Pottstown Community Meeting – Escalating Violent Crime In Our Neighborhoods

WHERE:  Invictus Ministries 79 N. Hanover St.
WHEN:  Wednesday, November 17th at 6:30 PM
WHO:  Chief Flanders – Mayor Bonnie Heath – D.A. Risa Vetri Ferman
Okay folks, the borough has heard your cry for help and has arranged this meeting including Montgomery County D.A Risa Vetri Ferman, Chief Flanders, Bonnie Heath and I would suspect some or all Pottstown Councilors.  DA Ferman is a no-nonsense prosecutor and has publicly stated she is all about keeping the citizens of Montgomery County safe!  She has a low tolerance for crime!  We have the county’s attention now and this is a good thing!!!!  We need their help.
This is your chance to be heard so SHOW UP and pack the house!

Pottstown Blogger Calls It Quits

We here at Roy’s Rants would like to bid a fond farewell to Mo Gallant and her Pottstown’s Blog.  Mo has decided to throw in the towel, at least for now.  We thank you Mo for your commitment to Pottstown and your friendship over the last several years.  We wish you nothing but good things and hope maybe someday you’ll take up the torch again.

Adieu mon amie

Pottstown Borough Council Meeting 11/8/10 7:00 p.m.

The meeting was called to order by President Toroney.

Invocation – given by the Mayor.

Pledge of Allegiance

Roll Call – all present except Councilor Gibson who had battled fire all day.  (That is certainly a good reason to be absent and we thank Councilor Gibson for his dedication to the safety of our citizens).

Approval of Minutes – approved

Comments from citizens – we had a small but lively group of residents who had some things on their mind.

James Stewart – questioned how one would go about getting a house from Sheriff Sale or the Free and Clear Sale as they were poorly advertised and it seems as though we find out what was available after the fact.  Mr. Stewart said Pottstown usually does a good job of advertising their events so he was surprised this was handled so poorly.  Jason said he had his name and number and would call him when the next batch of homes comes up for sale.  Jason informed Mr. Stewart that the borough is not in charge of the poor advertising, it is the county.

Terry Sellers – is an 8 year N. York Street resident who is scared and very concerned about the recent shooting on N. Hanover St., along with the other recent incidents.  She has children and is expecting so this has traumatized her (she was visibly shaken).  She expressed concern that residents feel unsafe, abandoned by the police and the borough.  She did have a conversation with Chief Flanders prior to the meeting and felt somewhat better but in addition to being frightened, she expressed concern that this random violence will impede Pottstown’s revitalization process. (yes, it will)

Arlene Bullman – age 72 and life-long borough resident was quite perturbed that she received a notice stating her property on N. Adams street has been classified as a rental and would be subject to the new ordinance.  Mrs. Bullman stated the property was her deceased relatives and she is now the owner.  Her nephew is living in the property to keep it from being empty and subject to vandalism.  He does NOT pay rent, and this is NOT a rental property.  She asked Council how they arrived at their decision to reclassify the property.  She pays all the bills, on time.  Arlene went on to make some other comments about Pottstown and her displeasure with recent events and borough services (not a happy camper)

Julian Francis of Chestnut St. (husband of Amy Francis, Code Blue) addressed Council in a most respectful but frank way about the escalating violence in his neighborhood.  The recent shootings have been too close for comfort.   There have been three incidents of gunfire in 4 months!  Amy and Julian have children and are restricting their activities outside in light of the recent events!  They are concerned about their safety and the safety of their neighbors.  We need more police protection in the central Pottstown neighborhoods where this violence is occurring.  The family has lived in this neighborhood since 1996.

Katy Jackson, civic activist and King St. resident also addressed Council about the escalating violence in central Pottstown.  She supports Council’s recent rental ordinance changes and the things they are doing to try to correct this problem.  However, crime and violence are systemic.  It will take some time for these changes to help rid Pottstown of criminals.  Until then, we need immediate action in light of the recent shootings.  Residents are afraid and feel unsafe!  Katy again made an emotionally charged plea for Council to form a Task Force made up of civic leaders, residents, the police department and other stakeholders.  This was the fourth time in a year that Katy has asked for a Task Force. (Can we please address this problem in a meaningful and immediate way!!!)

Art Green, a 38-year Hanover St. resident and PSD teacher addressed Council and the audience.  He believes in Pottstown, he commended the police for their quick action with the last shooting and their thoroughness in investigating this most recent incident.  Mr. Green said there is one property in the neighborhood that contributes to most of the problems.  He wants his neighborhood back and is willing to take his neighborhood back.  Mr. Green feels Pottstown is not down and out.  He feels we can overcome these problems and Pottstown is still a great place to live and raise a family.  (Several people said he should consider running for Council.  Mr. Green is a charismatic speaker.)

Don Reed addressed Council with a few budget questions.  He wondered with the enhanced collection efforts recently put into place, if 92% – 94% might be on the low side and we could realistically aim higher?  He also addressed the earlier staff cuts and the option to make the 12 borough fire department drivers borough employees.  He also made some comments about the Fire Study.

Mayor’s Report – Less puppies and sunshine this month.  Bonnie spent some time talking about pulling together as a community to stop the violence through citizen involvement and promoting the Hometown Holiday events in December.

Manager’s Report – PAID was back in the news this month.  Bylaws are almost done, the Executive’s job description is being worked on, they are working toward identifying the new board of directors structure and hopefully they will be up and running January 1 with the new Executive in place shortly thereafter.  PAID will be focusing on Economic Development.  (This won’t be too soon!)

A joint meeting between the PSD BOE and Borough Council is in the works for December.  PSD has already committed and Council did last night.  It was brought up that all stakeholders should be invited to attend as well.  They will work toward a date and time that works for everyone.  On the agenda will be the Community Land Trust, Tax assessments and PAID.

Jason said he would like to move the properties Pottstown gets through Sheriff Sale through the system within 30-60 days.  Hopefully the profits from sales can be used toward filling budget gaps. 

Jason talked about his Quality of Life Budget.  He is excited about the Citizen Code Inspection Program that Reading has up and running.  He thinks this is something Pottstown can implement to involve the community and assist the Codes Department.  The citizens would supplement the Codes Department staff and although there are some safety concerns, training is provided and it has worked in Reading.  There is also a Court Watch Team that is part of the program.  Residents who are affected by bad tenants go to court as a show of support which has been effective with Judges and their rulings. (Put a face on the problem!)

Senate Bill 900, the Blight Bill, passed and will be an important tool for municipalities to use in fighting blighted and abandoned properties.  It gives municipalities far more power to seize blighted and abandoned properties and go after negligent owners for compensation to aid with clean up or demolition of the property.

Parks and Recreation got a $250K grant from Conservation and Natural Resources for phase two of the Memorial Park improvements.  A skateboard park will be built (thank God) as well as some fields will be realigned.

Keim Street Bridge – Jason keeps in touch with Penn Dot on the status of the bridge via conference call.  The inspection should be done this month and we should have results in December.  However, at this juncture, they continue to find new structural deficiencies as the inspection progresses.  The bridge will be closed for at least one year.  If it cannot be fixed then we go from there.  Jason is trying to get some temporary signals put in place to ease the traffic congestion caused by the closure.  (Residents should write their elected officials to pressure the county, state and federal government to make the replacement of the Keim Street Bridge a priority and obtain funding!)

Committee Reports

New Business

Berkheimer has been authorized by Council to serve as Pottstown Borough’s Earned Income Tax and Local Services Tax Collector.

A motion to delete sections of the Code of Ordinances relating to the Shade Tree Commission, establishing a new Pottstown Tree Ordinance and a resolution establishing approved tree species and establishing a policy for rules and regulations for sidewalk maintenance associated with tree planting were unanimously approved!  (Mr. Hylton has been pruned)

Council approved an easement for PECO Energy to remove and replace poles and trees to accommodate the High Street Bridge over the Manatawny Construction Project.  There was some Council discussion about our payment from PECO.  Evidently, PECO won’t negotiate so it is hoped that in the future they will remember our cooperation (goodwill) if we need something in return.

The Police Pension motion was tabled until December.

Council approved a motion to allow the Civil Service Commission to begin the process of developing a new eligibility list for new hires and promotions with the Pottstown Police Department.  This costs the borough nothing but is necessary as the old list expired.

Council approved the motion for Pottstown Classics Car Club to hold Nostalgia Nights downtown for the 2011 season.  This involves the closure of High and Hanover Sts. for several blocks.  This is subject to approval from the Police and Fire departments.

Budget Review

Parks and Recreation, Ricketts Community Center, Fire Fund and PCTV. 

Parks and Recreation has a deficit.  They maintain 16 parks in Pottstown, the Spray Park and hold Summer Camp.  There is nothing left to cut in the budget that will not affect programs. 

Ricketts is in the third year of being run by Olivet Boys and Girls Clubs of Reading.  It was hoped that by year three, they would be more self-sufficient and Pottstown’s contribution could be lowered.  Ricketts currently receives 100% of its funding from the borough.  It was hoped that eventually Ricketts could become a partner with Pottstown and be able to supply at least half of their budget through other funding sources.  Finance is recommending that the borough’s contribution be reduced 25% this year, 25% for year four and 25% for year five.

The Fire Fund provides working capital for Pottstown’s four fire companies.  Currently, the borough gives each company funding annually plus pays the health costs for the paid drivers.  The fire companies asked for an increase this year which Council cannot offer, however, Council will pay the increased healthcare costs of the drivers because their salaries are not high enough to absorb the increased employee contributions necessary to bridge the gap.  Insurance costs are increasing approximately $64,000 for the coming year.  The Fire Study recommended merging companies and making the paid drivers borough employees.  There will also be a need to build a new station in the not too distant future as several of the stations are barely large enough to house the equipment.

PCTV, once a money-maker and contributor to the General Fund has fallen victim to the recession and is losing money.  Pottstown owns PCTV and pays a management fee to have it run.  There are three stations.  PCTV is unique in that as a public access channel, they are allowed to collect advertising revenue.  However, advertising revenue has fallen off to almost nothing.  PCTV pays rent to the school district for their space and has an equipment lease payment to make each month.  They are not bringing in sufficient revenue to cover their expenses.  Finance is recommending a reevaluation of the management agreement for next year based on the performance of the last several years.

Report of Bills – paid!


Meeting was adjourned by President Toroney.