Postal Service Is On Its Last Legs, With Little Help In Sight

English: U.S. Post Office Lincoln Branch in Ma...

English: U.S. Post Office Lincoln Branch in Madison Township near Mansfield, Ohio. This United States Postal Service branch closed its doors at 4:30 p.m. on Friday February 11, 2011 due to the fiscal crisis that the United States Postal Service is in as of 2010-2011 and the drastic decline in mail volume. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON — With a wide grin and a quick step, letter carrier Kenny Clark brings more than the day’s mail to the people on his route in suburban Maryland.

Clark, 49, greets nearly everyone he sees by name. He puts packages under eaves on overcast days to keep them dry, reminds people to retrieve keys they might have left in keyholes, and shouts a quick “You OK?” at the doors of seniors.

“He’s a neighborhood icon — him and his truck,” said Amy Dick, who lives on Clark’s route.

But his future, and that of the U.S. Postal Service, is in doubt. The Postal Service lost $1.9 billion between January and March, and $15.9 billion last year. The 238-year-old institution loses $25 million each day, and has reached its borrowing limit with the federal Treasury. Daily mail delivery could be threatened within a year, officials say.

Read more:  http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/la-na-postal-service-20130528,0,4812985.story

Schuylkill Valley Eyes Higher Tax

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United Stat...

Map of Berks County, Pennsylvania, United States Public School Districts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Schuylkill Valley School Board agreed at a committee meeting Monday to vote on a tentative $33.8 million budget for 2013-14 at its regular meeting next week.

The budget calls for no job cuts but would raise the property tax 0.52 mill next year.

“This budget supports all of our current staff,” Business Manager Wendy Boarder said. “We’re adding one contracted teaching position in the budget.”

As Boarder explained it, supporting current staff includes replacing any staff member retiring or taking leave.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=477017

‘Catastrophic’ Budget Laid Out By Philly Schools

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the “catastrophic” budget picture Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. laid out Thursday comes to pass, Philadelphia schools would be virtually unrecognizable come September.

There could be no money for counselors or librarians. There might be no sports or extracurricular activities. No dedicated funds for secretaries, aides, or summer school would be provided. And that would follow the steep cuts made over the last two years.

There also could be 3,000 layoffs, including some teachers.

This doomsday scenario comes as a result of a deficit of more than $300 million in the district’s $2.7 billion 2013-14 budget. Officials have asked for $120 million in additional funding from the state and $60 million from the city, as well as $133 million in concessions from labor unions.

Read more:  http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20130419__Catastrophic__budget_laid_out_by_Philly_schools.html

Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvania State Workers Paid $100,000-Plus

HARRISBURG – Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvania state employees earned at least $100,000 last year, and more than one-third worked for one of the 14 state-owned universities or the system that oversees them, a newspaper reported Monday.

The number of employees with six-figure earnings has more than quadrupled since 2002, when 1,176 people fell into that category, The Patriot-News said in stories posted on its website.

“What you see is pretty much how recession-proof that (state government) sector may be,” said Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State University‘s Abington campus.

In the newspaper’s analysis of data from the state-government transparency website PennWATCH and the state courts, payouts for severance and unused leave time as well as job-related, non-salary income were counted as part of employees’ earnings.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=458306

Reading Has Tossed 98 From Health Plan

In a move to save more than $1.3 million, the city so far this year has thrown 98 people off its self-funded health insurance policy, and plans to remove another 77 if arbitrators allow.

Carole B. Snyder, city managing director, said the total of 175 people includes 89 dependents of current city employees, nine nonpolice retirees, and 77 police retirees and/or their spouses, all of whom the city says are not eligible for city-paid insurance.

The Fraternal Order of Police has objected, and the city has agreed to wait on the police retiree purge until an arbitration panel rules. A hearing is slated for March.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=450169

Property Taxes To Rise Across Philadelphia Suburbs

English: Pennsylvania county map

English: Pennsylvania county map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hundreds of thousands of property owners in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties are getting something they probably don’t want in the new year – higher real estate taxes.

Countywide increases, approved in December, affect the owners of all 382,304 real estate parcels in Chester and Delaware Counties.  Some people are taking a double hit, as at least 27 towns in those counties also have increased taxes.

Bucks and Montgomery Counties kept their rates the same, but at least 28 municipalities raised real estate levies.

While the reasons vary, officials say the overarching reason is basic: Revenue is down; costs aren’t.

Read more:  http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/suburban_pa/20130128_Property_taxes_to_rise_across_Philadelphia_suburbs.html

Reading Weighs Accepting Grant For More Firefighters

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  We can’t predict the future. Take the money, hire the people and hope for the best!

Spending a $4 million federal grant to the city is not as easy as it seems.

The problem is not what the grant would do – hire 30 new and badly needed firefighters for the next two years, adding more personnel to each truck – but what happens to those firefighters when the grant expires.

Fire Chief David Hollinger and City Council labored over the issues Monday night.

On the positive side, the grant does not require the city to keep the grant-paid firefighters after the grant runs out in March 2015.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=443754

No Pottstown Tax Hike Due, In Part, To 3-Year-Old Report Says Council President

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  And also due to the tireless efforts of Jason Bobst, Janice Lee and Dan Weand for fixing the broken accounting system.  Imagine what Pottstown could become if Council President Toroney followed the ULI Report recommendations!

POTTSTOWN — Borough Council President Stephen Toroney credited a 2009 consultant report on the borough’s finances for starting Pottstown down the road to what he considers a landmark achievement, that was made official Monday with the adoption of a $38.5 million that does not raise borough taxes for the first time in recent memory.

Councilman Mark Gibson, who, as a paid driver for the Empire Fire Company could be said to benefit financially by voting for the budget, which makes contributions to the fire companies, abstained from the vote.

But the budget, officially balanced at $38,530,729, otherwise received unanimous support from the remainder of council.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20121214/NEWS01/121219662/no-pottstown-tax-hike-due-in-part-to-3-year-old-report-says-council-president#full_story

Arbitrators Slash Newer Reading Police Officers’ Pay, Benefits

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsylvania area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

City police, especially those hired this year and in the future, will take major pay and benefit cuts now and when they retire, according to a five-year contract handed down Friday by a panel of arbitrators.

The panel froze officers’ salaries and step increases for three years and cut starting salaries, vacation time and sick leave in the new contract, which is retroactive to January 2012.

In setting the terms, the panel followed the city’s Act 47 financial recovery plan to cut millions of dollars a year from police costs.

For employees hired before the old contract expired at the end of 2011, the panel kept that contract’s pension benefits – up to 70 percent of working salaries, the ability to buy years of service to raise that pension, and city-paid retiree health insurance.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=428754

At Caterpillar, Pressing Labor While Business Booms

JOLIET, Ill. — When it comes to dealing with labor unions,Caterpillar has long taken a stance as tough as the bulldozers and backhoes that have burnished its global reputation.  Be it two-tier wage scales or higher worker contributions for health insurance, the company has been a leader in devising new ways to cut labor costs, with other manufacturers often imitating its strategies.

Now, in what has become a test case in American labor relations, Caterpillar is trying to pioneer new territory, seeking steep concessions from its workers even when business is booming.

Despite earning a record $4.9 billion profit last year and projecting even better results for 2012, the company is insisting on a six-year wage freeze and a pension freeze for most of the 780 production workers at its factory here.  Caterpillar says it needs to keep its labor costs down to ensure its future competitiveness.

The company’s stance has angered the workers, who went on strike 12 weeks ago.  “Considering the offer they gave us, it’s a strike we had to have,” said Albert Williams, a 19-year Caterpillar employee, as he picketed in 99-degree heat outside the plant, which makes hydraulic parts and systems essential for much of the company’s earth-moving machinery.

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/23/business/profitable-caterpillar-pushes-workers-for-steep-cuts.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hpw

Berks County Property Tax To Rise 5-8%

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next year Berks County property owners can expect the first county tax increase in eight years: between about 5 and 8 percent.

The amount will depend on negotiations with labor unions that represent county workers, county commissioners said Tuesday during their workshop session.

Budget Director Robert J. Patrizio Jr. said that in a worst-case scenario a 2.5 percent increase in wages would cost the county $3.2 million in 2013. Covering that, plus an expected deficit this year of $9.5 million and cuts in state funding would require an 8 percent increase in taxes, he said.

Property owners currently pay a rate of 6.935 mills, or $693.50 annually on a property assessed at $100,000.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=399675

Pottstown School District Preliminary Budget Has 4.2 Percent Tax Increase

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

The problem with this PSD budget number is that it is above the 2.4 percent increase allowed by the state.  If Mrs. Adams can’t “whittle” down that figure any further, the board will need to ask permission from the state to make an exception and allow a larger tax increase.

The big picture here is that Pottstown Borough Council just passed a budget with a 1.68 percent tax increase.  Pottstown Borough and Pottstown School District occupy the same geographical area and the residents of Pottstown are not just getting one increase, but TWO.  Even if Mrs. Adams can get to the state mandated 2.4 percent increase, taxpayers are on the hook for a 4.08 percent increase.  I am guessing possibly higher.

As Councilor Rhoads has pointed out time and again, most people have a finite amount of money to work with each year.  With the current state of the U.S. economy, finding extra money is very difficult.  Pottstown has a large percentage of senior citizens on fixed incomes.  We also have a large percentage of low-income residents and residents below the poverty level.

People are having to make choices between food, heat, housing and taxes.  This is flat-out wrong.  This spending addiction pissing contest between the Borough of Pottstown and the Pottstown School District is killing the average Pottstown resident.  We are on the edge of the cliff staring down at the bottom of the ravine.  There is no where left to go except down in flames or move out of Pottstown, if that option is even available.  Many people are too financially strapped to even escape.

We do not need four fire companies nor do we need five elementary schools and two annex buildings.  Are we looking at job performance?  If we are not getting enough bang for the buck would outsourcing services make more sense?  We cannot afford all these salaries, benefits and pensions, which make up the lion’s share of both organization’s budgets.  We haven’t even felt the pain of the upcoming pension crisis with the school district. 

The economy is not going to improve fast enough to save the day.  We need long-term financial solutions for both taxing entities in this town.  Frankly, I am not seeing enough effort being made to address these very serious problems that impact 22,377 people by either entity.

A Statement And Upcoming Local Events From Occupy Pottstown

I asked Amy Francis to write a few paragraphs about what Occupy Pottstown’s goals are and what it hopes to achieve.  Amy also talks about the Occupation Movement in general.  If all you know about this movement is what you have seen on television you may want to take a moment and see what this is all about. 

So without further adieu, Amy writes:

The Occupations are a statement against the economic and political systems in this country, which are currently only working only for the most “powerful” (in other words, the richest) 1%. In Pottstown, we have surely seen the trickle down effects from this economic imbalance everywhere: homes going into foreclosure, blight in what were once nice neighborhoods, companies moving out of town or closing, broken-down infrastructure, educational cuts while unfunded mandates continue to increase, skyrocketing taxes, more and more unemployment, etc, etc. What has become painfully clear is that the American Dream has become virtually unattainable for the majority of American people, and certainly for the Pottstown people.

While it is clear is that everyone’s reason why they “occupy” is unique and personal, however, what I perceive to be the common thread of the Occupy Pottstown supporters is a desire to put a spotlight on the inequities that Pottstown bears, along with many other First Suburbs. As history has shown us in Pottstown, ignoring these problems will not make them go away; the Occupy Pottstown group has proven to me to be the people willing to talk openly about the local issues and how they have effected their lives in palpable way; that, I believe, is the only real fist step towards making things better for more people. Simply put; the members of Occupy Pottstown have opened up the discussion and have shown a commitment to do so until change takes hold.

Occupy Pottstown’s first public gathering will be on November 21, 4 – 7 pm at the corner of Hanover Street and College Drive, and all are invited to join us. Occupy Pottstown also wants to increase awareness of the importance of supporting local businesses which, in turn, helps to support our local economy. To initiate this goal, Occupy Pottstown members will be holding our first “Occupy Downtown Pottstown Walk” on November 26th, which is Small Business Saturday; meeting time and place to be announced. Again, all are invited and encouraged to join.

Power to the People (one Pottstown at a time)!

Dana Reports Increased Earnings For Third Quarter

Some good financial news for our area today as Dana announced their 3rd quarter results.  Dana Holding Corp. reported a year-to-date income of $148 million for 2011.  In 2010 that figure was only $24 million.  Sales were up almost 30 percent over the 3rd quarter of 2010 and up $1.1 billion year-to-date over last year.

Dana operates a driveshaft plant in Pottstown which contributes greatly to the local economy.

Harley-Davidson Keeping Kansas City Plant Open – Surprise!

Harley-Davidson 2004 Heritage

Image via Wikipedia

This has become so predictable.  Harley-Davidson has used the same strategy again to get what they want from workers.  Cut permanent employees; add casual workers and then we will stay put.  First York, then Wisconsin, now Missouri.  They are cutting 145 union workers and adding 145 casual workers to replace them in order to be competitive in Missouri.  And of course “other restructuring moves” are thrown in for good measure.

It was either agree to Harley’s terms or they would shut down the plant in question each time.  Seriously, workers are left with no option other than to agree or face a plant closing.  Not much or a choice.

Pottstown Is Not The Only Municipality With Fire Department Budget Woes

A New York City fireman calls for 10 more resc...

Image via Wikipedia

Pottstown has struggled with its Fire Department budget for some time.  The debate over merging fire companies to cut overhead has been suggested.  Currently Pottstown has four fire companies with paid drivers and administration.  The majority of the firefighters are volunteers.  The borough gives the four fire department money and pays the health insurance for the drivers.  Each fire company must then raise any additional funds themselves.

Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Allentown have obviously larger fire departments with more paid staff.  Volunteerism is down.  A huge problem these three cities have experienced is a drastic increase in overtime.  Scranton’s Fire Department racked up just under one million dollars in overtime for 2010 (more than double what was budgeted).  The Scranton Fire Department had a budget of $14.3 million for 2010.

Allentown’s Fire Department overtime budget was blown in 2010 when $1.4 million was spent on overtime.  Wilkes-Barre spent $322, 958 on overtime which was nearly double what was budgeted.

A big culprit is sick time.  Sick time use in Scranton has been rising for the last three years.  When one firefighter calls out sick, another firefighter is called in and paid overtime to cover the shift.  Scranton is changing their schedules, minimum manning requirements per shift and instituting fire company brownouts to save money this year.  Only $83,950 was included for Fire Department overtime in the city’s $74.9 budget for 2011.

The Scranton Fire Department blames being a 168 man department with only 150 firefighters on the payroll.  Overtime was being used to “make up the difference”.  Like Scranton, Allentown also has minimum manning requirement per shift which contributes greatly to their overtime.  Wilkes-Barre Mayor, Tom Leighton said his city experiences a 25-30 percent call off rate in every shift, which burns up overtime.

In Scranton, the average firefighter costs the city $84,000 in salary and benefits every year. This will increase substantially after the arbitration award kicks in.  Mayor Chris Doherty’s salary and benefits come to about $65,000 per year, as a point of reference.  Firefighters get 18 sick days per year, which can be accrued up to 120 days, 240 days or unlimited, depending on their hire date.  Firefighters get paid for unused sick days at the termination of their employment.  They are reimbursed anywhere from 25 percent to 100 percent, depending on their date of hire.

I hope Pottstown Council carefully studies these issues before making the paid drivers employees of the borough.  If this comes to pass, we need to learn from these three cities to avoid a bill we cannot afford.

Pottstown Memorial Medical Center Employees Rally At Sunnybrook

Check out my coverage of this afternoon’s PMMC union rally at Sunnybrook on the Pottstown Herald!   The Mercury did not cover this event!!

http://pottstownherald.com/pottstown-memorial-medical-center-employees-rally-at-sunnybrook/1432/