “if we put more police on the streets we will have to raise your taxes” is not a strategy.  Sorry, that is just lame.  If our taxes can not give us adequate police protection, we need to consider other creative solutions like outsourcing or mergers.  We need to be PROACTIVE, not reactive.

I urge our leadership to think outside the box.  People would be relieved if the State Police or other additional law enforcement professionals were enlisted to supplement our police department until this crisis is over.  What we are doing is not working.  This problem will continue until these criminals get a clear message they are not wanted in Pottstown and their lives will be made a living hell if they come here and ply their trade.  

There is no shame in asking for help!!!  Continuing to blame unarmed and untrained taxpayers is not going to solve this problem!

Other Pottstown blogs have commented on this subject as well:

http://savepottstown.com/2010/11/14-year-old-boy-victim-of-latest-pottstown-shooting/

http://codebluepulse.blogspot.com/2010/11/its-time-to-declare-state-of-emergency.html

http://sanatogapost.com/2010/11/22/reportage-and-commentary-on-sundays-pottstown-shooting/

50th Annual Pittsburgh Light Up Night Festivities Tainted By Violence

As usual, one bad apple…  A joyous annual event, eagerly anticipated by Pittsburghers, was tainted this evening.  During the fireworks a shooting occurred.  A man was shot and wounded at the corner of Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue.  During police questioning, an unruly crowd gathering in front of the Wood Street subway station and a fight broke out.  35-50 people were arrested.  K-9 units were called in and pepper spray was used.  After an hour and a half, order was restored. 

Kudos to the Pittsburgh Police Department for quickly restoring order!

Shame on the n’er do wells for trying to spoil a downtown holiday event that 200,000 people were expected to attend!

The holiday events continue all day tomorrow.  For details: http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/entertainment/1038754/detail.html

This link shows some great pictures of downtown Pittsburgh at night, all lit up…there are several pictures with Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree in Point State Park lit up for your enjoyment!

http://pittsburghskyline.com/content/2007/01/07/pittsburgh-scenes-for-the-new-year/

Pottsgrove Football Team Advances In AAA Playoffs

The Pottsgrove Falcons beat Interboro tonight 42-6!  WOOT!  Pottsgrove advances in the AAA District 1 playoffs and has a rematch next week, at a neutral site, with dreaded Strath Haven as they advance toward capturing the District 1 AAA title.  Pottsgrove is 0-3 against Strath Haven.

Let’s kick some Strath Haven butt!  Go Grove!

BIE Moving Pottstown Home Show To Kimberton And Changes Name!!!

I am not sure exactly what to say.  Sunnybrook is too small?  Can’t find another venue around Pottstown?  I know there are some large buildings around here that are empty!  With parking.

It’s 11 miles each way to Kimberton  (per Mapquest).  Basically 20 minutes, depending on traffic.   You might as well have moved to the Valley Forge Convention Center or the Greater Philadelphia Exposition Center in Oaks.  At least the road is better than 724.

Kimberton is not centrally located in the Tri-County area.  That would be Pottstown, if one looks at a map.  We are at the convergence of Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties. 

This news makes me crabby.

Wilkes-Barre Christmas Parade Scheduled For Saturday

The annual Wilkes-Barre Christmas parade will take place this Saturday, November 20th.  The parade, which is part of a day full of activities, will start at 3:15 p.m. at the corner of South and South Main Streets.

Other events include a Christmas Carol sing-a-long, story-telling for kids and the tree lighting ceremony on Public Square after the parade.

It’s Christmas time in the city!

Dutch Winter Wonderland Opens This Saturday, November 20th

Dutch Wonderland reopens this Saturday as Dutch Winter Wonderland for selected weekends and a few weekdays.  Dutch Wonderland is conveniently located on Route 30 East in Lancaster.

Click here for all the information:

http://www.dutchwonderland.com/events/winter_wonderland/index.php

Marcellus Shale Workers Create Housing Shortage And Rising Rents In Bradford County

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In case you haven’t been following the development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, here’s the latest.

The “gas boom” has hit Pennsylvania and energy companies are moving workers into rural areas of Pennsylvania that are not equipped to handle the large influx of workers. 

Today’s example is Sayre, PA.  Sayre has a population of 5,813 according to us 2000 census and is 2 square miles.  It is the largest town in Bradford County.  The greater Sayre, PA  Athens, PA & Waverly, NY area totals not quite 30,000 people.  It is Bradford County’s “city”.  This is an economically depressed area that once boasted an impressive manufacturing base.  Sayre was a big railroad town.  A bright spot is the Robert Packer Hospital and Guthrie Clinic which is a major employer in the area.

Along comes the “gas boom” and suddenly there are hundreds of people looking for apartments.  Now rents have skyrocketed based on “demand” forcing many local people out.  Finding an apartment is equivalent to finding hen’s teeth.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is one of the companies drilling for natural gas.  They went from one well and a few dozen employees to 21 wells and 1,100 employees.  They are not the only company drilling!  While these companies try to hire locals, more than half of their employees live “out-of-state”.  They work 14 days on, 14 days off.  Most out-of-state workers fly home when they are off.

Chesapeake Energy came up with a great solution.   They built a $7 million dollar residential facility and training center in Sayre to reduce the strain on the local housing market.  The dorms will house 280 workers.  A cafeteria, recreation center and laundry facility are part of the fenced in complex.  Workers moved in last week.

Pottstonians Turn Out In Large Numbers To Take Back Their Town

A large crowd gathered at Invictus Ministries this evening at 6:30 p.m.  The crowd was so large that the meeting was moved upstairs into the beautiful sanctuary.  The meeting started late because of the venue change.  I can report that Councilors Rhoads, Weand, Toroney, Kirkland, Gibson, Chomnuk were there.  I did not see Councilor Allen but the crowd was large and she may have been there.  Mayor Bonnie Heath, Borough Manager Jason Bobst, Chief Flanders and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman were all in attendance.  I saw School Board Member Valerie Harris and Pottstown School Superintendent Dr. Reed Lindley as well.  Code Blue members were in attendance.

Channel 69 News from Allentown was present and interviewed a number of people.

Bishop Everett Debnam, Senior Pastor of Invictus Ministries, called the meeting to order and spoke a few inspiring words.  Unfortunately, I had to leave at that point!  If anyone was there and would like to tell more of the story, please leave a comment!  I would be personally interested in hearing how things went!

Here are a few pictures I was able to snap before rushing off.

Jerry’s Chicken Flies The Coop! Moving To Norco!

Long-time Shoemaker Rd. fixture Jerry’s Chicken is moving to the old Kentucky Fried Chicken site on Route 724 in North Coventry Township.  The move will take place after renovations are completed in January!

Hat tip to SavePottstown! for breaking the story!

Johnstown Fights Blight

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The City of Johnstown, Cambria County, is a post-industrial community just like Pottstown.  Steel was king along with heavy manufacturing.  Those days are gone and communities have fallen on hard times. 

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.  Johnstown is doing just that.  In an effort to clean up their community and attract middle-income residents, Johnstown has started a program to buy blighted properties, demo them and redevelop the property with a prefabricated home.  These are 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom homes that are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified.  Meaning these homes are energy-efficient.

This program is a joint effort between the Cambria County Redevelopment Authority and the City of Johnstown.  Funding was obtained through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (federal).

They intend to transform the entire South Street neighborhood PLUS they are targeting business development and a business development strategy to bring in new business!

This initial project is only a small dent in Johnstown’s blighted housing stock; however, it’s one house at a time, one block at a time.  And that is just what Johnstown officials intend to do.

A Victorian Christmas – Williamsport Embraces Its Heritage And Capitalizes On Tourism

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A Victorian Christmas in Williamsport is not a one trick pony.  The event spans three days and includes a Holiday House Tour, a Holiday Parade downtown, Millionaire’s Row mansion tours, church tours, Williamsport Growers Market, carriage rides at Park Place, a Toy Train Expo, museum tours, a Victorian Soup Luncheon, a Victorian Buffet, a Victorian Tea and a Living Nativity! 

A Victorian Christmas in Williamsport starts this Friday, November 19th and concludes on Sunday, November 21.

For more information and details see their website:

http://www.preservationwilliamsport.org/vcevents.html

Harrisburg Holiday Parade Slated For This Saturday

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The annual Harrisburg Holiday Parade will take place in downtown Harrisburg on Saturday, November 20th.

The parade starts on City Island at 10 a.m., then travels over the Market Street bridge into downtown Harrisburg.

The parade, which marks the beginning of the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Day holiday season, will feature an appearance by Santa Claus, commercial floats, marching bands, giant helium balloons and specialty units.

If you are looking for some family fun this Saturday, check out the Harrisburg Holiday Parade.