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.

Pottstown Borough Council Makes Two Historic Decisions At Tonight’s Meeting

I have good news and I have bad news.

Good news first!


After a 10 minute emotionally charged “presentation” by Shade Tree Commissioner Thomas Hylton and a round of questioning, Borough Council unanimously passed the new Shade Tree Ordinance thereby making the Shade Tree Commission and Thomas Hylton history. 

Hylton told Council he hoped they knew what they were getting themselves into by taking on trees.  He reminded Council that as a nonprofit he has “discretion” on what he does and does not do.  Therein lies the problem Tom and that is why you are no longer in charge.  It is a little thing called customer service.  Being arbitrary is NOT good public relations. 

Hylton made a statement that led some on Council to believe Trees, Inc. would no longer use their money to provide tree services if the Shade Tree Commission was disbanded.  His answer was vague.  When further pressed Hylton emotionally stated that it is hard to do a job when people throw bricks at you all the time.  Finally when pressed again said he would continue to help, aka Trees, Inc..  Hylton then left the meeting.

Bad news!

Council had a big decision to make which will decide Pottstown’s path for the future.  The question was do we want to be like Manayunk or do we want to be a low-income retirement community.  After much debate we unanimously chose the low-income retirement community option.  1.5 acres of prime riverfront property will become a subsidized 55+ housing project (rentals).  In the end, $11 million dollars and a supposed guarantee that the property will always stay on the tax rolls won out.

This project is good for 15 years.  After 15 years the property could be sold to a private investor who could potentially make undesirable changes.  Of course the “pitch man” said that would be highly unlikely….right.

While Pottstown has a demonstrated need for senior housing this site is wrong, wrong, wrong.  Furthermore, these residents will pull our already low demographics down further.  Residents will not buy things on High Street.  They will not eat at the Brick House or Juan Carlos.  They won’t be able to afford it.  They won’t have enough disposable income left after paying their rent and electric bill.  By the way, the heat is ELECTRIC and not included!!!!  Excelon is rasing their already astronomical rates even higher!

I was told more senior housing is planned for the borough.  Evidently a larger project is in the works for the old Pottstown Nipple factory area.  I will venture a guess we are not talking about a project like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Villages,_Florida  but more like the towers or this new riverfront community.

There was a lot of other business discussed which I will report on tomorrow. 

Good night!

Pottstown Shade Tree Commission Meeting

Shade Tree Commission Meeting

February 22, 2010 – 7:30 pm

City Hall, Third Floor meeting room

I attended my second Shade Tree Commission meeting Monday evening.  I arrived a few minutes late.

Commissioners attending the meeting were Thomas Hylton (Chairman), Sherry Sweeney, Jody Rhoads, Kathleen Bortz and Kari Rising.

When I arrived Councilman Rhoads was requesting that the minutes from the last meeting be amended to include some additional information.  He was reading my notes from the last meeting and requested that they be included.  The committee voted to include this information.

There was discussion regarding the asphalt sidewalk project.  One of the audience asked Mr. Hylton if he received the necessary permission from Borough Council to install asphalt sidewalks. Evidently Borough code only provides for concrete sidewalks in Pottstown.  Mr. Hylton stated that he received permission from Ray Lopez, former Borough Manager, Jason Bobst, current Borough Manager as well as the Codes Department.  Mr. Hylton also explained the epoxy coating process that is used to color the sidewalks.  There has been a request made to amend the borough sidewalk ordinance to include the use of asphalt.

Another member of the audience asked for an explanation regarding Tom Hylton’s relationship to Trees, Inc. and the Pottstown Shade Tree Commission.  The question was never really answered.  Instead we had another lengthy rehashing of the history of Tree’s Inc, and the Shade Tree Commission by Hylton.

In the 1990’s Trees, Inc. decided to take care of all the trees on High Street feeling that it would be more cost effective to care for the shade trees in bulk.  A maintenance plan was created, following a 5 – 6 year cycle and running throughout the borough, to provide care for shade trees.  The hope was the $100,000 fund would provide sufficient interest each year to pay for any necessary tree maintenance, replacements etc…  This has not proven to be the case.  Between 2002 and 2008, the Borough of Pottstown gave Trees, Inc. approximately $21,000 per year to assist them financially with tree maintenance.  In 2008 this practice was stopped.  Since then Trees, Inc. has only done “tree triage” and has no money to fund the needed maintenance.  However, it should be noted that $92,000 still exists in the Trees, Inc. fund.

Since Pottstown is no longer contributing funds, audits are no longer being done on Trees, Inc.  Reviews are currently being done on the money coming in and going out of Trees, Inc.  The reviews are less comprehensive than the audits and cost substantially less money.  Since Trees, Inc. is a private, non-profit organization and no public money is being given, they do not feel the need to provide any information to the public on their finances.

Another resident complained that his sidewalk is raised 4 – 6 inches from the curb trees on his property.  The property owner wants to know who he can get permission from to remove the trees.  He was told to call Tom Hylton, they will discuss and then Mr. Hylton will send him a letter regarding the disposition of his tree problem.

Yet another borough resident, a senior on a fixed income, spoke of a Ginkgo tree on his property that poses a huge problem in terms of seeds and the vomit smell the tree gives off.  The gentleman has asthma and can’t even open his windows in the summer time.  The Ginkgo tree is pulling the French drain away from the house, lifting up the sidewalk, clogging the sewer and pushing up the curb.  The street is also sinking as there is a dip in the street.  Hylton stated residents have blanket permission to cut down Ginkgo trees.  The resident stated Hylton refused to give permission to cut down the tree in the past.  Of course, Hylton stated the resident is responsible for the cost of removing the tree and any repairs caused by the tree.  According to Mr. Hylton, Trees Inc. never planted any Ginkgo trees. They were planted prior to the creation of Trees, Inc.

Another resident asked what the average cost of tree maintenance would be.  She was quoted some statistics and left to do the math herself.

Councilman Rhoads stated he is working with the Borough Solicitor to change the tree ordinance.  The new ordinance would make it necessary to plant a tree no less than 10 feet of a utility and 50 feet of an intersection. 

Councilman Rhoads also read a letter from a resident regarding a curb tree that had been hit by a tractor trailer 5-6 years ago in the 800 block of N. Charlotte St.  The tree was embedded with a piece of metal and the tree is leaning into the street where it is continually struck by trucks and the sidewalk is raising up.  The resident was quoted $1800.00 to remove the tree by Todd’s Tree Service.  He had to make a choice to remove the tree or pay his property tax.  He chose to pay his taxes fearing he would lose his home.

Councilman Rhoads revisited a tree problem from the last meeting.  An inquiry was done by Councilman Rhoads regarding a tree in the 200 block of N. Keim Street that was leaning into the street, causing a traffic hazard and needed to be removed.  Again, the property owner is retired and on a fixed income.  The property owner was at the last Shade Tree meeting to ask for assistance and was told he would have to pay for the removal himself.  The property owner was told the Shade Tree Commission had no money to pay for the tree removal.  Within two weeks after the meeting, the tree was mysteriously cut down.   The property owner did not pay for the removal.  Mr. Hylton denies any money came from Trees, Inc. or the Shade Tree Commission to pay for the tree removal.  The inquiry response stated that the tree was removed at no cost to property owner.  Who paid for the removal??

The question was raised about the new Trees, Inc. website.  The shade tree inventory appears to have been condensed and is not as comprehensive as it had been in the past.  Mr. Hylton maintained that information was still on the website some where. 

Councilman Rhoads asked what criteria were used to determine the 30% estimate on sidewalks damaged by trees.  Mr. Hylton replied that a study was done by a State College firm on what percentage of sidewalk problems in Pottstown is directly related to curb trees.  He estimates 30%.  Hylton stated the block survey, which took 2 years, was never completed and is inaccurate.

Councilman Rhoads also brought up two tree problems from the last meeting that Mr. Hylton stated he would look into:

1. A tree was replanted in the 900 block of High Street four feet from a utility.  Mr. Hylton maintained that since an existing tree was already there, a new one was planted in its place.  He has not looked into the matter as he stated he would at the last meeting.  Councilman Rhoads again asked that this matter be looked in to. 

2. A tree was replanted over a storm water arch in the 60’s block of N. Roland Street.  At the last meeting Mr. Hylton said he would look into the matter and has not done so.  Hylton argued with Councilman Rhoads about the size of the storm water arch and the threat this tree posed.  Councilman Rhoads brought up the $400,000 repair on Walnut Street of a storm water arch and that it was a potential liability for the borough.  Hylton again said he would look into the matter.

Councilman Rhoads asked Commissioners Sweeney and Rising to explain to the newly elected Commissioner Bortz what they had done in the last year as a member of the Shade Tree Commission.  Mrs. Sweeney said she attended a meeting.  Mrs. Rising said she takes calls from home owners and she visits locations with tree problems.  She said she had visited 5 – 6 different locations checking out tree problems.  Rising also stated she holds the rod when Hylton measures the trees.  Councilman Rhoads echoed Mrs. Rising’s answer.

Councilman Rhoads brought up Mr. Hylton’s ties to Preservation Pottstown and the property at the corner of Beech and Charlotte Sts. where the European Tree Park was developed with a $60,000 private donation.  This was the site of an abandoned gas station and had become a loitering area for drug dealers.  Mr. Hylton maintained that he stopped attending Preservation Pottstown meetings 5 years ago but was involved with the transfer of the property at the 272 Beech Street from Preservation Pottstown to Trees, Inc. in 2007.  The property owed two years worth of back taxes.  Trees, Inc. paid the back taxes and currently pays the property tax for the European Tree Park located at 272 Beech St.

We were then treated to another tree propaganda speech by Mr. Hylton regarding the economic value of trees.  Specifically that they have increased the property values in Pottstown by 3% of $36 million dollars and so on. 

Councilman Rhoads brought up the fact that our tax dollars were put into the Trees, Inc. bowl of money.  He also stated that this Trees, Inc. money is being used to pay the county, local and school taxes, along with the insurance on the property at 272 Beech St.  This money is also being used to pay a subcontractor of Trees, Inc. to shovel snow, pick up leaves, twigs, branches and trash on the property at 272 Beech St.  At this point Ms. Rising stepped in and claimed that donations to Trees, Inc. specified what that money was to be used for.  There was nothing to back this up.

Councilman Rhoads requested all documents showing the discussion, motion and approval from the borough to give Trees, Inc. our tax dollars.

It was suggested that a fund be developed (as other towns have done) to provide assistance to homeowners with tree problems.  It was suggested to Councilman Rhoads that Borough Council spearhead this project.  Polly Weand suggested that money be raised somehow to pay for these problems to help shoulder the burden with property owners.  Councilman Rhoads indicated that Council is seeking $200,000 from Montgomery County. 

The meeting was adjourned.

As usual people left shaking their heads in disgust because we heard the same old song and dance from the Chairman Hylton and his bobble-heads on the commission.  There is still a 3 – 2 majority of Hyltonites on the Commission which impedes Councilman Rhoads from effecting more positive changes to benefit property owners with tree problems in Pottstown.

The Hater-Aid Continues Against Councilman Rhoads

I read, with much disgust, a letter to the editor in today’s Pottstown Mercury lambasting Jody Rhoads.

This is getting old folks. 

1.  Jody does not hate trees.  He wants us to be responsible with trees.  Trees have their place but not at the expense of taxpayers in this borough.  Sorry if this does not compute.

2.  Mr. Hylton, rules the Shade Tree Commission with an iron fist and is arbitrary in his treatment of taxpayers with tree problems.   Trees are NOT more important than people.  They are wonderful and I am glad we have so many BUT they should not present a hardship to homeowners.  Trees do NOT pay taxes!!!!!!!!!

3.  The Shade Tree Commission has entirely too much money and too much power to be controlled by Mr. Hylton.  Until Jody came along, the rest of you were like bobble-head dolls and went along with whatever the Shade Tree Czar commanded from on high. 

4.  I believe this letter was “encouraged” as it smacks of a paid political announcement during campaign time.  Frankly, I dislike paid political announcements.

A new day is dawning in Pottstown.  Let the elected officials run this town and shut down these agenda lobbyists while there is still time!

Pottstown Shade Tree Commission Update

In my Pottstown Herald article covering the last Shade Tree Commission meeting I reported that a property owner on Keim Street was having a major tree problem.  

The property owner was told by the Shade Tree Commission that he would have to foot the bill to have a tree removed from his property.  The offending tree was ready to fall onto Keim St. and had been hit twice by vehicles.  The property owner is retired and did not have the funds to pay for a tree removal.  He asked for assistance and was turned down by Mr. Hylton.  The property owned said he could either pay his taxes or cut down the tree, but he could not do both.

Now the tree has been cut down and mysteriously paid for by an unknown source.  I find that very interesting.  Don’t you????