Pottstown Mayor Bonnie Heath stormed out of tonight’s Pottstown Borough Council meeting after agenda item 7 did not pass (followed by her husband who made a derogatory remark about Council’s collective intelligence). A roll call vote was requested by President Toroney. The vote went as follows: Chomnuk – No, Gibson – Yes, Kirkland– Yes, Rhoads – No, Weand – No, Toroney – No. Councilor Allen was absent.
During the Mayor’s lengthy report, Bonnie spent a great deal of time asking Council to vote yes for agenda item 7 which was a resolution authorizing the filing for funds with Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) in the amount of $60,000 for the Main Street, Exit Grant, New Communities program. What this means to the average taxpayer is that by voting yes the Borough of Pottstown would have been on the hook for the $60,000 matching funds if the Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority (PDIDA) failed to raise the other $60,000. If PDIDA failed to raise the necessary $30,000 contribution each year, the Borough of Pottstown, by default, would have had to match the DCED grant.
The Finance Committee recommended that Council vote no because there is too much risk to the Borough to move forward, according to Finance Chairman and Fifth Ward Councilor Dan Weand. The confidence in PDIDA’s ability to match this grant is very questionable. According to Mayor Heath, PDIDA’s assessments would generate $42,000 a year leaving a positive balance for PDIDA of $12,000 each year. Mayor Heath said there is no risk to Pottstown to approve this grant match because the DCED felt PDIDA would be able to match the funding based on their assessment figures.
President Toroney said PDIDA should look more toward volunteerism instead of paying a Main Street Manager. He referenced Pottstown’s Riverfront Park as an excellent example of volunteerism. President Toroney also said that Council does support PDIDA and downtown Pottstown, however, in this instance the majority of Council feels the financial risk is too great. Councilor Kirkland said he was confident that PDIDA would be able to raise the needed funds. Councilor Gibson said he supported PDIDA and voted yes for the resolution but did so “hoping” he made the right decision.
The majority of this money goes to pay the Main Street Manager’s salary. Frankly, my experience with Mr. Wildrick is that he does not return emails. Other than purple lights on the trees downtown and the Hometown Holiday events in December, did we get our bang for the buck in a year and a half????? Evidently there are four members of Council who have the same question. The other project Mr. Wildrick was working on was a skyline project to outline the downtown buildings like Boat House Row. While this is a cool idea, it might make more sense to have a full downtown before we worry about ambient lighting.
Councilor Rhoads wondered how many businesses downtown are doing well. If a number of businesses close that would hamper PDIDA’s ability to generate the sufficient funds to pay the DCED grant match.
President Toroney also stated that PDIDA needs to come up with a vision and a long-range plan. We agree.
Councilor Gibson made the suggestion that PDIDA expand their territory to include more businesses in Pottstown. The example he gave was the High Street Redner’s. Redner’s makes money and as a company they give money to community projects and events in the form of corporate sponsorships. Councilor Gibson said there are businesses that would love to be allowed to join PDIDA but are outside of their limited territory.
This vote means that unless PDIDA finds private sector funding (which is available) they will not have the funds to pay the Main Street Manager’s salary.
My suggestion to PDIDA is that you contact places like Lancaster and York, who have strong downtown organizations, and see what information you can glean from them. I am sure they would gladly be of assistance and would be a wealth of information.
My other suggestion is that Mayor Heath should receive a formal reprimand from Council for leaving the meeting before adjournment. As Councilor Gibson stated, every vote does not go his way but he respects the opinions and decisions of his fellow Councilors and does not get mad about it. Councilors Rhoads and Weand echoed Councilor Gibson’s sentiments and were thanked by President Toroney.
Mayor Heath is an elected official who has an obligation to attend these meetings. Because there were only six Councilors in attendance this evening, had there been a tie vote, the mayor casts the tie-breaking vote. By leaving after agenda item 7, the mayor missed the voting for the remaining six agenda items!
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!