Gina Mazzulla

Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Candidate Question #3: Funding Township Infrastructure Improvements

List of candidates running for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors – voters will select one district supervisor from the East, one district supervisor from the West and two At-Large supervisors. See Question #3 and the candidate responses below.

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1st DISTRICT (EAST) CANDIDATES
Julie Gosse (D)
Raffi Terzian (R)

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE CANDIDATES
Mark Freed (D)
Sharon Humble (D)
Gina Mazzulla (R)
Liz Mercogliano (R)

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3rd DISTRICT (WEST) CANDIDATES
K. S. Bhaskar (D)
Peter DiLullo (R)

___________________________________________________________

  1. Tredyffrin Township has a substantial fund balance yet the infrastructure is deteriorating. How do you propose balancing compensation-driven cost pressure and the need to deliver infrastructure improvements while avoiding or limiting a tax increase?

 K. S. Bhaskar Response:

“Compensation-driven cost pressure” is presumably a euphemism for salaries and benefits for township employees. While we need not be overly generous, if we want our employees to put their best foot forward for the township every day, we need to compensate them appropriately and competitively for our part of the country. As the township also needs rainy-day reserves to deal with emergencies as well as fund capital projects, not all fund balances are available to be tapped for needed infrastructure maintenance resulting from kicking the can down the road for years in the name of low taxes. There comes a time to pay the Piper. While some cost increase is inevitable, I will use an impact-cost-risk analysis to prioritize projects and mitigate and manage costs. There is no magic, and these are techniques I have routinely used in managing a product business at a global Fortune 500 company.

Peter DiLullo Response:

Aging infrastructure is a topic that cannot be ignored.  Assisted by 3rd party engineering reports, projects need to be budgeted, planned and prioritized in an effort to avoid tax increases.  Furthermore, state and federal grant programs need to be researched as a funding source.

Mark Freed Response:

The Township does have a substantial fund balance.  I commend prior Boards for leaving the Township on a sound financial footing.  However, this has come at the cost of significant deferred maintenance on such things as bridges, parks and other Township property.  To address these much-needed repairs without resorting to depleting the reserves or excessive tax increases, the Township has proposed to prudently use reserves along with the issuance of historically low interest bonds.  As we move forward, we must continue to insure that the Township’s expenses are in line with its revenues.  This requires assuring that we properly prioritize needed work and other expenses.  Although excess reserves can be used to help pay for infrastructure, we must assure that they do not become so depleted that they are not available for their intended purposes: downturns in revenue and unanticipated expenses.

Julie Gosse Response:

We can no longer shy away from the critical maintenance of our infrastructure or minimize fixes on our major problems. Our fund balance is strong. We can use a portion of this in a fiscally responsible bond strategy to help meet today’s infrastructure challenges while retaining sufficient reserves to meet our future contingencies. With interest rates at record lows, now is a good time for us to issue bonds to raise money to meet our capital needs. Using this approach gives us an opportunity to fund our long-overdue infrastructure projects – bridges, deteriorating stormwater infrastructure, deferred park and building upgrades – without a significant impact on taxes.

Sharon Humble Response:

Costs for Township personnel compensation are unlikely to go down as Township personnel gain experience, expertise, and tenure with the Township. Personnel costs are typically paid from anticipated revenue as part of any government annual budget. They’re not paid from reserves or special funds created from special taxes or fees. In my opinion, capital improvements in the township should be funded from a bond issue or special funds created to address the particular infrastructure issues.

Gina Mazzulla Response:

The most honest answer I can give is “I don’t know”. I don’t know details of the mandated or contractual obligations of the township (like police pension funding, employee benefits, etc.), I don’t know the scope of needed infrastructure improvements, nor do I know the details of the township’s investment strategy or reserves allocation to make a sound proposal.

I would ask questions like, Can we pool with other municipalities to get better health care rates? Can we increase the employee share of premium costs? Can we renegotiate the terms of (new hire) police contracts away from defined benefit pensions to a 401K model? What are the risks and opportunity costs if we don’t fix infrastructure now? What are the potential consequences of waiting? Do we have the necessary expertise and broad community input to make these decisions?

What I do know is I will make decisions that prioritize resident safety, security and well-being.

Liz Mercogliano Response:

First, the Tredyffrin infrastructure updates are done with the cooperation of Chester County, Pennsylvania, local businesses, local developers and PECO. For example, Chester County does help fund our Mill Road bridges. I suggest infrastructure should be funded by bonds and the capitol project funds. The fund balance should be the last resort. The fact is no one likes tax increases. And no one wants services cut back. However, a minimal tax increase to beautify and renew may be necessary to replace roads and bridges for public safety. As a former School Board Director, I know that once the fund balance is spent down, it is very difficult to replace. The Supervisors should seek professional outside advice to strategize the various ways to fund infrastructure. I also suggest a citizen advisory board.

Raffi Terzian Response:

Addressing gaps in infrastructure should be a key priority for the Board of Supervisors but must be balanced with fiscal responsibility. The fund balance is a by-product of sound fiscal management and has allowed our township to maintain a strong bond rating. Rational and prudent spending must be preserved. It is important to establish priorities for infrastructure improvements in consultation with the township manager, engineer and others in the context of a broader comprehensive plan for the Township. In terms of infrastructure, the issue of stormwater management and development of a strategic plan should be a top priority as it continues to be a significant concern to our community. The recent establishment of the Stormwater Citizen’s Advisory Task Force is a step in the right direction, as it will leverage the collective expertise and guidance of members of our community who recognize this issue as complex and multifaceted.

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Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Candidate Question #2: How to Fund Fire & Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

List of candidates running for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors – voters will select one district supervisor from the East, one district supervisor from the West and two At-Large supervisors. See Question #2 and the candidate responses below.

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1st DISTRICT (EAST) CANDIDATES
Julie Gosse (D)
Raffi Terzian (R)

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE CANDIDATES
Mark Freed (D)
Sharon Humble (D)
Gina Mazzulla (R)
Liz Mercogliano (R)

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3rd DISTRICT (WEST) CANDIDATES
K. S. Bhaskar (D)
Peter DiLullo (R)
____________________________________________________________

2. The Fire Companies that serve our township are facing declining financial reserves, increasing expenses and staffing shortfalls which directly impact its ability to provide essential fire, rescue and emergency medical services to the community. As a supervisor, how would you improve the situation for our volunteer fire companies – please be specific.

K. S. Bhaskar Response:
As firefighting and emergency medical services are complex jobs requiring substantial training, career professionals are necessarily a significant part of our first responder force, like our police. In my discussions with voters, I find that many are not aware that fire companies are separate 501(c)(3) entities that raise funds from individuals as well as from the township. Most individuals are unaware that the donations they make – if they make any – are wholly inadequate. I would start by better educating our voters, to help decide what long term solution(s) might work. Our fire companies and township will be key participants in the process. For example, should we stay with the current model, or should we bring emergency services under the purview of the township? If voters pay more for more professional emergency services, will they also seek the increased accountability that goes with increased cost?

Peter DiLullo Response:
The safety of our township residents is paramount and our local fire companies need to be supported in order to provide the response times and service that we expect in Tredyffrin. These companies face headwinds including an aging population, dwindling volunteer base, several new assisted living facilities, and escalating equipment cost. The Board of Supervisors needs to be transparent with residents on the issue and provide the support necessary to keep our residents safe.

Mark Freed Response:
As supervisors we need to assure that we have fire companies that can properly serve our residents, and that the fire companies have the funding and other resources they need to do so. Since I joined the Board in 2014, Township combined cash contributions to Berwyn Fire Company and Paoli Fire Company have increased more than 70%. Most recently, as a member of the Tredyffrin and Easttown Joint Emergency Services Plan Committee, I supported funding Berwyn Fire Company’s new Old Forge Crossing substation to help improve the fire company’s response times in Chesterbrook, Glenhardie and other surrounding areas. I am also supporting the funding of Paoli Fire Company’s new Advanced Life Support (ALS) services. We must continue to help our fire companies obtain sustainable funding sources and create incentives to increase its volunteers, by working with state, county and other municipal governments, as well as the fire companies themselves.

Julie Gosse Response:
I propose taking a two-pronged approach to improving our fire and emergency services: (1) align funding with utilization and a changing volunteer/career professional makeup and (2) improve our fire infrastructure to reflect our current population and service needs. First, the utilization and staffing of volunteer fire companies continue to shift. We, as a township, need to keep pace. To this end, I have collected data from our fire companies and have started building and refining objective models for prudent township funding, with the goal of providing sustainable support that our fire companies can count on. Second, our current fire/EMS infrastructure does not optimally serve our residents. Fire stations were built on the Rt. 30 corridor based on the population decades ago, which has changed dramatically with Chesterbrook and other developments. I will work with our fire companies to develop a strategic plan to rethink our fire/EMS infrastructure.

Sharon Humble Response:
The PA Auditor General’s recent release to Tredyffrin volunteer fire companies of a large amount of funding from a 2% tax on fire insurance premiums was a good start for improving our VFRAs’ standing. Ambulance billing accounts for approximately 37% of Berwyn Fire Co’s income sources, yet many of these receivables are never paid by the service beneficiaries. Tredyffrin’s Fire Companies should contract with reputable collections attorneys who work on a contingency basis to collect these unpaid receivables. Tredyffrin should work with State legislators to require insurance companies to pay, directly to the Fire Companies, the fees for responding ambulance service when they treat a patient at the scene, including in cases in which the patient declines transport to a hospital. Township contributions to its Fire Companies should be increased, and I’d seek greater corporate sponsorship, including “naming rights” on fire trucks.

Gina Mazzulla Response:
As a former EMT and current business member of the Berwyn Fire Company, and having served on the VRA board at GFAC (West Chester), I see first-hand the changing reality from (unpaid) volunteer service to a (paid) professional services business, akin to the police department.

I am not suggesting that fire companies become “employees” of the township but I am suggesting that they are funded in a similar manner with fire company leadership involved in the budgeting process to the same degree as other department heads. If existing dollars cannot be “found”, I am not opposed to implementing a specific and reasonable fee to ensure for long-term provision of capital equipment, life-saving technologies, and skilled paramedic professionals to serve our community.

One reason for a decline in the number of volunteers is the cost of living in Tredyffrin, forcing many who grew up in the fire service to move away for more affordable housing. I propose a township “tax relief” benefit for verified volunteer fire and EMS personnel as a measure of support to encourage increased and sustained volunteerism.

Liz Mercogliano Response:
The solution for fire and rescue lies in the consolidation of resources and an optional flat fee for fire and rescue included in the township tax bill. There should be an exception for hardship. The consolidation and merger of some services can be approved through the Board of Trustees for Paoli, Radnor and Berwyn Fire and the local townships.

Since the PA State law mandates the emergency services, it is not an option to NOT fund fire and rescue. And, since there is a larger population and an aging population the services are needed. As per best practices, the annual budget review can track revenue sources and deficits and point to trends. Here are several revenue sources that help but do not close the gap:
• The Pennsylvania State Firefighter Insurance fund
• Fundraisers
• Emergency medical service billing for ambulance services
• Community donations

These sources are just not enough to prevent deficits and a possibility of closing a single fire company. I vote for more State funding by earmarking specific need, grants and a flat fee.

Raffi Terzian Response:
We are so fortunate to have such a dedicated group of volunteers and career Fire and EMS personnel who serve our community. Public safety should be a top priority and the services provided by the Radnor, Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies must be viewed as an essential service by our community and the Board of Supervisors. In the short-term, budget planning must include a focus on funding this essential service. In addition, a plan must be established to ensure the solvency of these organizations in the long-term.

As a Board Certified Emergency Physician, I have first-hand experience working with EMS systems and providers directly. I am aware and have an understanding of the billing challenges that our fire companies face. The Board of Supervisors should lead the way in creating a comprehensive plan that better coordinates services and promotes dialogue and cooperation among our fire companies.

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Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Candidate Question #1: Zoning

Starting today for the next four days, is a daily question which was presented to the Tredyffrin Township supervisor candidates. All eight supervisor candidates responded and their responses will follow the question in alphabetical order according to last name. Here is the reminder of the candidates running for the Board of Supervisors – voters will select one district supervisor from the East, one district supervisor from the West and two At-Large supervisors.

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1st DISTRICT (EAST) CANDIDATES
Julie Gosse (D)
Raffi Terzian (R)

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE CANDIDATES
Mark Freed (D)
Sharon Humble (D)
Gina Mazzulla (R)
Liz Mercogliano (R)

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3rd DISTRICT (WEST) CANDIDATES
K. S. Bhaskar (D)
Peter DiLullo (R)

_________________________________________

Question #1:  If you could change one thing in the Tredyffrin Township zoning code or township ordinances, what would it be and why?

K. S. Bhaskar Response:

I would change the regulations to reduce the maximum permissible housing density. While multi-family residential structures like apartment buildings are appropriate, and we want Tredyffrin to be a welcoming community to one and all, excessive housing density adversely affects our quality of life in ways such as exacerbating traffic (which in turn adversely impacts the timeliness of emergency services) and adding to overcrowding in our schools. In our transition from villages to suburbs, change is inevitable. But change must be managed rather than allowed to run roughshod over us.

Peter DiLullo Response:

The first thing that comes to mind is that the Board of Supervisors should have final approval of any land development plans.  This responsibility should not be relegated to an appointed volunteer planning commission.

Mark Freed Response:

It is difficult to pick a single issue, as I am regularly considering changes to many provisions of the Township Code (e.g., sign requirements, assisted living facilities, development, stormwater, historic preservation).  If required to pick just one, I would choose stormwater.  We are in a period of sustained increased rainfall.  These events have exposed gaps in stormwater management throughout the Township and the region.  The solution to many of these problems are capital improvements, which the Township has and will continue to undertake.  However, the Township is also evaluating ways that the ordinance can be improved to address these issues.  This is why I supported the creation of a Citizens Stormwater Advisory Task Force to review the Township’s stormwater management requirements and to make recommendations on how to improve these requirements.

Julie Gosse Response:

The current zoning code is tilted toward growth over sustainability, and I am in favor of amending it to limit negative impact on our strained shared resources. A reasonable starting point is to address the construction of new assisted living facilities that would encroach on our residential neighborhoods. We can do this by: (1) removing assisted living facilities from C-1 zoning districts altogether or (2) only allowing them in specific C-1 areas (e.g., on a major arterial highway). In addition to changing the character of a neighborhood, assisted living facilities create increased call volume for our already-strained fire companies. Beyond adjusting our C-1 zoning, we could consider requiring conditional use approval for assisted living facilities, adding the additional step of review and approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Sharon Humble Response:

The first “thing” on my list for change is to revoke the Planning Commission’s final decision-making authority on development plans and requests for waivers and variances. On October 7, 2019, the Board of Supervisors authorized the Township Solicitor to review methods by which the Board of Supervisors may obtain final land development approval authority, which I fully support.

Tredyffrin has seen a surge of oversized development projects before the Planning Commission seeking waivers from the restrictions designed to protect the rest of us. Too often, the developers’ requests are granted, to the great detriment of the surrounding homeowners and the environment. Responsible development, however, fits within Township ordinances that exist to protect the Township’s infrastructure, property values, safety, and quality of life. Township residents are not willing to have their safety, quality of life, home property values, and regional environment stability sacrificed for the sake of a developer’s greater profit.

Gina Mazzulla Response:

I support efforts to return final approval authority for land development concerns to the Board of Supervisors. Zoning and land development concerns, I believe, have the broadest and deepest impact across the spectrum of services the township is responsible for, including emergency services, roads and traffic, stormwater, open space and population density, and of course, taxes – affecting both resident stakeholders and the physical infrastructure of the township.

As a Supervisor my duty is to represent the interests of, be a voice for, and be accountable to the residents and voters I serve, balanced with due consideration for the interests of the township as a whole entity.  Recognizing the complexities and legalities of zoning and land development, I also support mandatory education for Supervisors, Planning Commission and Zoning Officer and Hearing Board through programs such as the Chester County Planning Commission’s Master Planning Program for (new) municipal officials.

Liz Mercogliano Response:

The most important zoning ordinance update should be in the area of the planning and development including storm water management. The Supervisors should take back the final decision role in the final approvals of building plans.  The Supervisors are elected and must respond to the constituents. Currently, the township allows the planning commission, (a group of Supervisor appointed volunteers), the privilege of the final decisions on the development plans. I suggest the Supervisors take back the final approval. In addition, the supervisors should give the residents in the immediate community a stronger voice.

Our citizens should not have to attend Supervisor meetings begging for help. Our taxpayers should not have to scream, beg or read dissertations for the Supervisors to acknowledge their views. I plan to listen and help in any way I can in a polite civil manner. A simple response of thank you, I am glad you came to our meeting would suffice.

Raffi Terzian Response:

I am honored to serve as a Board member of the Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust whose mission is to preserve and protect historic and cultural resources in our Township. The Board of Supervisors must enact a historic ordinance which is meaningful and which firmly recognizes the importance of these resources for the benefit of our community and ensures their preservation for future generations. Progress is being made with the creation of a draft ordinance, which is winding its way through the approval process, but this process must advance swiftly and with transparency. The recent controversy over the installation of a digital billboard, which many of us oppose, illustrates the need for open dialogue, community engagement and greater visibility in the creation, review and application of our Township ordinances.

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