Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Updates from Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors Meeting Last Night

Summer Board of Supervisors Meetings are traditionally sparsely attended and last night’s meeting was no exception. In fact, Chairman Bob Lamina was absent and Vice Chairman Paul Olson presided.

From my standpoint, there were 3 noteworthy discussion topics from last night’s supervisors meeting. The first I mention for selfish reasons . . . I am a member of the township’s HARB (Historic Architectural Review Board) and each year we select a residential and non-residential property in the township to honor for historic preservation. The HARB award for residential historic preservation was awarded to Margie and John Sacharok, owners of Upper Stream Farm in Berwyn. This beautiful circa 1760 home was featured on last year’s 5th Annual Historic House Tour and has been wonderfully restored. The award for non-residential historic preservation was awarded to Montessori Children’s House of Valley Forge. Montessori Children’s House created a partnership with Valley Forge National Historical Park and the school’s new home is in the southern corner of the park on Thomas Road. Restoring a historic house and barn for the nonprofit school was a unique pairing and one of the few partnerships in a national park in the country. I gave a brief historic overview of each property and showed a PowerPoint presentation featuring the before and after journey of the new home of the Montessori school in Valley Forge park.

The second item of interest from the supervisors meeting had to do with the 2011 township budget. During the liaison reports, Phil Donahue updated on the Finance Committee. Supervisors Donahue, Paul Olson and John DiBuonaventuro sit on the Finance Committee along with the township finance director and township manager. In his committee update, Donohue suggested public meetings in September and October to discuss the revenues and expenses in the 2011 township budget. This type discussion would be useful prior to the formal township budget process in November. I applaud Donahue’s suggestion, however there was very little further discussion from the other supervisors. So I’m guessing the discussion of the planned public finance meetings now moves to the August Board of Supervisors meeting. I have a feeling there may be more to the 2011 budget discussion than we saw last night!

The third topic from last night and the one that generated the most discussion was in regards to the township building’s failing HVAC system. Public Works Director Steve Norcini asked the Board of Supervisors for an additional $111K (not contained in 2010 budget) to perform needed HVAC retrofitting. If I understand the discussion correctly, the 2010 budget contained $85K for the necessary work but an early estimate has determined that the total cost of retrofitting the HVAC is significantly higher than in the budget — approximately $193K (thus requiring the extra $111K).

There were many questions from Supervisors DiBuonaventuro, Kichline and Donahue concerning the HVAC issue including (1) why would the prospective HVAC contractors know the estimated cost of the project in advance of their bid, (2) why was the project estimate so substantially lower in the 2010 budget than the actual estimated cost; (3) why did the project require a complete retrofit rather than repair; (4) why were the 2 rooftop units installed 2 years ago if the controls and ducts were known to be failing, etc., etc.

Initially Olson made a motion and Kampf seconded to move the HVAC project move forward to bid, however after further discussion from the board and citizens, a new motion was made to table the discussion until the August Board of Supervisors meeting, allowing for further investigation. This topic must have been discussed for at least 30 minutes and afterward there remained many more questions than answers. It seems so curious to me that the HVAC retrofitting estimate in the 2010 budget would be less than half the estimated ‘real’ cost to do the project.

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  1. From Mike in Berwyn —

    No real big news. A brief Township financial review – the revenues continue to track ahead of budget, about +$500,000 so far in 2010. On the expense side, they continue to keep a tight rein on spending – if the revenue side holds up, they may incur some expenses that they have delayed, out of caution. Mr . Donahue later discussed a timetable for the budget discussion, including forums for public input.

    Also, the fire companies gave updates, their financial results are solid, and they were upbeat about their fundraising efforts.

    The discussion of HVAC repairs was lengthy and the questioning was revealing. Frankly, I thought JD’s questioning of Mr. Norcini had a disrespectful tone and in my opinion, he could use some work on his “bedside manner”.

    1. In what way did you find the HVAC questioning revealing Mike?

      It is amazing to me that out of all of the discussion on the HVAC issue at the meeting, that the only take away you felt obligated to post here was nothing more than to be critical of JD’s “bedside manner”…

      Did you miss how QUICKLY Warren and Paul were willing to approve this expenditure without any meaningful discussion, or that the 2010 budget apparently underestimated the repairs by more than 50% (>$100K), or that JD’s line of questioning (along with Donahue & Kichline) was completely appropriate and consistent with making sound fiscal decisions with taxpayer dollars – contrary to the actions of Warren and Paul moments earlier on this issue??

      “No double standard here”, right Mike?

  2. Mike said:

    Frankly, I thought JD’s questioning of Mr. Norcini had a disrespectful tone and in my opinion, he could use some work on his “bedside manner”.

    Your just ticked at JD because he told you not to shake your head no at him when you disagreed with him over matters that he knows much more than you. The fact is, JD questioned the propriety of appropriating $’s when the basis for that appropriation was not clear. In other words, JD was being the true guardian of taxpayer dollars. In an ironic twist, Warren had nothing to say. In fact, he seconded Paul Olson’s motion to appropriate the $’s in spite of the fact that the basis for the appropriations was less than clear. At the same time, Warren claims to be the taxpayer’s friend. Warren was acting anything but conservative last night.

    JD is an elected official, and is there to question the staff, that works for us. In other words, JD was doing his job.

    Just so I understand Mike, you are OK with decisions like St. Davids, with the broken rules, etc. You are however, not OK with JD when he questions the Director of Public Works over a request to seek another $100K+ (over 100% more than what was budgeted for the project in the first place).

    I think the polarity is reversed on your moral compass.

  3. I agree with Mike in Berwyn. its one thing to talk to the staff privately but I think JD was somewhat harsh with the public works guy in front of the public.

    1. Wow, you folks are amazing. You turn a blind eye to supervisors who violate their oath of office and come down hard on the guy who is actually doing right by the citizens.

  4. Mike,

    Funny how we interpret things differently. First off, I wouldn’t characterize JD’s questions to Steve Norcini re the HVAC repair as disrespectful. They were perhaps, a little casual in tone for a public meeting, but I assume it was based on the fact that the two are personally friendly. And of course,

    JD was properly concerned about the size of the requested increase from the 2010 budgeted amount.
    He was right to differentiate this one-of-a-kind bid process from the ones the township puts out yearly . Once the supervisors approve an additional $111,000 to add to the already budgeted $85,000 , all bidders would know how high they could make their bid and calculate how much lower they would have to go to beat out other bidders. Why make this information public at this point?

    The Board did the right thing last night in delaying any approval to seek bids until they gather more information.

    Re the fire company reports, you conveniently overlooked the most important item – the discussion of their members’ risk of injury when entering buildings that have never been inspected and contain hazardous materials. WE NEED A SAFETY INSPECTION PROCESS put in place in Tredyffrin.

    Also, the percentage of donations to the fire companies from residents and businesses is still pitifully low. Only ten percent of businesses have contributed. That is shameful! Maybe absentee building owners don’t care about our local fire companies and likewise many business owners don’t live in our community. But they still rely on the quality of service our fire cos. provide. There simply is no excuse for not contributing!

    Re Phil Donahue’s mention of an expanded budget process this year , I hope it comes to pass. He was pretty vague about just how the public’s input would be incorporated. And no formal budget hearings will take place until after November – 2nd…..Still, perhaps Phil and JD, as 2 of the 3 supervisors on the budget committee, will drive a more open process. I am hopeful.

    1. Thank you Kate for reminding me about the fire inspector needs and the urgent need to put a safety inspection process in place. On a regular basis, the volunteer firefighters are risking their lives – and last months explosion and fire certainly points to the need for safety inspections. As was pointed out last night, the result of that chemical fire could have been entirely different. Fortunately there were no injuries (or something worse). This safety inspection process should not be up for debate — and needs to be in place sooner rather than later!

      1. There was one person injured at the fire in Devon, an employee of the lab.

        I just want to make a point that often get’s missed when talking about code enforcement. A proper code enforcement department’s primary goal is NOT for the protection of the firefighters….

        …equipment like fire alarms, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, properly marked exit doors, sprinklers etc…have ONE primary purpose. They give the public early warning and a fighting chance to escape a home or building in the event of a fire or other emergency… before first responders even arrive.

        Even though my examples arguably have almost the same impact on property preservation and for the safety of firefighters…..NOTHING is more important than the safety of the men, women and children who live, work and travel through Tredyffrin Township.

  5. I’ll now have to watch this meeting — but I can only wonder why the facts were not in place before any motion was made. It’s good to know they are free to discuss, but the downside of having no committees (I think the school boards in the area have committee level meetings to drill down on the details) to deal with this means to me that they should have information to support any recommended action. If a supervisor sounds disrespectful, it may be that the “block of 4” are preventing a full and fair airing of issues – ?? Absent Lamina, guess this couldn’t get done….which may be while JD was making a move to make his objections to the process public??

  6. LOVE that moniker!

    Don’t put all of us in the same category, Giant Robot.

    I’m one of many who appreciates the hard work Mr. DiBuonaventuro has contributed to this community.

    From what I can tell, no one on the Board works harder.

    The guy has kept a close eye on township spending, reminded us how fortunate we are to have such dedicated police and fire/EMT services, worked to set up the non-profit Parks Board to help maintain our parks, spent over three years trying to move the Paoli Rail Yard project forward, and been a tireless advocate for the township on turnpike matters.

    1. I completely agree with Kate on her assessment of John DiBuonaventuro – and I am a Democrat! We are all fortunate to have someone who works so diligently on our behalf.

      I wish a few of the other Supervisors were as dedicated to doing what is in the best interests of ALL of the taxpayers in our township, instead of “playing” only to their base and/or posturing for their next election campaign.

  7. I think if the township employees want to get the AC fixed, they should have pancake breakfasts, raffles and stand on the corner with boots so people can throw change in it…

    Sound rediculous?

    That’s what we ask our Fire Companies do to pay for what they need.

    1. I think the bigger issues are:

      1 – After 15 years, why is such a massive retrofit required?
      2 – When they replaced the roof top units 2 years ago, why did they
      just do that when they knew the controls were shot. That’s like
      putting a formula 1 engine in a Yugo. You end up stressing the
      units, which cuts their life span down dramatically. You also end
      up spending MUCH more in electricity costs.

      I think whatever was done 2 years ago, was done on the cheap. I do think the township got a complete estimate. However, somebody in the township made the decision to get “something” done as cheaply as possible. That is a question for Ms. Gleason.

      You see folks, all of this “cost cutting” you have heard about may be quite illusory. One can argue capital budget vs operating expense budget. You cannot keep going to the bond well indefinitely. This HVAC issue is a symptom of a much bigger problem, and that problem is just how mis-managed the township is. I don’t know who said it before, but real thanks have to go to JD for speaking up on this. He pressed Mr. Norcini hard for answers that Mr. Norcini should have been able to answer. And shame on Messrs. Kampf and Olson for wanting to recklessly spend tax payer dollars when it is not entirely sure what exactly has to be done.

  8. Unfortunately it is the business of government to take the cheapest bid. Im not sure Tredyffrin is any different from any other government entity> How many of us would be screaming if the cheapest bona fide estimate wasn’t taken?

    Maybe fix what is absolutely necessary now (2 yrs ago) and deal with the rest when needed? (now)..

  9. I’ve always found Steve Norcini to be responsive and resourceful within the constraints of the major public works budget reduction over the past year. However, JD (and the other non-LOK supervisors [very interestingly!]) were right to request a better justification for the $195,000 capital request.

    Why is it that there are no parts available for the control board – 15 years seems very short for obsolescence? Why does the system need new ductwork and new air valves? What assurance can we get that this major reconfiguration will actually work? Are we depending on the same design engineers that were responsible for the failed system? Are there other options? Etc.

    I think the discussion about the budget appropriation took us a little off bit off track from these big picture issues. “Budget amounts” are standard modus operandi in the public sector and do not seem to govern the bid outcome. Look at the School District estimate ~$900K for the ESC demolition, for which bids came in at ~$400K.

    Hopefully there will be a thorough analysis and justification for the next BOS meeting.

  10. Ray I am interested in your saying 15 years is short for obsolescence? My home AC blew out after 14 years, TRANE, and I am told that is a reasonable life expectancy. Is a commercial system different?

    1. FF: I’m no expert, but I can understand more readily the need to replace mechanical parts like the roof units (as was done a couple of years ago), than control boards. I imagine that the BOS are not experts, either, so all the more reason for a thorough explanation and business justification.

  11. I am surprised that this request by Mr Norcini was a surprise to the board. I would have thunk that this would have been discussed prior to Mr Norcinis request?

  12. I was going to wait to comment again until I watched the replay, but it’s not available until this weekend.

    flyersfan and Ray raise excellent points relative to the HVAC discussion. First of all, this item was on the agenda, so we can assume the Supervisors knew it would be discussed, presumably by Mr. Norcini. Did they have supporting materials, like the “consultant’s” report on the project need and did they have an opportunity to have questions answered by Mr. Norcini beforehand? I don’t know, but the questioning had the tone that this matter was a surprise.

    Secondly, as Ray recounts, a major point of contention, between JD, Mr. Norcini, and Ms. Gleason was the bidding process. Like Ray, I have had a couple of interactions with Steve and found him to be extremely responsive and professional – a real asset to the Township. In his questioning, JD ask about the budget/billing process, which Steve and Mimi both answered patiently. Ray reminds us with a very recent example at the TESD, despite this same process, achieved a very satisfactory result. JD continued to press this point with Steve, as if to suggest that Mr. Norcini didn’t get it, to the point that I thought was disrespectful of Steve’s experience and expertise.

    As for the intricacies of the HVAC system, that’s beyond my limited sphere of competency, but there were a number of good questions by several of the Supervisors including JD and the decision to gather more information before a final decision makes sense. Here’s hoping the Township’s, and all of our, AC holds up!

  13. My Air conditioner from Kenmore is 18 years old, there are still replacement parts available via Sears!

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