Monday, November 30, 2020

Rep. Shusterman: Why I Voted Against PA Budget

State Rep. Melissa "Shusterman, D-157th Dist.

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the office of state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157th Dist.

State Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-Chester/Montgomery, released the following statement on why she voted against the budget that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed by a 104-97 vote Friday evening.

“I voted against this budget as I believe it grossly misuses over $1 billion in CARES Act dollars. Congress distributed this funding so that state legislatures can extend it as a lifeline to individuals, small businesses and nonprofits still recovering from this year’s economic hardship brought on by COVID-19. However, majority leaders who put this budget together used this money to fill holes in our spending plan.

“This budget that passed the House takes these one-time stimulus funds to pay our normal obligations because we failed to build up the Rainy Day Fund. Using one-time funding to cover recurring costs is fiscally irresponsible because it does not ensure that we’ll have enough money to pay these bills next year.

“Meanwhile, families are still struggling to pay their mortgage or rent, catch up on bills and access affordable daycare. Restaurants and other small businesses are trying to survive off limited resources based on reduced activity. Rather than putting Pennsylvanians first, this spending plan is riddled, once again, with budget shortcuts.

“This plan relies too heavily on one-time fixes and does not put us in a sound, stable position for June when we need to create the budget for the next fiscal year. We even missed out on opportunities to increase our sources of revenue such as imposing a severance tax on natural gas drilling, closing big, corporate loopholes, and raising the minimum wage – which would decrease Pennsylvanians’ reliance on state services while increasing personal income taxes.

“Lastly, the Fiscal Code carried unnecessary language banning certain flags from flying at the Capitol. It is trivial to prioritize what Lt. Governor Fetterman should or should not be hanging from his balcony instead of addressing how we can help our commonwealth bounce back from the ongoing public health crisis.

“I’m highly disappointed to see this valuable CARES Act funding go toward remedying poor fiscal decisions made by my colleagues across the aisle. However, this will not deter me from fighting for the same things I have been since COVID-19 entered our commonwealth in March: real relief for Pennsylvanians, nonprofits and small businesses in need.”

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Votes Due Tomorrow on Phoenixiville Teacher Pact

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the Phoenixville Area School District.

The Phoenixville Area School District (PASD) and the Phoenixville Area Education Association (PAEA, PASD’s teacher association) have announced reaching a tentative three-year contract. 

Details of the contract are not yet available, pending ratification by the PAEA membership and approval by the full Board of School Directors at the Monday, Nov. 30 meeting.

The current contract is set to expire on June 30, 2021, at which time, the new three-year contract, if approved, would go into effect.

“I would like to thank Mr. Mike Donnelly, Mr. Erik Rutchauskas and Mrs. Tammy Kurtz for their hard work and willingness to bargain during these challenging times,” said Jeesely Soto, Vice President of and lead negotiator for the Phoenixville Area School Board. 

“Throughout our discussions, I felt both the Association and the District, built on the foundation of the last contract, made thoughtful recommendations and worked towards compromise. With this contract complete, the work of the District will continue to move forward as all of our attention can now be focused on the reason we are all in education – the children," she said.

Kurtz, PAEA president, stated, “We are grateful to the board, administration and the PAEA negotiations team for their willingness to participate in early bird negotiations and reach a tentative agreement in just three short weeks. The hard work and cooperation among everyone involved allows us all to keep our focus centered on educating the students of Phoenixville during this especially challenging time.”

The PAEA is scheduling a vote on the contract for its membership on Monday, Nov. 30.

The PASD School Board will vote on the contract during its regular school board meeting, to be held virtually and beginning at 7:00 p.m. on November 30. For more information on how to access the school board meeting online, please visit the PASD website at www.pasd.com.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

COVID Cancels Historic House Tour, But Calendar Sales Will Raise Money for GoFourth! Fireworks


Since 2020 is the year that keeps on taking, it should come as no surprise to any of us that the historic holiday house tour in Pottstown is cancelled this year.

But that doesn't mean you can't still get a taste of Pottstown's historic architecture, or continue to help raise funds for the GoFourth! Festival we all hope will be permitted to occur on July 4, 2021.

You can do both those things by making this year's calendar purchase one that supports both those goals.

Like last year, the folks over at GoFourth! enlisted the skills of photographer extraordinaire Carol Brightbill to photograph 12 historic homes that we can appreciate, at least on the outside.

You can get the calendar, which costs a mere $15, along with lots of other GoFourth! swag online at https://www.pottstowngofourth.com/gofourthgear 

Then, you will be all geared up for next year's tour, Dec. 5, 2021.


Friday, November 27, 2020

Sen. Katie Muth: Why I voted ‘NO’ on PA Budget


Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the office of state Sen. Katie Muth, D-44th Dist.

State Senator Katie Muth D-44th Dist. voted against the nearly $11 billion supplemental budget shortly before 8 pm on Nov. 20. The partial spending plan completed the current year’s $36.5 billion operating budget by raiding millions of dollars from restricted environmental funds, redirecting federal CARES funding meant for struggling families, and could jeopardize vital infrastructure and roadway improvements throughout Pennsylvania.

“I am beyond disappointed. The members of the House and Senate had the very real opportunity to make lasting improvements to the quality of life of so many throughout our Commonwealth,” said  Muth. “Instead, the majority party took the easy way out and continued Pennsylvania’s long-standing tradition of putting off for tomorrow what is desperately needed today. The impact of our inaction will be felt around kitchen tables in every community and I am incredibly frustrated. I ran for office to help those who are in need and during this global pandemic, help is needed more than ever.”

The spending plan was approved in the Senate by a vote of 31 -18 and relies on the use of $1.3 billion in federal CARES funding to close state revenue shortfalls caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the plan takes $531 million in reserved Special Funds including $26.5 million from the PENNVEST Drinking Water Revolving Fund, $50 million from the Recycling Fund, $30 million from the Job Training Fund, $17 million from the Industrial Sites Cleanup Fund, $5 million from the Agriculture Conservation Easement Purchase Fund, and $6 million from the Volunteer Companies Loan Fund.

“Raiding our Special Funds and using CARES dollars to balance our budget sends all of us down an impossible path that will only make future budgetary decisions more difficult.” Muth continued, “Pennsylvania is home to some of the most regressive tax policies in the country which favors the ultra-rich and large corporations and disproportionately impacts the working and middle-class citizens of the Commonwealth. There was an opportunity to address this discrepancy by making real changes that will improve the lives of the majority of Pennsylvanians and instead those in power severely financially wounded environmental protection, work training opportunities, and support our first responders.”

In addition, a last-minute change to the final draft of the state Fiscal Code removed a long-standing bonding or borrowing provision for the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) that places at risk hundreds of ongoing and planned construction projects statewide. If not corrected, this change will cause all PennDOT work to cease on Dec. 1, immediately eliminating over 240,000 construction jobs and halting repairs and improvements to structurally deficient bridges, unsafe roadways, and intersections throughout the Commonwealth.

“The fact that during a period of historic unemployment caused by COVID-19, we would send even more Pennsylvania workers to unemployment lines while allowing our infrastructure to deteriorate to unsafe conditions is simply unconscionable,” said Senator Muth. “Under no circumstance can we wake up on December 1st to a situation where PennDOT has run out of money. Putting an additional two-hundred and forty thousand Pennsylvanians out of work is unacceptable. I urge the Governor and leadership in both the House and Senate to take action immediately.”

During Friday’s spending plan discussion, Muth submitted remarks that called for updates to our tax policy that would provide significant improvements to the tax burden for the majority of taxpayers. Specifically, Muth called for the closing of the ‘Delaware Loophole,’ or the accounting system used to allow huge corporations to declare certain types of revenue in the state where the company is incorporated rather than in the state where the business is generating revenue. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue estimates that closing the Delaware Loophole would result in Pennsylvania collecting approximately $677 million in corporate tax revenue.

In addition, Muth called on the Commonwealth to enact the Fair Share Tax Plan. This plan would cut the individual personal income tax to 2.8% and impose a tax rate of 6.5 percent on passive income from corporate net profits, dividends, net gains from rents, royalties, gambling and lottery winnings, and net gains from estates and trusts. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center calculates that enacting the Fair Share Tax Plan would create up to $2 billion in new revenue annually and cut $575 million in taxes for Pennsylvania working families.

“While I recognize that the ongoing global pandemic forced very difficult decisions, we have the opportunity to make lasting improvements to how our Commonwealth operates moving forward.” Muth continued, “I will continue to fight for working people and families throughout Pennsylvania and create change that prioritizes economic security, public and environmental health, and opportunities for all Pennsylvanians to succeed.”

In May, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a flat-funded, five-month, $25.8 billion budget that expires at the end of 2020. Pennsylvania faced an estimated $5 billion shortfall, largely due to economic impacts associated with the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“The lack of urgency to help states throughout this crisis has left people fighting for their lives with no guarantee of any support.”  Muth continued, “Government was designed to help people, not harm them.”

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Hobart's Run Buys Cameras for Ricketts Center

Jocelyn Charles, director of The Ricketts Community Center, shows off the views made possible with the center's new security cameras.

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by Hobart's Run.

Hobart’s Run, a Pottstown neighborhood improvement initiative, has donated about $4,000 in funds to Boyertown Area Multi-Service at The Ricketts Center to cover installation of several security cameras and related signage for the playground and outdoor basketball court areas of the 658 Beech St. facility.

In addition, they have purchased highly visible safety vests to be utilized by volunteers at the Center when they are engaging with children and other guests.

Cathy Skitko, director of Hobart’s Run Communications and a member of the Ricketts Center Advisory Board, learned of the need for cameras during a conversation with fellow board members who wanted to ensure the safety of children and teenagers utilizing the equipment. After conferring with colleagues, Hobart’s Run decided to fund the cameras as well as signs that alert guests to the presence of cameras and other safety rules.

“One of Hobart’s Run’s main goals is to create a safe and clean community,” Skitko says. “We truly value our partnership with the Ricketts Center -- and were happy to meet this need and help support the Center’s wellness programming for Pottstown youths.”

The cameras were ordered according to specifications provided by the Borough of Pottstown’s Parks and Recreation Department. The cameras are similar to those installed in the borough by the borough’s Police Department.

Jocelyn Charles, Director of the Ricketts Center and Pottstown native, thought the cameras would be a good addition to the blacktop and playground areas as the surveillance will provide an added layer of community comfort.

“The cameras are for the Ricketts Center use only,” Jocelyn says. “These cameras will help us monitor conduct and proactively handle any concerns in the moment and, hopefully, their presence will discourage behavior that otherwise might lead us to pursue further action.

“We want the community to feel comfortable and confident that the Ricketts Center is looking out for the best interest and safety of everyone who uses our facilities as well as our Pottstown neighbors,” Jocelyn adds. “We really appreciate this contribution from Hobart’s Run and their interest in supporting the Center.”

Established in 2016, Hobart’s Run focuses specifically on an area of Pottstown bordered by North Washington Street in the west; Beech, Grant, and Jackson streets in the north, and Keim Street in the east. A 501 (c)(3), its mission is to create a clean and safe community; foster inclusivity; provide incentives for home ownership and property pride; and generate quality business development, all while supporting revitalization efforts throughout Pottstown.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Despite Deficit, N. Coventry Taxes Won't Rise in 2021

Image from screenshot
North Coventry Township Manager Erica Batdorf, in yellow box, reviews the proposed 2021 budget with township supervisors during an online meeting on Monday.

Despite a projected deficit of nearly $75,000, the draft 2021 budget North Coventry Supervisors voted unanimously to advertise Monday night will not raise taxes if it remains unchanged.

Township Manager Erica Batdorf outlined the $5,933,082 budget during the Nov. 23 meeting and said despite challenges brought on by the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the economy, a tax hike is not necessary.

As the 2020 budget did, Batdorf proposed using reserves to close the budget gap and avoid a tax hike, which means the tax rate can remain at the current 2.85 mills.

The largest portion of the budget is the general fund, which calls for spending $4,913,636 in 2020. The open space fund, which calls for spending $684,380 will have a $48,820 surplus under the budget plan.

The liquid fuels fund, which comes from state gasoline taxes, is balanced at $321,566 despite an 8 percent decrease caused by people driving fewer miles during the pandemic shut-downs.

The township's total assessed property value also dropped this year, by $1,606,404, according to Batdorf. As a result, keeping the millage the same as 2020 means the property tax will only generate $1,366,500 in 2021 as compared to this year, when it raised $1,384,989 -- a $17,489 loss in revenues.

In addition to reporting on the state of the township's finances, Batdorf also recommended the merging of three capital accounts into a single account. 

The budget, which is on the website and can be viewed by clicking here, will be open for public inspection for several weeks and a vote on the final budget will take place next month.

Click here to see the Tweets from the meeting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Draft Spring-Ford Budget Shows $7.5M Deficit


One of the more bizarre aspects of the budgeting of public money in Pennsylvania is the timing.

Public schools, which operate on a fiscal year calendar, must begin putting together the budgets that will be adopted in June, six months ahead of time, long before they have any concrete idea of what their costs will be.

On top of that, the state tells each school district what its maximum local tax hike can be without indicating for months what the state contribution to that budget will be. 

This year, Spring-Ford's cap, called it's "index," is 3 percent.

Making it even more of a theater of the absurd this year is the impact of COVID-19. 

As a result, the Spring-Ford school officials find themselves in the strange position of preparing their budget for the coming year at the same time the state legislature is wrapping up its budget for the current year.

Most know that Harrisburg adopted a half-year budget due to the uncertainties surrounding the epidemic which, in May, was just unfolding. Nevertheless, as this year's budget is finally wrapped up, five months late, the unique pandemic-drive circumstances have a way of highlighting the difficulties school budgeters face when trying to come up with accurate forecasts.

That said, James Fink, chief financial officer for Spring-Ford took his shot Monday night, kicking off the budget process with a broad brush look at a $182.3 million spending plan for the coming year, which is about $10.2 million more in spending than the current year.

Making budget forecasts more difficult, said Fink, is the fact that we are only four months into the current fiscal year and two months into the school year, compounded by the fact that the impact the COVID-19 epidemic is having on the economy and costs.

As it stands now, the forecast is for a $7.5 million deficit between spending, which he said will increase by about 6 percent -- driven mostly by salaries -- and revenues that are expected to rise only 1.7 percent.

Despite many unknowns, Fink said personnel costs, which comprise 70 percent of budget's expenses, are likely to increase by about 5 percent.

Current estimates also see an 8.6 percent hike in state retirement costs and a 5 percent increase in medical and dental insurance costs.

The draft indicates using $300,000 from reserves to help close that deficit, along with a property tax hike of 1.5 percent to generate $1.65 million in additional revenues.

Many things will change in this draft as the current year unfolds and the picture of revenues and expenses clarifies.

The board is scheduled to vote on this preliminary budget in January, but nothing becomes final until  a final vote on a final budget, not due to take place until May.

Click here to read the Tweets from the meeting.