Friday, December 6, 2019

Pottstown Tax Hike Drops, Cops Get 5-Year Pact

Photos by Evan Brandt

When it comes to determining the big story from the Wednesday night borough council meeting, it's kind of a toss up.

The two biggest contenders are the budget and a five-year police contract.
  • The gist of the budget story is the threatened tax hike of 4.25 percent outlined in October, has been whittled down to 3.83 percent. 
  • As for the police contract, the union has agreed to a five-year contract which will provide raises of 18.5 percent over its length.
  • Council will also vote Monday on a two-year lease with Boyertown Multi-Service to operate
    Potential improvements at the community
    college campus in Pottstown.
    the Ricketts Community Center.
  • Additionally, officials from Montgomery County Community College made an exciting presentation re-imagining the Pottstown campus.
  • And then there is the Carousel at Pottstown, which has raised the $800,000 to $1 million needed to expand its building to allow a restaurant to operate there.
  • Thomas Hylton informed council Trees Inc. has received a $35,000 grant from the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, which he and his wife Frances will match, to create a $70,000 budget for street tree trimming, maintenance and treatment to fend off the invasive emerald ash borer.
  • Council was also presented with a draft of a new 10-year franchise agreement with Comcast to continue to provide cable service in the borough, but will eliminate one of PCTV's three channels.
  • There is also a move afoot to eliminate some of the 20-year-old licensing fees for "entertainment machines," but a concern about the growth of digital gambling machines.
  • Then there are the five appointments to five different boards and commissions that must be made Monday and Council Vice President Carol Kulp, who lost her seat in the Democratic primary in May, has applied to be appointed to a five-year term on the Pottstown Borough Authority, replacing Michael Benner, who has also applied.
  • Also, be aware that the red Mascaro trash bins are being replaced this week by gray ones so
    Ed Kelly shows council some of the bike path
    stanchions he has picked up.
    they stand out less.
  • And "fans" of Pottstown's bike lanes may appreciate the visit from Roland Street resident Mike Kelly who, for the second time, hand-delivered some of the stanchions that separate the bike lane from the car lane and which, he said, residents were assured "would be maintained" by the borough.
So we'll have to see how many of these can be turned into full-fledged news stories in The Mercury.

And for fans of reports, here is the monthly mayor's report:

Want more? How about the borough manager's report? (I challenge you to decipher what it is we are supposed to do with the old red Mascaro trash bins from this. I gave up and turned it off so as not to make it even more confusing.)

And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dragon Boat Will Ferry Santa to Pottstown Saturday

Santa will arrive in downtown Pottstown Saturday via dragon boat, crossing the Schuylkill River to land in Riverfront Park, before riding a fire truck downtown for more holiday fun.

There was news a-plenty at last night's Borough Council meeting, which we will get to in tomorrow's post, but first I want to let everyone know how busy Santa Clause will be in Pottstown, particularly on Saturday.

Despite the fact that no one provided any of this information to the newspaper, or me, the economic development report delivered at Wednesday night's council meeting by Peggy Lee-Clark, executive director of PAID, provides the basics.

Christmas magic begins Friday night at The Alley on High Street, which is now decorated as a
"Christmas Village" and from 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, vendors including NV Donuts, will be there along with a Christmas Tree.

"But the real excitement starts on Saturday," Lee-Clark said.

From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Santa will be at The Pottstown Integrated Wellness Complex at 724 N. Adams Street, known to most as the YMCA, to visit with children and adults alike.

From 12 to 2 p.m., Beverly's Pastry Shop at 322 High St. will host Christmas cookie decorating.

The big man in the red suit will arrive in downtown Pottstown via, get this, a dragon boat, which will ferry him and his throne across the Schuylkill River to Riverfront Park.

From there, he will ride a fire truck to The Alley on High Street to hob knob with Pottstown peeps.

From 3 to 6 p.m. is the official "Holiday Stroll" on High Street where shoppers can fill out a "bingo card" with a theme from "A Christmas Story," which, by zero coincidence, is the show that opens at Steel River Playhouse, which opens Friday and runs through Dec. 22.

Bingo cards can be obtained from the Schuylkill River Heritage Area in Riverfront Park, where Santa will stop by after his sojourn across the river, and at The High Street Terminal market, 300 High St.

But make sure you are back at Smith Family Plaza in front of borough hall by 7 because that's when the tree lighting begins.

It is also when the winners of the contest for businesses decorating the planters outside their buildings will be announced by the judge, Mayor Stephanie Henrick.

(Santa will return to Pottstown on Dec. 21, when he will ride a fire truck through town, according to Pottstown Fire Chief Frank Hand.)

And don't forget on Sunday is the Historic Holiday House tour, proceeds from which raise money to pay for July 4, 2020 fireworks at the GoFourth Festival in Memorial Park. Read more about that here.

Here is video of Lee-Clark's report:

And for those of you who can't wait for the hard news out of last night's meeting, here are the Tweets from the meeting.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pottsgrove Gives 2% Raises to 19 Administrators

Without discussion or revealing the contents of the package prior to voting, the Pottsgrove School Board approved 2 percent raises for 19 mid-level administrators and building principals Tuesday night.

In fact, it was not even it's own vote, but was bundled together with several other personnel items on a motion by Board Vice President Al Leach.

The agenda, which listed numerous other voting items in detail, including the cost to taxpayers, identified the pay raises only as "approval of ACT 93 Salaries per the ACT 93 Administrative Compensation Plan."

No amounts were listed.

After the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Robert Harney provided the press with a pre-prepared list of the of the administrators, their positions and their new salaries.

He indicated all of them received 2 percent raises.

Business Manager David Nester said, after the meeting, that the cost of the raises to the budget totals is $59,648, a figure he did not have available at the meeting.

However, before calculating the figure at the request of the media, he nevertheless assured us they are within the current budget.

The raises became effective on Dec. 1.

Added together, the salaries of those 19 employees add up to $2,153,738.86.

The largest salary goes to high school principal William Ziegler, whose annual salary will rise to $150,904.84 as a result of the vote. He is followed by Daniel Vorhis, director of education, at $141,459.03.

The lowest salary, $60,077.53, belongs to custodial supervisor Perry Rosado. Rosado, Lower Pottsgrove Elementary Assistant Principal James Dargan ($92,920), High School Dean of Students Todd VanHorn ($91,267) and Athletic Director Steve Anspach ($87,567) are the only four of the 19 on the list earning less than $100,000.

In a discussion on Twitter, Leach took issue with this blogger's observations about a lack of transparency and defended keeping the salary information veiled before the vote.

He said individual salary information is available for anyone who asks for it.

"Personnel is for executive session. And although I TOTALLY disagree a public school employee should have their PERSONAL salary displayed for the public to discuss, it is avail at request," he Tweeted in response to complaints from this blogger about the information not being available for the public to comment to the board before the vote makes it moot.

In items voted on prior to the administrator salaries, the salaries and pay rates of a new teacher, kindergarten assistant, support staff substitute, part-time secretary, duty aide and even supplemental payments for staff taking on other duties were all published in the exact same agenda.

Perhaps Mr. Leach's concern about "PERSONAL salary" being "displayed for the public to discuss" does not extend to those making less than $100,000 a year in the Pottsgrove School District.

Leach also noted that employee's "reviews" are appropriately discussed in closed-door executive session. "I wouldn’t want to discuss individual’s reviews publicly," he Tweeted.

Also voted on prior to the raises for administrators were the 2019-202 goals for Superintendent William Shirk. Those goals were made publicly available ahead of time by being attached to the agenda and were reviewed by Shirk himself before the board vote.

In other matters, the board:

  • Unanimously approved the aforementioned $215,000 cost of replacing six burners on boilers in three school buildings;
  • Unanimously approved spending another $3,750 for an additional piece of software needed to effectively run the new bus GPS tracking system;
  • And unanimously approved four new high school courses: calculus 3, robotics engineering, "music uncharted," and "design thinking and prototype creation."

And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Police Commended, Bridge Limited, Architects Hired

Photos by Evan Brandt
From left, James Christie, supervisory senior resident FBI agent, Lower Pottsgrove Police Detective Sgt. Joseph Campbell, Police Chief Michael Foltz, Joseph Bushner, assistant special FBI agent after Monday night's commendation ceremony at the township commissioner's meeting.
Although not lengthy, the Lower Pottsgrove Commissioners meeting Monday night produced three items of interest.

FBI Thank Yous

The first was the recognition of township police Detective Sgt. Joseph Campbell and Detective Daniel Kienle by the FBI.

James Christie, supervisor senior resident FBI agent and Joseph Bushner, assistant special FBI agent, both from the Philadelphia office were on hand to hand out the commendations for work by the local police.

Here is some video of the presentation:

According to Police Chief Michael Foltz the commendations came about as the result of police investigation of break-ins of unlocked vehicles in Lower Pottsgrove and Limerick townships.

"One of those cars contained government property," said Foltz who demurred when asked what it was. "I can't say," was all he would say.

In any case, Campbell and Kienle canvassed the areas where the break-ins occurred and obtained security video from several private residences.

Images from the video were matched and shared on social media "and a suspect was identified. That snowballed into several suspects," said Foltz.

Within 24 hours of the first suspect being identified, all of the suspects had been apprehended and the "government property" recovered.

Bushner said he was at the FBI office in Fort Washington for seven years in charge of Montgomery and Bucks counties and had several interactions with Foltz and the Lower Pottsgrove Police.

"We enjoy a really good relationship with your police department and a lot of it is because of Chief Foltz," he said.

"We told them we've had a situation here with government property. They quickly scrambled the troops, got out there, found the people, interviewed them and the same day got a search warrant and the next thing, the property was recovered, so it was really a boon to us," Bushner said.

Later in the evening, all five of the township commissioners praised the police department and thanked them for their good work.

Weight Restrictions on Bridge

Engineer Chad Camburn had some surprising and unpleasant news for the commissioners Monday; namely that they own a 60-year-old bridge on Adams Street they did not know they owned, and it is deteriorating.

The bridge over Sprogel's Run is near the road's intersection with Buchert Road and is showed signs of crumbling concrete and rusting steel during a recent PennDOT inspection.

Warning poles have been erected to keep
vehicles from the edges of the Adams Street bridge.
He said the PennDOT inspector said because the water damage is coming from the top of the bridge, the only possible repair would be to strip off all the asphalt and insert an impermeable layer between the infrastructure and the pavement.

But that would get expensive and not be terribly cost-effective when compared to the price of simply replacing the bridge, Camburn said.

"It's lasted 60 years and that's about its lifespan," Camburn said.

The public works department recently posted markers to keep vehicles away from the bridge edges, where the structure is weakest, and the commissioners unanimously approved the posting of a 15-ton weight limit on the bridge.

Although it will not necessarily affect school bus traffic it will prevent most fire trucks from crossing the bridge, according to Lew Babel, Lower Pottsgrove Fire Marshal.

He said fire trucks can cross Sprogel's Run on the one-lane bridge a block away where North Washington Street meets Kaufman Road.

"It will also affect Pottstown fire trucks when they come to assist us," he said.

Camburn said the next step is to get the bridge on PennDOT's schedule, which will make it easier for the township to get grants to help cover the cost of replacing the bridge in the next 10 years.

Architect Hired for New Township Building

With another unanimous vote, township commissioners approved a contract with Alloy 5, the Bethlehem architecture firm that has been designing a new municipal building at the corner of South Pleasantview and East High Street.

A rendering of the new building, as seen from South Pleasantview
Road, that was presented to the public in August.
Township Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. said the contract covers schematic designs, preparing construction documents, bidding and overseeing construction and cannot exceed $396,514.

Once the commissioners settle on the size and design of the building, they have 90 days to vote on moving the project forward.

The public got its first look at the new building plan in August, when schematics for a 16,000-square-foot building with an estimated $8.2 million price tag was outlined for the township-owned lot at East High Street and South Pleasantview Road.

The current township building at the corner of Buchert and North Pleasantview roads was built in 1989 and is only 7,500 square feet.

The possibility of constructing the new building has been discussed for more than a year in the board's infrastructure committee and if the board decides to move forward with the plan, it is estimated it will take 18 months to complete.

And with that, here are the Tweets from last night's meeting:

Monday, December 2, 2019

Multiplication 'Operation' a Success at Rupert

Photos courtesy of Pottstown School District

Rupert Elementary Third Grade "doctors" distribute multiplication knowledge in a successful operation recently.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

Rupert Elementary third grade teacher Jamie Fazekas used imagination and creativity in presenting the Distributive Property of Multiplication math lesson to her students recently.

The class was transformed into an operating room,complete with Distributive Doctors in operating room gear. 

Students worked in operating teams as they performed the delicate step by step procedures.

The doctors found that the distributive property allows them to multiply a sum by multiplying each addend separately and then add the products.

The operation was a success and the patient is doing well. 

Ruper Principal Matt Moyer said "this lesson was an outstanding example of using creativity to engage students while using the concepts of STEAM education and adding a touch of career exploration."

Share the news of another of our outstanding educators helping to prepare the future leaders of our country and giving us another reason to say Proud to be from Pottstown.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Houlahan Joins Bi-Partisan Effort for Better Breast Cancer Screenings for U.S. Servicemembers

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan
Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the office of U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan.

Local U.S. Rep Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th Dist. has joined a bipartisan and bicameral effort to improve breast cancer screenings for U.S. servicemembers.

She joined and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-NY, and Senators Martha McSally, R-AZ, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, in introducing the  Better and Robust Screening Today (BRST) Act.

The Better and Robust Screening Today Act requires the Department of Defense to cover the most effective breast cancer screening option: Digital Breast Tomosynthesis, also known as DBT or 3D mammography. DBT is already covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and almost all other traditional health care plans. Currently, the defense department only covers DBT as a secondary option, after there is an issue with the first, traditional scan.

“Our active duty servicemembers, military family members, and veterans should have access to quality health care,” said Houlahan. “The BRST Act marks an important step in addressing the gaps in TRICARE, which covers millions in our military community. DBT Mammography is the best screening for breast cancer we have for women with dense breast tissue. TRICARE should include coverage for this service so that both those who’ve served and their families have the best chance at early detection. I’m proud of this bipartisan and bicameral legislation borne from the minds of women veterans in Congress.”

The number of women in the Armed Forces continues to grow at a rapid pace. In 1973, at the end of the draft, women represented a mere two percent of the enlisted forces and eight percent of the officer corps. Today, those numbers have significantly increased to 16 percent and 18 percent respectively.

Click here to read the Better and Robust Screening Today Act.

On July 19th, Houlahan led a letter that was signed by 50 bipartisan Members of Congress to the Honorable Thomas McCaffery, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs urging the Military Health System (MHS) to address the disparity in breast cancer screening coverage that is putting the lives of our nation’s servicemembers, military family members, and veterans at risk.

The Sixth District includes all of Chester County and a portion of southeast Berks County.