Pottstown Sixth Ward Councilor Jody Rhoads Votes NO For Tax Increase

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

A prepared statement was read by Councilor Rhoads at Monday night’s Pottstown Borough Council meeting outlining why he can not support any tax increase for Pottstown Borough property owners.

Jody writes:

“We all know our staff has been working hard on the budget, and have done a good job.  I keep hearing there are a lot of positive things happening in Pottstown.  A tax hike whether $10 or $100 is not one of them, especially when it involves a 2% raise for management*.

Apparently there are some who are happy about giving out tax dollars away for raises, when in fact a good portion of the taxpayers:

  1. Are jobless
  2. Can’t find work
  3. Had their pay and hours cut
  4. Are on a fixed income
  5. Are losing or lost their house to Sheriff Sale
  6. Cannot pay their bills
  7. Cannot afford health insurance

Well, I’m not happy about it.”

End of prepared statement.

*The 2% increase is for staff not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.  This amounts to $25,145.53. 

Councilor Rhoads suggested to President Toroney (via email) that the $5,335.61 allotted to the General Fund for raises in 2012 should be removed from the budget.

In an email response to Councilor Rhoads, President Toroney stated “Management salary is an easy target for cuts, while union workers get their increase for next year, making the disparity between rank and file and management even closer, that, management will soon be making less than rank and file.  Freezes need to be across the board for fairness which I would support.”

This year’s budget will include a 1.68% property tax increase, which translates into a $14.35 per year increase for a home assessed at $85,000.

Norristown Area School District Faces Huge Deficit And Tax Hike

The Norristown Area School District is staring into an almost $6 million dollar budget hole.  They need to cut, cut, cut AND increase taxes.  The district is looking to outsource some in-house functions, layoff 15 teachers, freeze wages and raise taxes to keep the district on a level playing field.

If the cost cutting measures are implemented by the board, district homeowners still face a 2.17 percent tax increase.  The increase comes to $83 a year in additional tax for the average homeowner.

The Norristown Area School District has six elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools (one is an alternative high school).  There are 6,727 students.  The district spends $14,075 per pupil and has 12 students for every full-time equivalent teacher.  In 2008 the dropout rate was 5 percent, 22 percent of students have an IEP and 10 percent of students are ELL.  Data from Wikipedia and Education.com

Just a NOTE for 222 Chestnut Street aka Mount Olympus.  Norristown has twice as many students as Pottstown but only has one more elementary school.  Plus NASD covers Norristown Borough along with East and West Norriton Townships, so their district is far more spread out.

The elephant in the room – why does “Responsible Tom” feel we need to have five elementary schools in Pottstown when THREE would be sufficient???  Yet the plaid one has the chutzpah to wag his glossy finger at others and call them “big spenders” while advocating keeping two schools open that we do not need and cannot afford.  And please do not forget Mr. Hylton’s push to put in pretty windows and geothermal heating on top of keeping five elementary schools open.

Norristown Borough Adopts $25.5 Million Dollar Budget With 12.74% Tax Increase

Location of Norristown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Norristown Borough Council unanimously adopted their 2011 budget tonight that features a tax increase of 12.74%.   No layoff’s were announced.

Interestingly enough, Norristown’s budget is approximately $14 million dollars less than Pottstown’s budget.  Wonder why it costs so much less to run a larger borough??????

Why I Voted No For A 3.1% Tax Increase For Pottstown Borough! By Sixth Ward Councilor Jody Rhoads

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Image via Wikipedia

Councilor Rhoads cast the only NO vote at last night’s Pottstown Borough Council meeting for a 3.1% tax increase.  Councilor Rhoads had previously stated he would not vote for any tax increase for Pottstown. 

Evan Brandt and I were handed a list of reasons why Councilor Rhoads chose to cast a NO vote.  Here is the complete list of why Jody voted NO:

Ask the person who just lost his job.

Ask the person who can’t find work.

Ask the person who had his pay cut.

Ask the person who had his hours cut.

Ask the person who is on a fixed income.

Ask the person who cannot pay his bills.

Ask the person who lost his house to Sheriff Sale.

Ask the person who lost his health insurance.

Ask the person who is in financial trouble due to severe health issues.

Ask the person who is just plain struggling.

 ————————————————————————————————————–

Councilor Rhoads is a friend of the working class citizen.  He is not a politician.  He fights for the rights of all Pottstown residents.  That is the platform he campaigned on and that is what he has done while in office.  Fight when you’re right.

Pottstown’s 2011 Budget

Not that we can jump for joy just yet, but it sounds like better days are ahead on Pottstown’s financial front.  Barring any unforseen hiccups, or any contract arbitrations that run awry, we could be looking at no tax increase for next year.

First, we should thank Jason Bobst, Borough Manager, Janice Lee, Finance Director and Councilor Weand and his Finance Committee for their hard work and financial stewardship.  Everyone is working hard trying to get Pottstown’s financial house in order.  This is a rather daunting task as things have not been property attended in the past thereby making this a herculean task for the above named people.

I ran into Councilor Weand at the polls yesterday and we had a nice conversation about finances.  

Accounting is boring and most of us don’t understand much about it.  It isn’t an exciting topic of conversation and most people end up in “deer in the headlights” mode if discussed for too long. 

Our financial practices as a borough were a hideous.  Dan and his committee are trying to shore up the foundation so our house doesn’t collapse.  This is also necessary if we want to get grants and funding for projects.  Nobody wants to throw money at an organization that can’t keep track of their books!

The work accomplished this year has been tedious and rather complicated.  However, we are starting to see results that you and I can appreciate and understand.  We have a handle on the check book, we can pay our bills, we are returning Pottstown to standard accounting practices that will make our finances transparent, understandable and make us eligible for grants and such as we have a paper trail aka back-up documentation to prove what we say.  You may have noticed that lenders usually don’t just take your word for stuff.  They want proof!  Same way with municipalities folks!

Bottom line – Because of all this behind-the-scenes work, we might not have to increase taxes and maybe we can get some free money to do some awesome projects to help Pottstown become all it can be!

Keep in mind that Rome, or Pottstown for that matter, wasn’t built in a day.  This is an ongoing process.  There is more progress to be made and no one is resting on their laurels.  Keep up the good work!  We look forward to more positive results.

Lehigh County Trims “Fat” From 2011 Budget

Seal of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania

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It is never too early to start thinking about next year’s budget.  Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham made an announcement yesterday that 50 positions will be eliminated from the county payroll in 2011.  The good news is 41 of these positions are currently vacant which leaves 9 people to be furloughed next year.  A tax increase is still possible at this time, however they working on keeping that from becoming a reality.

Lehigh County’s current employment levels are below 1990.  If you are keeping track of demographics, the county population has grown since then but they are doing more with less.  With the reductions that are planned for 2011, the total number of county employees with be 2.122 or 3.5% less than 1990.  The population of Lehigh County in 1990 was 291,000.  The current 2009 estimate put the population at 343,000.  A sizeable increase with less staff. 

They are working smarter, with less staff, up in the Lehigh Valley.

Spring-Ford Area SD Passes Their Budget

The Spring-Ford Area School District passed their $125.5 million dollar 2010-2011 budget, but not without some pain.  Taxes in the district will increase 2% and 5 employees have lost their jobs.  The budget was approved 7-1 by the Board of Education.

This scenario is certainly not as bad as some places I have reported on, however, even a growing and fairly well-off district like Spring-Ford is having to make tough financial decisions.

The Spring-Ford Area School District has over 7500 students, 12 schools and employs over 1,000 people.  The district is the second largest in Montgomery County after North Penn (Lansdale).

Bethlehem Area School District Proposed Budget To Slash Teaching Positions And Raise Taxes

Our neighbor to the north is having a great deal of difficulty balancing their school district budget too!

Bethlehem Area School District, which has 15,000+ students is proposing a $207 million dollar budget which slashes 6 administrators, 35 teaching positions and raises taxes 6.1%.  This comes one short year after the district got off the state’s academically troubled list!

Last year the district slashed 45 positions and raised taxes 5.1%.  Debt accounts for 30% of their budget!  In November the district’s credit rating was downgraded.

Things are tough all over folks!

Camp Hill School District Budget Woes

Pottstown isn’t the only school district in Pennsylvania with serious budget problems.  Camp Hill, PA (suburban Harrisburg) is facing a possible 9.5% tax increase for the 2010-2011 school year.  According to business manager Christine Hakes, there is little room for cost cutting.  The budget reflects a 5.1% spending increase.

Like Pottstown SD, Camp Hill SD includes only Camp Hill Borough. The borough of Camp Hill has 7636 residents (2000 census) and the school district has 1150 students (per the district website).  The district covers 2 square miles.  The geographic area and student population is about 1/3 the size of PSD.

Camp Hill is a more affluent community with a median household income of $50,744 vs. Pottstown’s media household income is $35,785 per Wikipedia.  

Over 90% of Camp Hill High School graduates pursue higher education and most residents are college educated according to the school district website.

Things are tough all over, even in communities with better demographics!

Hylton’s Crash And Burn At School Board Meeting

Pottstown School Board Meeting

March 18, 2010

7:30 pm

Pottstown Middle School

Large Group Instruction Room

2nd Floor

I am going to try and streamline this report. 

The Meeting was called to order.

Matthew Moyer, Principal of Rupert Elementary School did a very nice Power Point presentation, set to music, of events at Rupert for the 2009/2010 school year.  One child from each grade, K – 5, read a paper they had written and received an award.  There was much applause! 

District Solicitor Kalis gave his interpretation of the Sunshine Law and then stated that the Neighborhood Schools Committee members did give the appearance and created a public perception of impropriety.  He also stated that in the future these types of meetings should not take place. 

A letter was then read from a retired borough resident in support of Mr. Hylton’s plan to made capital improvements to all 5 elementary schools and move the 5th grade into the middle school.

Rick Huss, Board President then came to the microphone and addressed the board and patrons aka taxpayers.  He stated that his vision for a way forward is to create a task force of board members, administrators, teachers, federation members, taxpayers and business people.  This task force would take the next several years to hammer out a plan and then start construction in 2 – 3 years.  Mr. Huss asked Mr. Hylton to pull his motion off the table and also asked Mrs. Weand to take her motion off the table in light of forming a task force.  Mrs. Weand agreed but Mr. Hylton was not at all agreeable to pull his motion off the table.  Mr. Hylton stated he wished Mr. Huss would have notified him prior to the meeting.  Mr. Huss replied he didn’t make up his mind until the meeting started.  The room was FULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  That probably helped some!  That and the Code Blue protest in front of his house yesterday.

Nat White, Chairman of the Policy Committee stressed that remarks from patrons be kept to 3 minutes, be civil, respectful and not be repetitive.  Comments were to be addressed to the President, Mr. Huss, only.

Mrs. Zahora asked about the Superintendent Search.  Mr. Krem has not officially resigned but it is common knowledge he is leaving Pottstown over the summer.  An Executive session was going to be held to discuss that per Mr. Huss.

Mr. Thees asked if a newer boiler was taken from the administration building and placed in Franklin School.  The answer was yes.  Franklin has two boilers; one came from the administration building.

Maureen Allen, Second Ward Councilor, addressed the board stating no schools should be closed.  Barth School was particularly mentioned and she presented an email from someone to Mr. Huss.  I was confused exactly what that was all about. 

Mr. Morgan gave a brief talk about the pension crisis that will impact all school districts in Pennsylvania.  The contributions for teacher pensions by PSD will go from $500,000.00 a year to $3.3 million a year in five years.  The cost per year for homeowners will go from $54.00 per household to $358.90 per household in five years.  OUCH! 

Mr. Marable wanted to know who will be on the task force and would it be a committee within a committee.  Mr. Huss has a person in mind to head the committee who has no association with PSD. (Good idea).  Mr. Marable also had comments about 5th graders in the Middle School and closing the administration building. 

David Krem gave his Superintendent’s report.

The main event of the night was as follows:

Mr. Hartman explained the Reynold’s contract.  Do we want to spend $20,000 to have a local King of Prussia firm do an efficiency study on the district and show ways to save money?  This includes behavior modification (turning off lights etc….) as well as other efficiency suggestions that could be implemented as policy for the district.  After some questions and discussion the motion carried that the district will spend the money. 

Next Mr. Hylton made one last plea for us to adopt his big-ticket recommendation to upgrade all five elementary schools, move the 5th grade into the middle school and move the administration functions into the high school and close the annex.  Mr. Hylton skillfully maneuvered through why certain people were no longer on the school board, how he was doing what the people voted him in to do and also managed to slam Code Blue as well.  Those pesky Code Blue hate mongers were blamed for everything (wink). 

Mr. Hartman basically stated that Crabtree, Rohrbaugh gave us what we asked for.  We didn’t actually listen to their suggestions about the elementary schools.  Hartman asked that we put a hold on Hylton’s big-ticket plan because of the economy and the district’s financial situation while we wait to see if the economy improves.  This task force gives us two years planning time to get ready to move forward when it is more economically feasible.  The 15 year repayment period is too short.  It should be 30 years so we can have payment terms that are affordable to the district.  We also have $28 million dollars available to use that we were previously approved for so this stimulus money doesn’t really make sense.

Board member, Valerie Harris stood by her man Hylton and stated that the cost this plan was only $108.00 a year per taxpayer.  However, that is $108.00 per year for every $80,000 dollars worth of property value.

Mr. Morgan presented a plan he came up with as another option for a way forward.    He also was happy with the task force idea.  Morgan stated geothermal is a luxury we can’t afford at this time. 

Jeff Leflar of Code Blue talked about the fiscal folly of this catastrophic plan and that we need to focus on education that we can afford.  He brought up the point that once we present this plan for the stimulus loan we can’t go back and change the plan after it is approved.  He stated he is not anti-Hylton, but he is Pro-Pottstown.

Ed (didn’t catch a last name) stood up and said he sends his children to parochial school because he didn’t want his kids to go to Franklin because of the modulars.  He is an educator.  He wants to see the district take action and move forward.

Tamara Chomnuk stated that the neighborhood schools aren’t bringing families into Pottstown.  Instead they are locating in suburban areas with perceived better schools and perceived safer environments.  She advocated working with the new partnership being created from the ULI Study.  We need to wait before making any decision to spend a lot of money at this time. 

Phil Thees is concerned about the uncovering of asbestos during construction, safety issues in general and doesn’t want money from the bankrupt federal government.

Newstell Marable commended the board and administration for providing PSD students with an excellent education.  He cautioned being in a rush to apply for this money.  It will around after April 1st.

Amy Francis cleared the air about Code Blue after Mr. Hylton’s attacks earlier in the meeting and in the Pottstown Mercury in the form of a paid advertisement where he went as far as to name names of people who disagree with him and called them cyber-bullies and hate mongers.  Amy is looking at the ULI Study and the new partnership being formed as a way forward and the school district needs to be part of that partnership.  She commended Mr. Huss for forming a task force.

Judyth Zahora stated that her children had a great education at Franklin School and that the gentleman who put his children in parochial school should put his kids in Franklin.  She said that bricks and mortar are not more important than education.  Mr. Hylton’s proposal only addressed bricks and mortar.

There were other people who talked as well but you get the idea.

So after much talking the roll call vote was taken to move Mr. Hylton’s proposal forward.  A yes vote would have advanced the Neighborhood Schools Committee recommendation.

Hartman  – no, Huss – no, Hylton – yes, Pargeon – no, Wausnock – yes, Weand – no, White – yes, Wilson – no, Harris – yes. 

Neighborhood Schools Committee recommendation is DOA 5 – 4!

Mrs. Weand made a motion to allow the patrons to speak at both the committee of the whole and the regular voting meeting.  There was discussion between board members and patrons were allowed to speak.  A roll call vote was taken:

Hylton – no, Pargeon – yes, Wausnock – no, Weand – yes, White – no, Wilson – yes, Harris – yes, Hartman – yes, Huss, yes.

Taxpayers will be allowed to speak at both meetings each month!

Mrs. Weand made a motion that the Neighborhood Schools Committee should become a data collection only sub-committee and supply that information to the Facilities Committee who will present information to the full board.  Facilities is chaired by Robert Hartman. There was a motion to table.  A roll call vote was taken.  A yes vote would have tabled the motion to make NSC a sub-committee, and a no would clear the way. 

Harris – yes, Hartman – no, Huss – no, Hylton – yes, Pargeon – no, Wausnock – yes, Weand – no, White – yes, Wilson – no.

Motion not tabled – More discussion ensued.

A roll call vote was taken to pass the motion. 

Hartman – yes, Huss – yes, Hylton – no, Pargeon – yes, Wausnock – no, Weand – yes, White – no, Wilson – yes, Harris – no.

The Neighborhood Schools Committee is now a sub-committee that will report in a data collection function only to the Facilities Committee.

Board members and administrators gave final comments except Mr. Hylton. 

Meeting was adjourned at 10:05! (Mr. Wausnock was walking out the door before the meeting was actually adjourned looking grumpy).

Mrs. Weand had a great night!  Mr. Hylton, not so good.  Mr. Huss played his cards right.  The meeting was a great success, very productive, cordial and the ground work was laid to move forward.  It’s very late and I am very tired.