Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Mimi Gleason

“A Job is Not a Life” … Mimi Gleason Resigns as Tredyffrin’s Township Manager

For those of us who attended last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, it went very late, until 11:30 PM. Now I have to wonder if the 4-hour marathon meeting had any bearing on this morning’s decision by our township manager.

Mimi Gleason has been Tredyffrin’s Township Manager for the last 7 years. Prior to becoming township manager in 2005, Mimi served under Joe Janasik as assistant Township Manager for 3 years. There was no indication at last night’s meeting of Mimi’s impending announcement this morning; and the news has taken many of us by surprise.

Rather than speculating on the reason behind Mimi’s decision to resign, I spoke at length with her this afternoon. She assured me that the decision to leave was completely her own rather than anyone pushing her in that direction. Mimi told the township supervisors and her staff this morning of her decision to resign; her last day will be September 17.

I asked Mimi why she was resigning – was it another job? No, she is not leaving Tredyffrin for another job. In fact, her explanation for the resignation was actually quite simple … “A job is not a life”. She went on to explain that she is uncertain about what she wants to do, but knows that she wants to do something different and to work less. Her plans after September 17 include taking a few months off from work, visiting friends around the country during the fall and her annual trip to Hawaii in January. Although Mimi does not view the decision to resign as some type of mid-life crisis, our conversation did turn philosophical as we discussed the importance of really ‘living’ life.

What has she enjoyed most about serving as our township manager? An easy question, she responded “… the people … the staff … the volunteers … the groups she works with”. I then asked what she liked least about the job and that proved another easy question. Her quick response, “night meetings!” Based on last night’s supervisors meeting that ran until 11:30 PM, I could not help but think that may have made her decision this morning a little bit easier.

Wondering if Mimi could be cajoled into extending that September 17 deadline, I asked her that question. No, her mind is made up. Remembering her words, “a job is not a life”, Ms. Gleason has some living she wants to do!

I know that you join me in wishing Mimi well; wherever this life’s journey takes her. We thank her for her ten years of service to the residents of this community and can take some solace in knowing that this was ultimately her decision, and no one else’s.

Understanding the Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance … More Complex than a Wawa or an Apartment Building

I attended Monday night’s marathon 3+ hour public hearing and Board of Supervisors meeting. The main event of the night was the public hearing and resident comments in regards to a zoning ordinance amendment that would develop a Trout Creek Overlay district. (Here is a link to the meeting video).

There was much to take in from the meeting and I have struggled to ‘wrap my head around’ the details of the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, affects the development project and storm water improvements may have on the community, misinformation and a degree of confusion among some residents. Part of the confusion about the project is in the labeling – although the township information refers to it as the ‘Trout Creek Overlay’ proposal, the problem is that unless you attend Planning Commission meetings, local residents may not have initially recognized it was the ‘Richter’ tract and its possible development was discussion.

The Richter tract is 36 acres located at Swedesford, Old Eagle School and Walker Roads in the Glenhardie/Wayne area of the township. Currently, twenty-six acres of the property is zoned R-1 residential district and the remaining ten acres is zoned ‘professional’ district. R-1 zoning permits single-family homes and with special exception house conversion to multi-family dwelling. The Professional zoning district permits office or professional buildings.

The proposed zoning ordinance amendment to develop an overlay district in the Trout Creek Watershed is more than just about the development of the Richter tract; although the Richter tract is the largest undeveloped property in the Trout Creek Watershed. As the economy improves, there may be opportunities for future redevelopment projects in the township. Therefore, this proposed zoning ordinance amendment change could be used elsewhere in the Trout Creek Overlay district as an incentive for developers.

As an example, we recently learned that the US Postal Service will consolidate postal services and the Southeastern PO distribution center will close in May. The Southeastern PO location could become a future redevelopment area that might benefit from the proposed zoning amendment. Click here to see the Trout Creek Watershed map and what areas would be potentially affected by the proposed zoning ordinance.

The reasoning behind the creation of a Trout Creek Overlay district is to provide for public stormwater improvements on development projects in the Trout Creek Watershed district. (Area as identified on the Trout Creek Watershed map).

Back to the Richter property — this appears to be the guiding force behind the proposed zoning ordinance amendment. The way I see it, there are four major groups of players in this specific development project – the developer Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company, the Glenhardie area residents, township Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Anyone living in Tredyffrin, knows that there are major stormwater issues all around the township and those problems are long-standing. In addition, the township has been working on solutions to the flooding problems in the Glenhardie area for years. The challenge for the township is that a number of large properties are needed for stormwater management facilities that would hold back runoff during heavy rain, thereby reducing the volume of water downstream into Trout Creek. However, the real problem is how to come up with long-term solutions, particularly in an economy where money is not easily available.

If the township does not have the necessary resources for stormwater management, and if the residents are not interested in paying increased taxes … what is the solution for stormwater problems? One idea is to offer incentives to developers in exchange for increased stormwater management components in their land development projects. I believe it was that specific objective, which drove the Planning Commissioners to create the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment. To be clear, I do not think that the proposed zoning amendment was some kind of quixotic effort on the part of the Planning Commissioners to encourage a specific development project. But rather the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment was a time-consuming, thoroughly discussed plan to encourage development but to also aid in stormwater management.

As an aside to the Planning Commission process to develop the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment, is the Richter property developer – Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company. Attending various Planning Commission meetings, I have found Duckworth to be very community-minded and responsive to all questions and concerns related to the development of the Richter tract. However, those discussions were about carriage homes and/or townhouses on the residential parcel of the Richter property.

In reviewing their website, Arcadia Land Company has developed some beautiful residential properties – places that would be very well suited for Tredyffrin Township and our residents. Arcadia Land describes their company as “Town Builders and Land Stewards”, and further states, “Arcadia’s approach to town building has been influenced by the New Urbanism and the conservation development movement. New Urbanism is a movement that promotes compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods as a positive alternative to low-density, automobile-oriented, single-use development. New Urbanism supports both the revitalization and expansion of existing centers as well as the creation of new neighborhoods.”

Obviously, this wonderfully progressive planning language also needs to be tempered by local community and the resident’s needs (or desires). My sense is that many of the local Richter property residents could accept (maybe even embrace) a beautiful carriage house/townhouse community. What a great option for residents who want to downsize from large homes but continue to live in Tredyffrin! Moreover, according to Duckworth, this project would include a costly and involved stormwater plan that would contain a 6-8 acre stormwater basin. It should be noted that the stormwater issues in Tredyffrin are dramatic and it would be an overstatement to suggest that the Richter tract development would completely ‘fix’ the Trout Creek stormwater issues. But an improvement, nonetheless.

However, enter the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment change, and the beautiful carriage house/townhouse community concept planned for the Richter tract takes a back seat to the possible commercial use of the ten acres currently zoned ‘professional’. The proposed zoning change would extend the usage of this parcel to include retail stores with accessory gas (Wawa) and apartment buildings, among others.

Herein lies the problem – many of us have a vision of a huge Wawa facility, like is found on Rt. 29 in Malvern. However, the Wawa site was built in a field next to Route 202 versus a residential location. As was pointed out at Monday’s meeting, these multi-function gas stations are the real estate model for Wawa. Rationalizing that perhaps Wawa would consider some small residential-friendly gas station instead of a commercial giant, I was willing to wait for the project design. But when I heard there was discussion of possibly building a 250-unit apartment complex on the 10-acre site, there was no way that I could support that concept. For one reason, our school district simply cannot bear the number of additional students such a project could represent. In a letter presented to the Board of Supervisors on Monday night from the T/E school district, they said just that – they could not afford to have the additional students in the district from a large apartment complex.

The stretch of Old Eagle School Road between Swedesford and Walker Rds is short but significant — home to Valley Friends Meeting and their cemetery. Lewis Walker, one of the earliest settlers in Tredyffrin, and one of the founding members of this Meeting, left to Friends in the Valley the 18th century property on which his family burial ground was located, now the burial grounds of Valley Meeting. Several members of Valley Friends Meeting attended the public hearing and presented a poignant history of the building and the cemetery. The Valley Friends Meeting presents another reason for us to pause as we consider appropriate development for that area.

Whether the proposed development for the 10-acre corner site is a Wawa or an apartment building, the concern from the Glenhardie neighbors goes beyond a NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude. Their concerns about additional traffic in the area are real. Then there is the issue about stormwater management – is the neighborhood helped more from an 8-acre stormwater basin or hurt more from the development of the property? Some local residents suggest that as the Swedesford Road corridor between Gateway and the new Wegmans has developed, so has the stormwater problems.

I would ask for some kind of middle ground on this project – understanding that the Richter tract is a premier building site and that the owners of the property have rights, should we not also show consideration for the Glenhardie neighbors, Valley Friends Meeting and what is best for the entire community, including the school district.

In closing, I want to address the Board of Supervisors and how I view their participation in this process. I understand how upset many in the Glenhardie area are over this proposed zoning change for the Richter property. I live in the Great Valley but my husband and I have owned an investment condo in Glenhardie for almost twenty years, so I have more than a passing interest in this project. As a Glenhardie condo owner, I know first hand the Trout Creek stormwater issues and the ongoing attempts to resolve the water problems.

But upon reflection of Monday’s public hearing, I feel compelled to defend the supervisors. It was apparent by some of the resident’s comments, that there are those that think the supervisors have made some kind of ‘backroom deal’ with Duckworth with regards to the development of the Richter property. If you believe that has happened, I would suggest that you are incorrect.

It was the Planning Commissioners who wrote the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and submitted it to the Board of Supervisors for review. I am not suggesting that the supervisors did not talk to Duckworth – some probably have, as well as Mimi Gleason and Steve Burgo. In fact, supervisor Mike Heaberg often attends Planning Commission meetings where Duckworth attended. But folks, there is a difference between supervisors having individual discussions with a developer versus the suggestion that some kind of backroom deal has been made. Chair Michelle Kichline’s response to some of the resident’s accusations was measured but absolute; no deal has been made between the Board of Supervisors and Duckworth. And I believe her.

However, maybe Phil Donohue, the middle district supervisor could, have lessened some of the confusion of Monday night, with a better resident outreach program. At-large supervisors (Michelle Kichline, Kristen Mayock, EJ Richter, and Mike Heaberg) have a township wide responsibility versus the district supervisors (John DiBuonaventuro, Paul Olson and Phil Donohue) who are elected and represent residents in a specific area of the township. Not that the district supervisors should not be involved in township wide issues; but they should have specific focus on the western, middle or eastern districts, which they represent. Perhaps some of the circus-like atmosphere of Monday night could have been avoided (or at least lessened) with an ongoing dialogue between residents and the middle district supervisor Phil Donohue. I look forward to better communication in the future.

Before any decisions or votes can be taken, there is obviously going to be much more public discussion about the Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and the Richter tract and its development. As suggested, there will be a community meeting on Thursday, March 8, 7 pm in the Tredyffrin Township Building to discuss stormwater and flooding problems along Trout Creek. Stephen Burgo, Township Engineer, will present results of a 2010 study of the watershed and recommendations for improvements.

A Life Lesson that Good Guys Can Still Make Mistakes . . .

An article appeared in the December 14 edition of the Daily Local, ‘Chief suspended after son crashes police car’ . According to the article, Tredyffrin’s Chief of Police Andy Chambers was suspended for 4 days as a result of allowing his 16-yr old son to drive a township police car and was subsequently involved in an accident with the vehicle on November 23.

First off, let me say that I like and respect Andy Chambers – he’s one of the ‘good guys’ — someone who supports the residents of Tredyffrin Township and cares about this community. Was this simply one of those dumb lapses of judgement that as parents we sometimes have? You know one of those times when something seemed like a good idea at the time but in hindsight, we realize it wasn’t too smart.

The story as reported in the paper explains that an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC) training was held in Bridgeport,and Chamber’s son (with a learner’s permit) was allowed to drive a Tredyffrin Township police cruiser on the training course. In driving the car on the course, the kid somehow had an accident with the police car which caused enough damage that the car had to be towed. The accident also slightly injured a trainer who was in the car with Chamber’s son.

There is an upcoming supervisors meeting on Monday, December 19. Will the supervisors inform the township residents of the situation and of Chamber’s 4-day suspension? It’s important that the facts surrounding the matter are fully understood. Otherwise, the rumor mill will churn out its own version of the story unless the supervisors present the timeline of events and the facts.

Although Chambers paid for the towing and repairs to the township vehicle, there remain questions surrounding the incident. Assuming that the Daily Local is correct, it is unclear when the Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors were notified of the incident as no police report was made at the time of the accident. Did the supervisors only learn of the accident from the Daily Local reporting?

Having read the article in the Daily Local, John Petersen wrote the following email to Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors and copied myself as well as the writer of the Daily Local article Jennifer Carboni and Susan Greenspon, editor of the Main Line Media News. Assuming that the information is correct in the newspaper account, John makes some very interesting legal and liability points concerning this incident. John also states that he likes Chief Chambers and like me, considers him one of the ‘good guys’.

I am disappointed in Andy Chamber’s actions but at the same time I feel sorry for him — we’ve all had those momentary lapses of judgment. This incident just proves that even the good guys can make mistakes.

 

To: Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors
Subject: Cover up???

Clearly, WAY more to this story. If this reporting is accurate, then it appears clear that the BOS (as a body) – didn’t know about this until the letters were emailed by the DL. That does not negate the possibility that one or more supervisors knew what happened. What is interesting is the citation to the Motor Vehicle Code. It appears clear that there was an affirmative duty to report the accident. That may be something that Risa Ferman may have to deal with. I have but one question in this whole thing – “When did Andy tell you guys about this?”

Based on Donahue’s interesting word choice that Andy “admitted” what happened, that would lead one to conclude that he [Andy] was confronted with the information. The lack of a police report supports that conclusion. If that is the case, then that is a fireable offense.

As the old saying goes, it’s never the underlying issue, it’s the cover up that gets you. Let’s remember, this was township property. Who in the world would permit a non-township employee, let alone a 16-year-old pre-licensed driver to drive a police cruiser – regardless of whether it was on a closed course. As Howard Baker in 1973 during the Watergate Hearings asked [slightly paraphrased] “What did they know…and when did they know it?” That is the question – when did Andy tell you guys on the BOS? Again, if he didn’t tell you until the DL made you guys [as a board] aware, then that is most definitely a fireable offense. On the other hand, if the board knew back on 11/23-24, then why wait so long to suspend him.

The other disturbing aspect of this, if true, is that this was driven by un-named members of the TTPD. The timing of the letters is interesting. The first one was the Friday before the BOS meeting of 12/5. Clearly, nothing happened – which prompted another letter on 12/8. It’s all rather peculiar, and admittedly, speculation on my part..

Finally… I like Andy. He’s a good guy. And yes – he as given loyal service to the Tredyffrin Citizens over these many years. I supported his succession to chief in 2008. However, those in leadership have to live to a higher standard – a point I’ve made clear to all of you in the past vis-a-vis St. David’s, fire funding, etc. If this was all duly reported, then I agree with the sanctions as levied.

However, the timing and information contained in the aforementioned news article, if accurate, indicates that the events were not duly reported – and that transgression is far worse than the substantive issue. And let’s also remember that Andy allowing his son to operate a township vehicle put the township in harm’s way. The township was opened to liability – and it is far from certain that the terms and conditions set forth in the policy (the township is self insured) would have covered the liability. What if somebody was run over, permanently injured or worse, killed?

I fully expect the BOS to brief the public on what happened. This is where it counts to be fully transparent. And – this is why we need a properly functioning press so that matters like this get the spotlight they require.

Many thanks to the Daily Local for their reporting. I trust the reporting is accurate. And if so, I trust the BOS to do the right thing.

Regards,

John V. Petersen
Former Member, Tredyffrin BOS

Tredyffrin’s Preliminary Budget Approved with 6.9% Increase, but Chairman Bob Lamina hopes we can do better!

There was some forward movement on the budget last night at the Board of Supervisors meeting. At the onset of the budget discussion, Mimi Gleason apologized to the supervisors and to the public for the errors contained in the preliminary budget that was presented at the last BOS meeting. There were math errors in the budget summary tables that were carried forward in the township manager’s narrative. Gleason offered that the week before there had been a number of last-minute changes in the benefit numbers as her explanation.

I am glad that John Petersen reviewed last week’s preliminary budget and caught the discrepancies and notified the township. It was good to see that responsibility was taken for those mistakes and I am hopeful that going forward, there will be greater oversight from the Finance Commission and the supervisors. For the record, there never was a response to the residents from last week’s emails. Some would suggest that since the message was received and changes made, no response was required. Although I am a proponent for process, there is not closure on the issue and we can move on.

There was much discussion and questions from the supervisors to Gleason and the finance director in regards to the budget. Although there were mistakes in the budget summary, the numbers in the budget remain the same – there is a $500K deficit in the 2012 township budget. Without any adjustment to the preliminary budget, the deficit would mean a 6.9% millage real estate tax increase. Using an average assessed property value of $221,000, the increase would equate to approximately $34 per homeowner. The major contributing factors to the deficit are the decrease in transfer and real estate taxes and a significant decrease in the recycling grant money. Both residential and commercial property reassessments have greatly reduced real estate taxes.

Several areas in the budget were reviewed in detail. Specifically, there is a $106K in the budget for website and software upgrade. Of that amount, $6,500 earmarked for a citizen notification system. This system could provide notifications for emergencies, road closures, special events, etc. The approximate $100K remaining funds is split with $50K for contact management system and $50K to permit greater flexibility and to keep making progress. The goal is to make the website more user-friendly, including the ability to reserve sport and summer camp programs online, a complaint and work order tracking system for public works, a third-party credit card system, etc. The $106K website and software upgrade would come from reserves.

There remain some open issues surrounding the employee health insurance costs. I was very surprised to learn that the current budget includes 100% paid insurance. I suggested that almost everyone pays a co-pay of $15/20 and had that been considered? Although Mimi responded that this is part of the union negotiations, I am not confident that the insurance situation is going to change. With the school district negotiations starting in January, this may offer some bargaining power for the teachers.

Tim Klarich, the township finance director alluded to the large unfunded medical and retirement liability but did not state the total. It was my understanding that several years ago, there was $25 million in this unfunded liability and I asked that number to be qualified. Very surprised to learn that the township’s unfunded liability as of January 1, 2011 was $36 million! Although Klarich stated that at this time, there is no minimum contribution requirement for this liability, it does make you wonder what our increase would be if the taxpayers were forced to fund $36 million liability! When and how does that liability receive funding? Is this a bond issue?

Currently the 2012 budget summary is available online but I asked if the township could provide the full budget online for the residents. Bob Lamina asked Mimi if that was possible and she agreed to provide the information. I am not sure if it will confuse us more or help us – but at least this way, we will be able to review the department budgets and see the line listings that make up the individual budgets.

Although the budget discussion ended with the unanimous approval of the preliminary budget with its 6.9% millage real estate tax increase, there was the sense from the supervisors that they are going to continue their review. Lamina stated that he believes that they can do better than the 6.9%. He is not certain that they can get the budget down to a zero percent increase but between now and the next BOS meeting on December 5, they are determined to try.

Citizens Should Matter More to Township Staff and Elected Officials

This is a follow-up to my last post on Community Matters. Without repeating the entire post, here is the short version – on Monday at the Board of Supervisors meeting, the township manager Mimi Gleason presented the 2012 preliminary budget including a power point overview of the budget. Copies of the preliminary budget and the township manager’s 4-page budget summary were available at the meeting and online. Included in the budget draft was a 6.9% millage real estate increase.

In his review of the preliminary budget, former township supervisor John Petersen found multiple mathematical errors in Gleason’s summary report. On Tuesday, Petersen sent several emails to Gleason detailing the mistakes. I was copied on all the emails as was resident Ray Clarke and township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro. Before writing my last post on Community Matters, I double-checked the budget summary numbers as did Ray Clarke and we agreed with John that errors were contained in both the revenue and expenditure summary tables. The errors when applied to the budget narrative further compounded the problems in the summary information,

With declining revenues and increasing costs of our current economic climate, it is more important than ever to account for every dollar. As a taxpayer, I want to feel confident in our local government. Beyond the troubling math errors, there was no response to any of John Petersen’s emails; absolutely no acknowledgement to him (or Ray Clarke or myself) from the township manager.

Our supervisors talk about the importance of communication to our residents, so what does this lack of response say? A resident takes the time to do an analysis of the preliminary budget and is not afforded the courtesy of a response. In addition to Petersen’s efforts, Clarke also reviewed the budget materials and reached a similar conclusion as to the errors. As residents and taxpayers in this community, do we not matter?

Here is another concerning point. Petersen, Clarke and I live in the western part of the township, in District 3 – Supervisor DiBuonaventuro serves this district (which explains why he was copied on the emails from Petersen to Gleason). DiBuonaventuro ran unopposed in last week’s election and was re-elected to the Board of Supervisors for a second 4-year term. During the early years of his first term, residents often remarked about DiBuonaventuro’s strong constituent service and quick resident response. The Petersen, Clarke and Benson families are all constituents in his voting district yet we received no email response or phone call in regards to this serious situation.

This got me thinking – if there is no acknowledgement from the township manager or response from our district supervisor, what does this really say about our local government. The supervisors received the budget information in their packets the week before the meeting so there was time to review the summary.

The township’s Finance Committee (supervisors DiBuonaventuro, Paul Olson and Phil Donahue) had been working with the township staff on the budget so it is expected they reviewed the preliminary budget before it was sent to the other supervisors.

If Gleason and DiBuonaventuro choose not to respond to the citizens, I then question if either of them bothered to advise BOS chair Bob Lamina of the errors in the budget summary. If the other supervisors were not told of the citizen concerns, how would they know there were mistakes in the budget summary – by reading Community Matters, TE Patch or the Main Line Media News?

This is not intended as some kind of ‘gotcha’ moment against the township staff or supervisors! We all make mistakes. Rather to ask where the respect is for the citizen who takes time to review the budget, sends emails and receives no response?

I want assurances from our elected officials that they are ‘watching the store’ for all the residents of this community. DiBuonaventuro should have responded with an email or phone call to tell us he appreciated the seriousness of the situation, and to assure us that, if warranted, the math errors would be corrected. Given that Supervisor DiBuonaventuro is a member of the township’s Finance Committee, our district supervisor and someone who repeatedly speaks from the dais on the importance of ‘due diligence’, I am disappointed.

Somehow, it seems we have lost our way. Township staff and elected officials – don’t you care about the residents of this community and doing what’s right?

Tredyffrin’s 2012 Preliminary Budget Indicates 6.9% Increase . . . But the Math Doesn’t Add Up!

At Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, our township manager Mimi Gleason presented Tredyffrin’s preliminary budget for 2012 that indicates a 6.9% millage real estate increase will be required to balance the budget. As she does each year, Gleason presented a budget summary, which was designed as an overview of the township’s current financial picture. Included in the summary are 2011 budget and forecasted revenue and expenditures through the end of the year plus the 2012 preliminary budget. Two summary tables marked ‘General Fund Revenue’ and ‘General Fund Expenditures’ are part of the township manager’s document dated November 10, 2011.

I do not know about you, but when I review budget data, I look at the totals, the ‘bottom line’ – just assuming that the math is correct. Laying no claim as a financial expert, when I reviewed the township’s budget memorandum, I accepted Ms. Gleason’s summary information as correct and her math as accurate. As the hired professional and chief executive officer of the township, in my view, she is the expert and I had no reason to question the accuracy of the information.

Resident and former township supervisor John Petersen reviewed Ms. Gleason’s budget summary and discovered multiple mathematical errors in the report. I learned of the mistakes in the budget information when I was copied on emails to Gleason, along with township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro and resident Ray Clarke.

In review of Gleason’s budget summary, the totals for the General Fund revenue and expenditure summary tables are incorrect. The 2012 budget revenue should be $16,467,175, and the difference vs. the 2011 Forecast is ($141,748). On the expenditure summary table totals, the 2011 Forecast should be $16,916,736 the 2012 Budget should be $16,926,204, and the difference vs. the 2011 Forecast should be $9,468. If you use these corrected totals from the revenue and expenditure tables, similar errors are now contained in Gleason’s summary description. In referring to 2011, Gleason states, “the year is forecast to end $377,000 under budget.” Due to mathematical error, this information is incorrect; the year is forecast to end $355,160 under budget, not $377,000. Gleason states the “General fund revenue is projected to decrease another $130,000 in 2012, for a total decrease of $330,000 versus the 2011 budget.” Correcting the math, the 2012 general fund revenue is projected to be $255,950 less than the 2011 budget, not $330,000.

What does all this mean to us the taxpayer and to the budget process? With declining revenues and increasing costs of our current economic climate, it is more important than ever to account for every dollar. As taxpayers, we trust that the financial information is accurate – isn’t this information checked and re-checked. After all, the township manager’s budget information would have multiple in-house reviews before it goes public, correct. Finance Director, Township Manager, Supervisor Finance Committee, Board of Supervisors . . . all of these people have access to this information before the public sees it. Where is the accountability? Are these kinds of mathematical ‘mistakes’ OK? These errors are in the budget summary . . . are there additional errors in the budget line listings?

Reading the township revenue and expenditure summaries, I find it confusing and difficult to understand. There is not an adequate breakdown of the department expenditures and the account detail worksheets do not provide sufficient explanation (particularly of increased costs). Can the public please have a complete township budget with all details? If you look at the school district, they are far more transparent, providing complete information, including every check written from TESD. The last budget update from TESD was 180+ pages and provided the public with complete information. The township budget is a fraction of the school district budget; should we not expect similar public information?

We were all caught up in the EIT campaign hype over the last month leading up to Election Day. We were inundated with Republican campaign mailers, robo-calls and yellow signs all claiming ‘No EIT’ and then the defense from the Democratic camp. As was the case when I ran for the Board of Supervisors in 2009, the Republican campaign materials implied that if voters elected a Democrat candidate, residents would be in line for an increase in taxes.

Election Day 2011 was only a week ago and we know from the results that Tredyffrin Township will continue as an all-Republican Board of Supervisors and the School Board will be Republican-majority in its membership. Democrats were not elected because they presumably would ‘raise taxes’. So how is it that a week after the election, the Republican Board of Supervisors present a budget that contains a 6.9% tax increase?

There were two 2012 township budget workshops, late August and October 1. The supervisors would have known that a tax increase would be required for 2012. Rather than indicate or suggest the possibility of a 2012 tax increase, the supervisors choose to wait until after Election Day. And the Republicans said it was the Democrats who would raise taxes . . . guess this is ‘politics’.

Between the tax increases from the township and the school district, what do you guess the overall increase will be for the Tredyffrin taxpayer . . . 10%, 12%?

 

St. Davids Golf Club, Burned-out Light Bulbs & TE School District Finances!

I attended last night’ Board of Supervisors meeting and my friend, Ray Clarke attended the T/E School District’s Finance Meeting. Following my update on the supervisors meeting, please read Ray’s comments.

The agenda for last night’s supervisors meeting went quickly and there was no ‘new matters’ from board members. I was prepared for ‘new matters’ from citizens with two topics. Based on the supervisors meeting of October 3, I asked Supervisor Olson (Bob Lamina and EJ Richter were absent) if St. Davids Golf Club had been contacted. Olson deferred to Mimi Gleason who said yes, the club was contacted and said it was a positive conversation. I asked about the timeline for response from the club re the sidewalks and her response was that there was no time limit. In other words, I said the issue remains ‘open ended’ to which she responded yes. Bottom line, it may have taken us 21 months to get to this point in time with St. Davids Golf Club, but apparently nothing is going to move forward anytime soon, in the way of enforcement, etc.. Was the only way to receive an update (status) on the sidewalks at St. Davids was to ask the same question at every Board of Supervisors meeting? I guess that is correct.

Second citizen matter from me last night was the burned out light bulb situation in the township. Although I have focused on Chesterbrook and Duportail on Community Matters, I have noticed other area lights out (Old Eagle School Rd. as an example). My questions produced some interesting facts:

  1. The township (residents) pays PECO per light post, regardless if there are electrical issues or if the lights are working or not.
  2. The township has a yearly maintenance contract with Lenni Electrical to change light bulbs. Some have suggested that perhaps the township was trying to save money and maybe wasn’t calling the company for maintenance as a way to avoid service call expenses. Well, I discovered that the township (residents) pays a flat fee regardless of how many (or how few) times they come out to change the light bulbs!
  3. The pink ribbons are placed by township staff to indicate to Lenni Electrical where light bulbs need replacement. I noticed driving to the township building that there are pink ribbons on street lights that have working light bulbs and questioned why weren’t the ribbons removed when the light bulbs were changed? Obvious, I would think. According to Steve Burgo, township engineer, they know that this is a problem and are working with the contractor to get them to remove the pink ribbons.

Mimi cited ongoing electrical problems on Chesterbrook Boulevard as the cause for the non-working light bulbs. I suggested that the electrical problem with some of the Chesterbrook lights has existed for 27+ years. The response from Mimi Gleason, was that they were working with PECO and that State Rep Warren Kampf had been called for assistance.

After leaving the township building, I decided to do a more scientific study of counting the burned-out light bulbs on Chesterbrook and Duportail Rds. I drove down one side of Chesterbrook Blvd. to Valley Forge Road, turned around and drove back, counting as many of the burned-out light bulbs as I could find. This 2-mile (or less) stretch of roads doesn’t have 19 burned-out light bulbs, there are 37 non-working street lights.

Am I the only one who has a problem with this? We are all taxpayers and our money is paying PECO for these lights and our money is paying Lenni Electrical change the light bulbs. Where’s the accountability on this issue? I remain hopeful that at least one of our supervisors will take up the cause of township light bulbs.

Moving on to last night’s TE School District Finance Committee meeting. While I was busy sorting through the burned-out light bulb situation, Ray Clarke was at the Finance Committee meeting. He offers the following comments with his own editorial remarks. As always, I am appreciative that Ray not only attends the school board meetings, but takes the time to detail his thoughts for Community Matters. Thanks Ray!

The TESD Finance Committee meeting turned up a few points of interest on Monday night.

  1. The district’s 2010/11 financials got a nice boost from the decision to self-insure healthcare benefits coupled with better than projected claims experience. That turned out to be a $1.3 million favorable variance, which in turn generated a $0.9 million surplus for the year. So our Fund Balance, combined with an additional $0.5 million which under previous accounting rules was separate (I think), is (6/30/2011) now up to a munificent $31 million. (Note, I came in slightly late to this discussion, and there was no handout on this, so my numbers may not be precise)
  2. Also on the plus side, the Committee discussed what to do with the restoration of Corbett’s proposed cut to the state reimbursement of 50% of social security taxes, worth $1.3 million this year, which came in after TE’s 2011/12 budget was passed. The administration proposed ~$200K for postponed text-book buys and ~$300K mostly for technology spending. This generated a lot of debate, essentially asking the question: what is going to be the impact of, say, $60,000 for piloting applications for iPads, versus the current technology environment. To my mind this is the tip of a much bigger iceberg: how will we use technology spending to improve the analytic or creative skills of our students? If we need a pilot to answer that question, fine, but should we spend $60,000 for a pilot? It was agreed that this would be subject for future Board discussion.
  3. Important upcoming dates: November 3rd for the Tax Study Group’s presentation of the pros and cons of and EIT, and November 14thfor a special School Board meeting to consider notification of the intent to request a referendum on the April 24th ballot. Some important things (from my perspective) to bear in mind here:The official financial projection model is being modified to remove the assumption of a Act 1 index 1.7% property tax increase for 2012/13, so the base case is not both a property and an income tax. The base case gap for 2012/13 is currently $5.5 million. (It’s not clear that the model has been updated yet for the actual healthcare cost and fund balance outcomes.)
    1. The TSG’s approach is to present the features of an EIT independent of the alternatives; the Board (and potentially voters) will have to decide the merits of those pros and cons relative to its own assessment of the pros and cons of alternatives like cutting educational programs, raising property taxes or – for a few years – using some of that Fund Balance.
    2. Unknown actions of the townships, which would be entitled to claim up to 50% of the revenues from a voter-approved residential EIT, loom large. How highly would the BOS weigh education versus the township’s own needs?
    3. Of course, totally moot unless the School Board votes to ask the question, and the voters approve it, since there is no sign that the townships are mulling and EIT of their own.
    4. Of course, the Republican candidates for the School Board have already decided the EIT question for themselves without waiting for the TSG analysis. Presumably they are part of the minority in TE that a) does not pay the tax already, and b) has an income greater than 40% of the assessed value of their house, so would rather see any gap (after using some of that fund balance) made up from cuts in the education program or property tax increases.

On the TEEA contract: the district is required by the state to begin negotiations for the next contract in January. The way this all gets going is for the union to send a letter to the district at that time.

How creative can the parties be? Is there a way to trade-off much lower healthcare premiums/benefits (that encourage personal accountability) for maybe allowing step increases, keeping the total compensation cost within at the very least the increase modeled in the district’s current projection?

Tie a Yellow (Pink) Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree (Light Pole)!

The tale of Tredyffrin’s burned out streetlights continues. Based on comments from several people on Community Matters, I started my mini-research project of non-working street lights in the township. As one person explained, the street light poles are marked with pink ribbons if they need new light bulbs. Sure enough, I see a number of street light poles on Chesterbrook Boulevard tied with bright pink ribbons. On Mill Road, at the entrance of the township building, there are three light poles right in a row with apparent burned-out light bulbs as they each have pink ribbons. Question . . . What is the time line for replacement light bulbs on those light poles adorned with ribbons? Don’t know. I also don’t know how long the ribbons have been on these poles.

Based on some of the comments on Community Matters, I assumed that the Public Works staff was the ones replacing the burned-out light bulbs. However, according to the township website, street light maintenance and repair is not handled in-house but is a contracted service. My guess is that the township staff marks the street poles with pink ribbons and then the outside company does the necessary light bulb changing. Again, not clear how long it takes to get a new light bulb after it is reported and the staff adds the pink ribbon. Residents can fill out an online township form (click here) with location details for light poles requiring new light bulbs or other maintenance issues.

Researching on the township website, I discovered that Tredyffrin owns and operates 1,824 lights. Who knew? The use of the word ‘owns’ may be accurate; but I think we need to address the ‘operating’ part. It is my understanding that PECO actually owns the light poles and the township pays a flat fee for the poles – and it appears that we pay by the pole, regardless if there is a working light bulb or not. There had been some discussion and I hope movement towards changing the regular light bulbs to LED bulbs. LED light bulbs have a higher front end cost than regular light bulbs but they last longer and are much more energy-efficient.

On November 15, 2007, Mimi Gleason presented the 2008 budget. Contained in the budget was the following information on streetlights:

A new initiative is proposed to begin upgrading streetlights to a more energy efficient medium. Most of the Township’s 1,900 streetlights are mercury vapor lights. The most energy efficient, long lasting street light available is a new LED light. Because the technology is new for streetlights, they are still very expensive. Estimates range from $1,000-$1,500 per light or roughly $2.5 – $3 million in total. In time, the cost should come down significantly. The proposed budget includes $50,000 this year to upgrade about 40 lights as a demonstration area to help promote further use of LED lights. With the Board’s approval, during 2008 staff will pursue a state grant to install a larger number of LED streetlights in 2009. From there, we would embark on a very long-term plan to eventually upgrade all of the lights.

Continuing my search for answers on the street light situation, I came across the August 12, 2008 Tredyffrin Township Municipal Authority Minutes with the following information included:

Mr. Norcini [former Public Works director] continued his discussion on the electric rate for streetlights. He said we purchased streetlights from PECO several years ago for cost effectiveness. Our rate is based on street light rates. We plan to install LED lights as a test this year.

Two meters will be installed – one to the existing streetlights and one to the LED lights. The meters should show how much electricity the LED light uses and how much our existing lights compare to what PECO says it uses. If the LED test project works and provides savings to us, we can determine a capital plan to replace the existing lights. We will be metering on Cassatt Road, and testing 14-15 new LED lights on North Valley Road from Central to Swedesford.

Fast forward to 2011 and next month the supervisors will be reviewing the proposed 2012 township budget. I for one will be looking at the line listing in the budget for street lighting and will be very curious to see its ‘expense’. In my research, I could not find the name of the company that holds the contract with the township on street lighting.

It is somewhat interesting to see where the township ‘was’ and where it is ‘now’ on the subject of light bulbs. I wonder what happened to the upgrading of the streetlights to LED plan in the township.

Gosh, at this point, I just want to see all the burned-out light bulbs prioritized (and replaced)! Seems to me that this discussion could also fall under the category of resident ‘safety’.

Paoli Transportation Center Project Takes Big Steps Forward – A Letter-of-Interest Request Issued by Tredyffrin Township and Request-for-Proposal Issued by SEPTA!

Plans Afoot For Troubled Paoli Rail Yard, Can It Become A Transportation Center With Buses And Better Parking?”

This Philadelphia Inquirer headline above was not written this week, this month, this year — no, the article is seventeen years old, dating from September 14, 1994!

This years-old Inquirer article focused on the possibility of turning the “problematic Paoli rail yard into a sophisticated intermodal transportation center” which would accommodate “a transportation center, complete with buses and improved parking.” Can it be that the dream, this vision for the future may still be possible? Maybe so.

At the last Board of Supervisors Meeting, I was disappointed that the supervisors did not update on the process of the Paoli Transportation Center. There had been previous discussion about an upcoming issuance of a Request-for-Proposal (RFP) on the N. Valley/Central Avenue road and bridge improvement project (part of the Paoli Transportation Center project) and I was seeking an update — specifically was an RFP issued? If so, what was the status, how many bidders, due date, etc.

Many of us have followed the saga of the train station for years, and remain interested in the progress (if any) on the project. My intention in asking for an official public update was certainly not to step on the toes of either the township staff or our elected officials, but just to seek information. What’s the old adage, “Ask and ye shall receive”? I was asking the questions, but I guess I wasn’t asking the right way or to the right people.

Although not listed on the township website, I discovered with some Internet research that the Tredyffrin Township Engineering Department has issued a ‘Letter of Interest’ for the “Paoli Road Improvement Project – Feasibility Study and Public Involvement Program”. According to the township’s Letter of Interest request, all phases of the Feasibility Study will be 100% state funded and that the township is encouraging responses from small firms and firms that have not previously done work for the township.

The township’s public Letter of Interest advertisement gives the full solicitation details on the Paoli Road Improvement Project and includes the following:

Tredyffrin Township Letter of Interest Request:

Paoli Road Improvement Project – Feasibility Study and Public Improvement Program

Tredyffrin Township will retain a PADOT qualified engineering and public involvement consultant team to provide a feasibility study and public involvement and outreach program to assess the traffic, roadway, infrastructure and community stakeholder needs, and identify potential alternatives for the existing local and PADOT roadway network located in Paoli, in the vicinity of S.R. 0030 (Lancaster Avenue), E./W. Central Avenues, Paoli Pike/ Greenwood Avenue, Darby Road, Plank Avenue and N./S. Valley Roads. The Township seeks a feasibility study that provides cost effective alternatives to allow for traffic calming, streetscape, intersection modification, and signal timing adjustments to address existing congestion and public safety concerns while providing for the needs of motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, rail users and the overall vision for a multi-modal Paoli.

Alternatives included in the feasibility study should emphasize solutions that meet current PADOT design and safety standards, and the local stakeholder and Township vision for the Paoli Transportation and Town Center Districts. In addition to the Feasibility Study, an intensive coordinated public outreach and stakeholder involvement process must parallel the identified Feasibility Study phases to ensure final recommendations have been thoroughly discussed, stakeholder input received while ultimately working toward a consensus on roadway improvements for consideration and prioritization for future design and construction phases of the project.

The township’s Letter of Interest words, “. . . intensive coordinated public outreach and stakeholder involvement process . . .” aligns with my request that the public remain ‘in the loop’ and informed on the process of this important community project.

The list of companies already registered to submit a Letter of Interest to the township on the Paoli transportation project is impressive! To date, 50+ companies have registered, including local companies from Wayne, Malvern, West Chester, Collegeville, Exton and Kimberton and several companies from Lancaster, Gettysburg, New Jersey and Delaware. Source Management Onvia of Seattle, Washington has also registered to bid the project! Letters of interest are due by bidders to the township by 2 PM on September 15, 2011. It is my understanding that registration does not necessarily imply that all registered companies will submit a Letter of Interest.

According to the Letter of Interest advertisement by the township, the evaluation and selection process by Tredyffrin Twp is:

For the purposes of negotiating a contract, the ranking of a minimum of three (3) firms will be done directly from the Letters of Interest. Technical proposals will not be required prior to the ranking. Only the top three (3) firms will be requested to prepare technical proposals. The top three (3) firms will then be ranked based off the Technical Proposal and the top firm will be requested to submit a cost proposal.

In another big step for the Paoli Transportation Center project, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has issued a Request-for-Proposal, Proposal Number 11-091-DMH for qualified “Consultants for Architectural/Engineering Services for Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center”.

SEPTA’s A&E Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center RFP description states:

Consultant services include, but are not limited: the development of construction documents (plans and specifications) for the construction of the Paoli Intermodal Transportation Center in accordance with the scope of work of this RFP and in full compliance ADA and other governing authorities. The deadline for proposals is September 7, 2011.

The issuance of a Letter of Interest by Tredyffrin Twp and a Request-for-Proposal from SEPTA is positive and encouraging news for the community on the Paoli Transportation Center project and marks real progress in this long journey.

As Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

Sidewalks on Tredyffrin’s Supervisors Meeting Agenda: Translation . . . Does St. Davids Golf Club Build its Sidewalks?

The agenda for tonight’s supervisors meeting in Tredyffrin will include a presentation by PennDOT and the PA Turnpike regarding the start of 202 construction and the Rt. 29 slip ramp construction. The slip ramp construction got underway last week so I look forward to a review of the time for that project and for 202.

The agenda lists the scheduling of two public hearings, (1) an ordinance to create new regulations for historic preservation and (2) to consider amendments to sidewalk requirements in subdivision and land development plans.

Members of the township HARB and Planning Commission have worked on creating an ordinance to protect historic properties in the township for two years. In reviewing my HARB minutes, there was discussion as early as March 2009 recognizing the need. Much discussion and many joint meetings has taken place between HARB, Planning Commission and township staff. I am thrilled to see the work of many community volunteers now move forward.

Scheduling of the other public hearing – amendments to sidewalk ordinance. It’s fascinating that 16 months post-BAWG report and St. Davids Golf Club, the mention of sidewalks in Tredyffrin reminds us of the open St. Davids sidewalk issue. Recalling the history, the land development agreement between St. Davids Golf Club and the township requires the building of sidewalks. Rather than enforce the land development requirement, the supervisors decided last year to create a sidewalk subcommittee to examine the needs and interest in sidewalks in Tredyffrin.

Fast forward to April 2011 and where does the township stand on sidewalks and the open issues surrounding the land development agreement with St. Davids Golf Club to build sidewalks? Last month, the sidewalk subcommittee presented their results, which included an overwhelming resident interest in sidewalks, trails and bike paths in the township. The sidewalks subcommittee confirmed the Green Routes Network plan included sidewalks at St. Davids Golf Club. The results of last month’s public hearing to consider changing final land development authority from the Planning Commission to the Board of Supervisors included a supervisors vote for the Planning Commission to retain this authority. So where does the township stand on St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk requirement? What really has changed in the last 16 months?

This morning, I was copied on a public email from John Petersen to township solicitor Tom Hogan (which also copied the Board of Supervisors and Mimi Gleason) inquiring on the “status of St. Davids”. Petersen’s email included the following:

“ . . . St. David’s has always had the obligation to build the sidewalks. At best, over the past year, there has been a forbearance on that obligation. It would appear that the status quo is firmly in place. By that, I mean that the sidewalk plan as promulgated in the master plan is still in effect. Second, the PC [Planning Commission] has retained full land development authority. That said, the St. David’s obligation was always in place. i.e., it was pre-existing contract. Therefore, no matter what was done on a prospective basis, it would have no effect on the St. David’s obligation. The same conclusion would have applied a year ago. . . St. David’s has two choices. 1 – build the sidewalks per their land development obligation. 2 – pay the township the full cost to build the sidewalks as per the land development obligation . . . So again I ask, what is the BOS going to do?”

I am curious to see if the elephant in the room (St. Davids land development agreement) is discussed at the supervisors meeting tonight. As much as some people would like the sidewalk issue at St. Davids Golf to just ‘go away’, unless there is a decision, the issue remains open. Will our elected officials enforce the land development agreement with St. Davids and require the sidewalks to be built . . . ? As Petersen says, “. . . What is the BOS going to do?”

The community needs closure on the St. Davids sidewalk issue; will that happen at tonight’s supervisors meeting? Stay tuned.

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