Pottstown Poised To Fill Vacant Authority, Commission Posts

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County

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

POTTSTOWN, PA — Although borough council wasted little time in filling the tax collector vacancy Wednesday night, there are still a few vacant positions up for grabs.

As part of the annual process of filling posts on boards and commissions, council will vote Monday on filling nine open spots, with a 10th vacancy being filled in February.

One seat on the Pottstown Borough Authority is open and two people have applied to fill it. It is currently filled by plumber Aram Ecker, who is seeking a second five-year term. However, newly elected Borough Councilwoman Sheryl Miller has also asked to be appointed.

With Miller’s defeat of Jeff Chomnuk for the third ward seat on council, the authority board currently has no member of borough council, a role Chomnuk had filled.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/general-news/20140110/pottstown-poised-to-fill-vacant-authority-commission-posts

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Pottstown Council OKs $39M Budget, Tax Hike Below 1%, Sewer Rates Up 4%

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County

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

POTTSTOWN, PA — The $38.9 million 2014 borough budget was adopted by council with a 5-1-1 vote Monday night after it was announced the tax hike had ducked under the 1 percent mark.

With a 6-1 vote, Council also approved a sewer rate increase of $5 per quarter for the base rate, and an additional 20 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of water used — an increase of about 4 percent.

Borough Manager Mark Flanders announced prior to the budget vote that the 1.01 percent tax hike initially proposed by the administration in November had been cut to 0.95 percent.

For a resident with a home assessed at $85,000, that works out to an increase of $8.39 for the year, he said.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/general-news/20131210/council-oks-39m-budget-tax-hike-below-1-sewer-rates-up-4

Facing 4.3% Tax Hike, Pottstown Working To Close $330K Budget Deficit

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County

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

POTTSTOWN, PA — The public got its first look at the proposed $38.3 million borough budget for 2014 on Wednesday night and saw a projected deficit of more than $330,000 — the rough equivalent of a 4.3 percent property tax increase.

Finance Director Janice Lee made the budget presentation, but did not identify how the administration will propose to close the deficit, which her presentation spreadsheet pegged more specifically at $332,308.

Other than a property tax increase, options for closing that budget gap could include additional revenue from other sources or decreased expenses.

Asked after the meeting how much of a tax hike would be needed to close that gap, Lee declined to speculate and noted that the administration has not yet made a recommendation to borough council, whose members listened to the budget presentation Wednesday night but asked no questions.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/general-news/20131107/facing-43-tax-hike-pottstown-working-to-close-330k-budget-deficit

Budget Preparations Getting Started In Pottstown Borough

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Montgomery County

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

POTTSTOWN, PA — Although Pottstown Borough Council has yet to be presented with a budget draft, the members of council’s finance committee have.

It is too soon to say if council will be able to avoid raising property taxes for two years in a row, but it is obviously on everybody’s mind.

Councilman Dan Weand, who chairs the finance committee, told council that he likes the way the borough finances are shaping up.

“So far, with 75 percent of the year passed, we’ve brought in 85 percent of the revenue and only seen 74 percent of the expenses,” said Weand.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/general-news/20131019/budget-preparations-getting-started-in-pottstown-borough

Pottstown Planners Approve Family Dollar Project

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

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

POTTSTOWN — With a 4-0 vote, the borough planning commission Thursday night gave unanimous approval to a plan to redevelop the former Rosenberry’s Grocery store at the corner of Eighth Street and Farmington Avenue into a Family Dollar Store.

Planning commission member Deb Penrod was absent and did not vote.

The approved plan calls for demolishing the 23,299-square-foot building that stands at the 1.7-acre site now, and was most recently occupied by McCabe’s Auto Supply. The building is now empty.

In its place, the company has proposed an 8,240-square-foot Family Dollar store which would be “much smaller and much closer to being in conformity with the zoning,” said lawyer John Ryan, who spoke on behalf of the developer.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/general-news/20130927/pottstown-planners-approve-family-dollar-project

Pottstown Poised To Loosen Tree Rules

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

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

Editor’s note: What’s that I hear?  Is it the sound of wailing coming from the 200 block of Chestnut Street?  To say the tree ordinance was “a little bit extreme” is the understatement of the decade.

POTTSTOWN — Borough council is expected to vote Monday on a proposal to lessen the requirements for plantingtrees when a property is developed or re-developed.

Specifically, the vote would authorize Borough Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. to advertise an amendment to the borough’s sub-division and land development ordinance, known as a SLDO, and would apply to “open space trees” and to “parking lot trees.”

“This is the result of an ongoing theme at the planning commission,” Garner told council during the Wednesday work session.

“We were calculating a large number of trees and then granting waivers and it was becoming problematic,” he said.

Read more: http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130906/NEWS01/130909576/pottstown-poised-to-loosen-tree-rules

Blighted Pottstown House Owned By State Rep.’s Chief Of Staff

Editor’s note:  There are a couple of take away items here.  a.  The Pottstown Codes Department evidently can’t process an address change.  Does that require a $5,000.00 “donation”?  b.  The house is in poor condition and needs repairs.  c.  This illustrates the pitfalls of being an “investor” in Pottstown.  Most likely that amount of damage didn’t happen overnight, from the sounds of the report.  How often are problem properties being checked on by an owner or property manager?  It sounds like the house should be demolished except the owner owes money to the bank.  It will be a LONG wait until conditions improve enough in that neighborhood to make fixing up this property economically viable.  So just add another vacant property to Pottstown’s housing stock.

POTTSTOWN — The district chief of staff for state Rep. Mark Painter, D-146th Dist., is the owner of a Walnut Street home that the borough has recently identified as “blighted.”

The designation was advertised in the legal notices of Wednesday’s edition of The Mercury.

Michael A. Lavanga, who heads up Painter’s district office in Sanatoga and has appeared on his behalf at local government meetings, expressed surprise Wednesday when contacted by a reporter about the advertisement.

According to the legal notice, Lavanga has 30 days to make repairs to the property including repairing or replacing rain gutters, loose paint, windows and the front steps to 409 Walnut St.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130412/NEWS04/130419776/blighted-pottstown-house-owned-by-state-rep-s-chief-of-staff#full_story

Pottstown Welcomes 2 New Businesses, 50 Jobs

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

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

Editor’s note:  Thumbs up to Steve Bamford!

POTTSTOWN — Following on the heels of the news that downtown Pottstown will lose as many as 75 jobs in the coming months, comes the news that the borough may be gaining as many as 58 jobs at two new businesses soon to be break ground.

The news came Wednesday night when borough council heard about two proposals for two new businesses that want to put up new buildings in the borough.

One, known as Patient First, is part of a chain of 43 urgent care medical centers that has been in business for 43 years and promises to bring 50 jobs into the borough.

“We’re looking to hire locally,” said Carl Wright, founder and president of  The Wright Group, which will construct the building at the site of the former Chinese food restaurant across the parking lot from Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Just Cabinets.

Read more:


Pottstown Borough Council Dickers Over Tax Abatement Deal

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

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

Editor’s note:  Pottstown is already perceived as NOT business friendly.  Companies aren’t rushing to relocate there.  The KOZ site is empty.  The best chance of enticing other companies to build there is to get a business in there STAT.  Then you can market away.  These tax abatements are the cost of doing business.  Sadly, not many on council understand that.

POTTSTOWN — Several borough council members Wednesday picked at a proposed tax relief deal floated to bring a new business to town, saying the borough is giving too much away.

The discussion centers around the former 84 Lumber truss assembly plant at 451 Keystone Blvd., which a Conshohocken business wants to buy for a hearse and limousine company that would bring half a dozen jobs to the borough.

The site is located in Pottstown’s mostly moribund Keystone Opportunity Zone, which would allow for a property tax abatement on the property, with the agreement of council and the school board.

After knocking the subject around at the joint meeting between borough council and the school board on Feb. 26, Borough Manager Mark Flanders and Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagana were tasked with negotiating with Jay Lankford of Heritage Coach Co. Inc. to iron out a deal all sides could agree on.

Read more:   http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20130308/NEWS01/130309489/pottstown-council-dickers-over-tax-abatement-deal#full_story

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

Pottstown Council, School Board Want To Work Closer

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

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

Editor’s note:  Two Roy’s Rants thumbs up to Acting Superintendent Jeff Sparagana for being proactive!

POTTSTOWN — When it comes to getting along, it could be said that the borough and school district governments in Pottstown sometimes get along like siblings on a long car trip.

Acting Schools Superintendent Jeff Sparagana is among the first to admit that and did so Wednesday when he told borough council that “it is important to acknowledge and recognize there have been breakdowns in the relationship between the borough and the school district in the past.”

But he was also the first to offer an olive branch in pursuit of a new era of cooperation.

Appearing before council during the Wednesday work session, Sparagana prefaced a presentation of the district’s land development plans for Rupert, Franklin and Lincoln elementary schools with a statement — and an apology.

Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20121209/NEWS01/121209423/pottstown-council-school-board-want-to-work-closer#full_story

Pottstown Poised To Adopt Montgomery County As Delinquent Tax Collector, Despite Cost

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

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

POTTSTOWN, PA — Borough council is poised to vote Tuesday to stop getting its delinquent tax collections done by a private company and instead hire the Montgomery County Tax Claims Bureau to do it instead.

Although this method will not cost the borough any money out of pocket, neither does the current system.

However, should borough council decide instead to stay with its current collector, it would be obligated to pay the county roughly $39,000 for doing nothing.

Councilman Dan Weand, who heads council’s finance committee which recommended the change, said the taxpayers might as well get something for their money.


Read more:  http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20121110/NEWS01/121119975/pottstown-poised-to-adopt-county-as-delinquent-tax-collector-despite-cost

An Editorial Follow Up – Activist Invites Pottstown Council To See Poor Living Conditions In Permitted Rental

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

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

On Saturday, June 30th, the Mercury published a piece on Pottstown’s first Open Slum House Tour. Members of Pottstown Borough Council were invited to come and see first hand the horrific living conditions in a rental unit at 501 King Street.  The rental unit was issued a permit by Pottstown’s Codes Department. 

An open house was held on Saturday afternoon from 2:00pm to 3:30pm and hosted by Katy Jackson, a King Street resident and community activist.

What I am about to report is typical and totally disheartening.  Only one Borough Councilor showed up!  Fifth Ward Councilor Dan Weand!  Councilor Weand was accompanied by his wife Polly (a Pottstown School Board member).  John Armato, Pottstown School District Director of Community Relations also attended the open house.  Thank you Dan, Polly and John for taking time out of your Saturday to give a damn about Pottstown!

(The elephants in the room)

  1. Where in the hell was Pottstown Borough Council President, Steven Toroney or First Ward Councilor Mark Gibson, whose ward contains the offending property????????????????? 
  2. Pottstown’s Codes Department apparently deemed this property A-OK and issued a permit for the owner to rent the property.  Considering the horrific state of the property in question, does this not make you wonder exactly what metrics borough codes employees are using?  Would you want to live in a house of horrors like this?  Is this not a huge red flag that there might be a problem?  Is this not indicative of a broken process? 
  3. As an elected official, whose job it is to serve the taxpayers of Pottstown, taking an hour out of your Saturday to get first hand knowledge of a serious problem should be a top priority.  It would have been prudent to notify Mrs. Jackson that you had a prior commitment that precluded your attendance so as not to appear indifferent to the plight of the people who elected you into office!

Based on the pictures and description of the property, it sounds like it should be condemned and torn down, not given a rental permit!

Steve, if you aren’t up to the task of being Pottstown Borough Council President, we think you should step down.  We see no evidence of leadership, no vision and no way forward being presented.  Sitting in your North End home and ignoring everything south of Wilson Street isn’t much of a strategy. 

Pottstown is spiraling out of control.  Key employees are leaving, councilors are resigning, crime is high, poverty is high, slumlords and Section 8 housing are pulling Pottstown down while property and school taxes go up, up, up…  Is the goal here to become the next Pennsylvania community accepted into the Act 47 program for financially distressed municipalities?

There was just a home invasion in the 800 block of Queen Street.  There are too many shootings.  There are hookers and drug dealers lurking in the alleys of the core neighborhood.  There are tumbleweeds blowing down High Street.  Borough Council does not support the few struggling businesses downtown nor does Pottstown enforce laws for loitering and panhandling which deter shoppers, diners and theatre patrons.  There is a homeless problem you refuse to deal with and the list goes on and on.

Pottstown deserves a Borough Council who is willing and ABLE to lead the community down the road to prosperity.  Those who can’t should step aside and let those who can DO! 

Sticking one’s head in the sand and ignoring all the warning signs is not what you were elected into office to do.  People expect action.  People expect and want change for the better.  Status quo is not an option.  Neither is taxing people to the point of having to choose between paying taxes or buying food and medicine.  Look at all the for sale signs around town.  Look at the abandoned properties where homeowners have simply walked away.  All is not well!  Get a clue!

Either lead or get out-of-the-way!

Pottstown Mayor Whines About Budget Cut

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Only in Pottstown!  Our illustrious Missy Mayor, Bonnie Heath is upset with Pottstown’s new $38.9 million budget.  In an effort to cut frivolous expenditures and luxuries we cannot afford, her $300.00 Mayor’s budget was reduced to $50.00.  Well cry me a big fat river!  I find this absolutely amazing for several reasons:

a. Bonnie was whining about eating “fuel costs” for attending events.  Excuse me, but the last time I checked, driving around a 5 square-mile borough does not exactly use much gas.  You might consider buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle if gas to drive around Pottstown is such a strain on your budget.  You already require a free ticket to attend an event!  Or better yet, don’t make unauthorized and secret trips to Norristown to undermine binding votes of Council you disagree with.  That would save a couple bucks!

b. Does the totally ceremonial position of mayor even need a “budget” to be a ribbon-cutter and baby-kisser?  I think not!

c. Considering the state of the economy and the state of Pottstown; does this petty whining about $250.00 seem out of touch with reality to anyone else?  People are starving, a large percentage of PSD students are on reduced or free lunch, homes are being foreclosed, jobs are hard to come by and our mayor has the chutzpah to carp about her “budget” being cut when we are trying to avoid raising taxes!

Two Roy’s Rants thumbs down for this selfish behavior from a public servant.  Why don’t you try being part of the solution instead of being part of the problem, Bonnie!

The Cesspool That Is Pottstown Politics

Last night, the smell was much worse in City Hall than passing by the sewer plant on Moser Road in the summer.  The stench of political agendas, the overt pandering to those agendas, the lack of leadership (not applying to Rhoads and Weand) and the undeniable rewarding of poor behavior left me reaching for a barf bag.  I might start bringing my own if I continue to sit through these council meetings.  I think we need a “honey wagon” STAT at City Hall as the municipal diaper is FULL!

A total travesty is what I would call that meeting.  Only two Councilors had the chutzpah to call Missy Mayor on the carpet.  The other four (Allen absent) were falling all over themselves trying to kiss her derriere.  The mayor’s position is “ceremonial”.  If the mayor is so gung-ho to monopolize every council meeting, let her run for COUNCIL!  And yes Steve, you are correct, it is your fault for letting her talk too much.  She talks more than most of the Councilors we elected into those positions.  The woman has an opinion about everything!


We need a total change of leadership – Weand/Rhoads or Rhoads/Weand need to be President and Vice-President of council.  Stick a fork in the rest of y’all; you’re done!

While we’re at it…since we pay Jason a tidy sum, why don’t we stop tying his hands behind his back and let him do his job.  He’s an educated, municipal expert who we are paying to manage Pottstown.  We hire a professional manager for a reason.  Council people are not experts in municipal government.  Most have full-time day jobs.  This is Jason’s full-time job which he is highly skilled at.

That is as polite I can be.  I have waited 28 years for Pottstown to “come back”!  I am sick and tired of waiting.  I am sick and tired of the “good old boy” network in this town that continues to hold it hostage.  At this juncture, I highly doubt this town will ever change.

So color me still crabby today!

“Teflon Bonnie” Dodges Bullet – Escapes Pottstown Council’s Ire Over Gallerygate

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Where to begin! 

Bonnie’s Mayor’s Report started off as the usual cheerleading session and turned into making excuses for her bad behavior, which she is not sorry for.  Bonnie said she did what she did because she is “passionate” and she felt the Gallery School Project was a bad idea.  She blithered on about differences and stepping on toes etc… but any apology in all that was missing, from what I could tell.

During the Announcements part of the meeting, which comes right before Adjournment, Councilor Weand raised a motion that we limit the mayor’s speaking at council meetings to the Mayor’s Report, if she was asked a direct question or if she needed to break a tie vote.  The other part of the motion was to forbid Bonnie from speaking negatively in public against Borough Council, like on WPAZ or to the County Commissioners, for example.

Councilor Gibson seconded the motion but only for the sake of debate.  Only Councilor Rhoads sided with Councilor Weand.  Maureen Allen was absent.  Chomnuk, Gibson, Kirkland and Toroney all sided with the mayor.  Councilors Gibson and Toroney expressed their displeasure at Bonnie’s recent behavior but felt it was not proper to limit her “face time” at meetings.  Councilors Kirkland and Chomnuk did not think her speaking time should be limited.

So once again, bad behavior in Pottstown is rewarded.  It’s okay to go outside the chain of command, bad mouth at will and undermine binding votes of council, all in the name of being “passionate”.

Expect more bad behavior, more diatribes and insubordination from our mayor in the future, now that she has been further empowered to do so.

Two Roy’s Rants thumbs up to Councilor Weand for doing the right thing and to Councilor Rhoads for backing him up and voting yes.

At this time, I will refrain from comment about the rest of Council until such time as I can think of a polite way to say what is on my mind.

Pottstown Borough Council Approves New Planning Commission Member

Pottstown Borough Council accepted, with regret, the resignation of Karen Weil from the Pottstown Planning Commission effective March 1, 2011.

The next motion on the agenda asked Council to approve Ms. Weil’s replacement.  Planning Commission Chair, Dan Weand recommended Dan Schmoyer, who submitted his application last month when Mr. Hylton’s seat was up for grabs and went to Andrew Kefer.  Mr. Schmoyer resides in the 1300 block of Queen Street.

Council unanimously approved Mr. Schmoyer to the Planning Commission, to fill Karen Weil’s unexpired term, until February 1, 2013.

Several councilors expressed their appreciation for the years of service Karen Weil gave to Pottstown Borough.

Pottstown Borough Council February Meeting Summary

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

February’s Borough Council meeting had a short agenda to go along with the shortest month of the year.

All Councilors were present.  After the usual opening formalities, there were a few comments from citizens.

A concerned resident brought up a temporary cross walk erected between PMMC and Wawa.  He feels the situation is dangerous as people are walking across the street and expected traffic to stop.  The resident observed an incident which turned into a verbal altercation between a motorist and a hospital employee.  The employee started walking across the street and expected the car to stop.  This caused the driver to start yelling at the hospital worker.  With the increased traffic from construction, the situation could end up resulting in an injury, death or a physical altercation.  President Toroney said this matter will be brought up at the next Safety Committee meeting for discussion.

Human Resources gave a brief update of events they will take part in:  Family Fest on March 17th, Latin Night hosted by CCLU at Academy Hall on May 7th and the Fourth of July parade. They are working on sensitivity training for the Police Department.  The Human Resources Department is finally getting their long-awaited computer and other requested items.

Rita Paez of CCLU asked council to vote yes for agenda item number 5.

Mayor’s Report

The Mayor wished everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day and then quickly proceeded to lose that loving feeling.  Bonnie felt the need to again give her little lecture about the small group of haters and their under current of negativity that is trying to destroy Pottstown.  It is sad that people who disagree with her are labeled “haters” and constantly browbeaten in public.  Frankly, it is getting old.

Manager’s Report

Jason attended a transit meeting which included PART, SEPTA, BARTA and LANTA.    Jason thinks it is time for PART to undergo a third-party review of its operations.

Pottstown received a Greenway Grant ($25,000) and an Assistance Grant ($2,000).  A Heritage Action Plan is being developed for Pottstown to capitalize on heritage tourism using the Schuylkill River and the trail system as a way to bring people into Pottstown.  Hopefully this will also tie into the Hanover Street Bike Lane Project.

Jason hopes to have an infrastructure meeting with PECO after the underground transformer explosion on High Street last week.  The power outage severely affected several downtown restaurants, which lost large quantities of food, and many residents were without power.  President Toroney agrees this issue is important and stated we were very lucky this incident was not far worse, like what recently happened in Allentown or Philadelphia.

Jason is requesting that Council allow him to investigate the costs involved in getting mobile computers and printers for the Codes Department.  This would allow Codes to issues citations on site, without delay.  The money would be well spent.  Any use of technology to speed up a process is good.  The Codes Department would greatly benefit from having this tool in their efforts to curb blight and handle other code violations.

Contracts are still in arbitration for the Police Department and AFSCME.

Pottstown and Norristown’s Codes Departments are looking for ways to work together since both boroughs have similar challenges.

Committee Reports

Most meetings were cancelled last month due to the weather.

PDIDA – Assessments will be going out.

Blighted Property – the meeting was cancelled but Councilor Weand did attend a Blighted Property Seminar and found that Pottstown is ahead of the curve on this issue based on what he heard from other municipalities.

New Business

Council adopted a resolution to authorize the destruction of certain municipal records.

Council adopted a motion to ratify an agreement between Hough Associates and the Borough of Pottstown to collect recycling data and prepare a grant application.

Council passed a motion to grant Pottstown Industrial Investments, LLC a one year extension to gather more information for their zoning request on the proposed use of property at 551 Keystone Boulevard.

Council unanimously gave Thomas Hylton his walking papers as a member of the Pottstown Planning Commission after twelve years.  Mr. Hylton was not reappointed.  President Toroney directed that a letter be sent to Mr. Hylton thanking him for his 12 years of service.  Council unanimously approved the appointment of Andrew Kefer, of Chestnut Street, to the Pottstown Planning Commission for a four-year term.  We wish Andrew much success.

Mr. Hylton’s Chairmanship of the Shade Tree Commission was recently rendered null and void by Council’s decision to rewrite the Shade Tree Ordinance.  Borough management will now make all decisions concerning trees in Pottstown, making the need for a Shade Tree Commission obsolete.  Mr. Hylton is still a member of the Pottstown School Board.  We certainly hope these change will allow Pottstown to move forward.   

Councilor Weand submitted a very routine request to draft a policy which addresses monetary requests from non-profit organizations.  Pottstown Borough gives money to several local non-profit organizations like the Senior Center.  They also routinely receive requests from other groups.  Councilor Weand, who is head of the Finance Committee, has been trying to standardize and streamline all financial processes and procedures since he took office.  Councilor Weand wanted to create a one page standardized form to be used for all requests for money from the borough.

The reaction to this request by several councilors and the mayor was frankly astounding.  Councilor Chomnuk totally opposed this request because he said it gives the appearance Pottstown had money to give away and would encourage people to apply for money.  He also made the statement it would create a burden on the staff by implementing a procedure that we do not need.  Mayor Heath also jumped on the “this gives the appearance we have money to give away” bandwagon.  Several people asked for clarification about the form and how many requests for assistance the borough receives.  The debate because rather testy at times.

Councilor Weand then asked if Council wanted to tell everyone who requested money NO?  This suggestion was met with further cranky objections.  Evidently, certain people want to take things on a “case by case” basis (read between the lines here).  So to recap, Council spent a good fifteen minutes arguing about streamlining a procedure with a one-page form.  We applaud Councilor Weand’s efforts with our borough finances and his attempt to be fair and equitable in the treatment of those who request financial assistance from the borough.  The motion was tabled.

A motion passed 5-2 to ratify the mayor’s disciplinary action toward a Pottstown Police Officer who was given a three-day suspension.  Councilors Gibson and Allen abstained.

A motion passed to approve Certificates of Appropriateness, issued by HARB, for two properties.

The bills were paid.

The meeting was adjourned and Council went into Executive Session.

Pottstown Borough Council Meeting 12/13/10

The meeting was called to order by President Toroney.

Invocation was given.

Pledge of Allegiance

Roll Call – all Councilors were present

Approval Of Minutes – the last council meeting and special budget meeting minutes were approved.

Comments From Citizens Present:

Dave Garner – Requested that Council not adopt the 2011 budget.  Mr. Garner feels we are rushing to approve this budget and there is still time to continue looking for ways to cut spending.  Dave feels Council is happy to “settle” for 3.1% and basically call it a day.  Mr. Garner believes Council should explain and justify the increase and that the public was not given enough time to study the proposed budget.

Don Read – Also commented on the proposed 2011 budget.  He agreed with Mr. Garner about amount of time the budget was advertised.    

Mr. Read questioned Fund 11 which has a $147,000 deficit.  Don suggested that this fund should be offset in the budget with a surplus or a taxpayer “bailout”. 

Fund 14 had a $55,000 increase or 40% over last year.  This can be increased at council’s discretion.  Mr. Read feels the borough should not pay for dependent children to age 26.  The employee should bear that cost themselves as it does not benefit taxpayers. 

Newstell Marable – President of the Pottstown NAACP wants the new Intermodal Transportation Center named after Charles Dixon. 

Mr. Marable again raised the question of renaming Armand Hammer Boulevard to MLK Boulevard.  He has spoken with PennDOT and said we should involve Senator Rafferty and PennDOT to get this approved.  PennDOT said they are willing to do this.  Mr. Marablel said if Lower Pottsgrove Township will not rename their section, Pottstown should rename the section of Armand Hammer Boulevard that falls within the borough.

Mr. Marable also questioned the borough’s minority hiring practices.

Mayor’s Report – Bonnie said the Police Department has been “quiet” lately.  She spoke about how well the Hometown Holiday events are going and how these events are bringing people together.  The mayor asked people to continue to be involved and thanked everyone for their positive efforts.

Manager’s Report – The Keim Street Bridge.  Jason is meeting with North Coventry Township as well as Chester and Montgomery Counties regularly about the impact of this vital link being closed.  A traffic impact study revealed that a new temporary signal will be placed at Industrial Highway and Moser Road.  There will be a cost sharing with Lower Pottsgrove for the temporary traffic signal and will cost about $5.00 a month for each municipality.  The bridge was in far worse shape than originally thought after the inspection was completed.

Jason is having all borough staff attend customer service training and is working with MCCC West Campus to offer this training.  This is the result of complaints Jason has received from residents about their dealing with borough staff during his tenure as Manager.  (Good idea Jason and glad you are using MCCC West as a resource!)

Our Codes Department is working with Phoenixville and Norristown on the new rental changes software.  The group has become a good resource.

The bridge over the “Mighty Manatawy” on High Street will be closed for 12 – 18 months starting in 2011.  Construction will hopefully begin in March to replace the bridge.  College Drive will be a detour route.

Jason talked about the Fair Housing issue that was raised along with Norristown about the overabundance of Section 8 rentals in Pottstown and Norristown in proportion to the rest of Montgomery County.

Jason talked about the revitalization fund for Montgomery County.  It appears there could be $11 million dollars to be divided up between Montgomery County municipalities in 2011.

Jason is looking at making the monthly ward meetings quarterly in 2011 and coming up with a format change to make the meetings more productive.

Jason is looking into a program that could make Pottstown Borough government more transparent (in light of recent comments circulating around town.)  He reviewed a model program being used in Ocean City, MD that offers a 14-week course on how municipal government functions.  In our case it would be how Pottstown’s government functions.  This would be a great tool for residents and would go along with the planned Citizen Code Academy already in the works.

The long anticipated conversion of the Pottstown Walmart into a SUPER Wallyworld will finally begin this spring if the borough will cooperate with Walmart’s internal needs.

Committee Reports –

Nothing much to report except PDIDA Manager Leighton Wildrick addressed council and gave a brief report about the Hometown Holiday events.  They are a great success!  He thanked the many people who have helped make this possible and stated the word is getting out about how Pottstown is changing and how these large events and a big reason for the buzz.  President Toroney thanked Mr. Wildrick a job well done.

New Business –

Motion to approve the $39,246,650.00 2011 Budget passed.   5 Yes, 1 Abstention (Gibson) and 1 No (Rhoads).  Councilor Gibson abstained because he is a paid driver for the Fire Department.  Since the Fire Fund was one of the reasons for the tax increase, Mr. Gibson felt this was a conflict of interest. (We feel Councilor Gibson did the right thing).

Motion to adopt an Ordinance to fix the borough tax rate for real property for the Year 2011 for several funds including fire and parks and recreation – 5 Yes, 1 Abstention (Gibson) and 1 No (Rhoads)

Janice Lee was appointed to act as Liaison Officer with Berkheimer, Inc. as Berkheimer, Inc. will now be the tax collection agent for the Borough of Pottstown.

The motion to approve PennDOT’s request for a revised detour plan for the High Street Bridge closure using College Drive passed.

Council passed a motion to authorize a letter of intent to the Towns and Tours Grant Program to enhance the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and the marketability of the downtown.

Council passed a motion authorizing Jason to send a letter of support to WGI Holdings, LLC to submit a grant application to the Montgomery County Economic Development Program on behalf of Dave Walsh and his desire to purchase the First Fidelity Building at the corner or High and Hanover Streets.  All Councilors were signing the letter of support.

After much debate Council passed a motion to adopt an official name for the new Transit Center at One Security Plaza.  Councilor Kirkland tried to get a motion on the table to delay this vote, however it was defeated.  The original motion passed 4 – 3 with Rhoads, Gibson and Kirkland voting No.  The majority of council felt there has been enough notice and time given for public comments about the naming of the Transit Center and further delays in passing this motion were unwarranted.

Council approved a motion to authorize borough staff to open negotiations with PCTV.  Councilors Weand and Chomnuk volunteered to be council’s representatives on the committee.  (Good luck gentlemen!)

Council added and passed Motion 28 to work with Walmart so that the expansion of the Pottstown store meets Walmart’s internal scheduling and budgeting.  This means a great deal of money for Pottstown in terms of taxes and fees.  It is in our best interest to work with Walmart in this instance.

Report of Bills – Councilor Weand said they have been paid!

Announcements – There was some unpleasantness between a spectator and Councilor Gibson that was ended by President Toroney banging his gavel and telling them to “take it outside” before things got out of hand. 

Meeting was adjourned.

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.