Tuesday, October 22, 2019

U. Pottsgrove Developer Pushes For Project Approval

The first phase of the Kummerer tract development.

Township commissioners resisted a high-pressure sales pitch Monday night from the developer who wants to build 143 singe-family homes on 49 acres bounded by Pine Ford Road, Kummerer Road and Farmington Avenue.

The project is designed for those 50 and older, which means while it would generate property tax revenue, it would have few school children, thus a windfall for the Pottsgrove School District.

Developer John Benson from Artisan Development Group said a financial impact study showed that each unit would have a positive financial impact of $7,700 to the township and school district.

Benson  wanted the board to grant preliminary and final site plan approval Monday, arguing that his builder, who remains unnamed but which he insists is one of the nation's top builders, is on a tight schedule.

But Pete Eisenbrown, from the township's engineering firm LTL Associates, said things are moving too quickly for a project of this size.

"It is not customary that plans this big move this fast," Eisenbrown told the commissioners.

According to the timeline outlined by Township Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr., the plan was officially submitted in early July. It had preliminary site plan approval from the planning commission bu Aug. 12. It was revised again on Sept. 18 and by Oct. 15, the planning commission had voted on final site plan approval.

Benson said he wants to start construction, which he estimated will take seven years, in 2020.

"You have to pull the trigger sooner or later and I would hope you do before the next recession rolls in because they come out of nowhere," said Benson.

He said the second phase of the plan calls for nearly doubling the first phase by purchasing
The master plan for the full build-out of 279 homes.
more acreage along Evans Road, and eventually building 279 units and moving Kummerer Road to intersect with Evans instead of Farmington.

Benson said he was given assurances the township would move quickly on the project. 

Garner, in outlining the timeline, said that is exactly what has happened.

"The township has complied with everything it said it would try to do. I think this is moving at 100 miles per hour. That doesn't mean you can't approve it," Garner said.

Benson said  pledged to undertake a number of public improvements, including re-paving Pine Ford Road, fixing its intersection with Chestnut Grove Road and improving Kummerer Road as well.

He stressed that his project is allowed "as of right" and that he does not need to commit to the road improvements. At first he declined the allow the township an extension for further review, which meant they had to vote Monday night.

The municipal planning code gives municipalities 90 days to review most developments, unless the developer grants extensions.

"The first time I saw this plan was two weeks ago," said Commissioner Renee Spaide. "I feel like this is being shoved down our throat. I'm not comfortable making a decision on something this big."

Garner told them there were three options. Benson could grant an extension. The township could approve a resolution he drafted with 25 conditions, some of which called for more extensive road repairs than Benson had agreed to make. "Or you can vote to reject the plan," he told the commissioners.

Benson blinked and granted the township a one-month extension.

Don't think this will be over by then folks.

In the meantime, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Author Bill Haley Jr. at Pottstown Library Nov. 8 to Discuss His New Biography of His Famous Father

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

Bill Haley, Jr., well-known local businessman, publisher, musician, and now author, will appear at the Pottstown Regional Public Library on Friday, Nov. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m., to discuss his new book. 

The book, "Crazy Man, Crazy: The Bill Haley Story," is a biography of his father, Bill Haley, and his band, the Comets.

Bill Haley and the Comets were a breakthrough group who introduced the biggest change in mainstream music up until that time. 

In 1953, the song “Crazy Man, Crazy” became the first rock ‘n’ roll song to be in the Billboard Top 20, followed by “Rock Around the Clock” at number one. The music of Bill Haley and the Comets has been a constant in American culture ever since, even if Bill Haley, Senior himself had but a fast-burning, short-lived presence in all of it.

Bill Jr. tells the history of a time in American music, set against the dysfunction and tragedy his father created for his family. The family stories and background are as interesting as the music, even after all these many years. 

The book, written by Bill Jr. with noted biographer Peter Benjaminson, has been celebrated as the first complete biography to tell the story of the first star of rock ‘n’ roll.

You know the melodies and basslines, you know the words, you probably even know the dance steps.
Bill Haley Jr. with his guitar
Come to the Library to hear stories about all of it, compiled by Bill Jr. from years of research and interviews.

When Bill Jr. isn’t involved in music performances or music history, he runs his business publication, The Route 422 Business Advisor, which is a monthly news and issues magazine focusing on the growing business community along the Route 422 and Route 100 corridors in Montgomery, Chester, and Berks counties in Southeastern PA.

This publication, established in 1995, features business profiles, company news, expert columns and targeted information for business owners, operators, and key decision makers who live and work in and around the region surrounding Pottstown, PA. 

The publication, which offers advertising opportunities, is available at www.422BizMag.com.

RSVPs are appreciated for the author-program and book-signing on November 8th, but not necessary. There is no charge to attend. Bill will have copies of his book available for purchase and signing.

The Library is located at 500 E. High St., Pottstown, at the corner of E. High and Washington streets.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Veteran Discount Cards Available at Ciresi's Office

State Rep. Joe Ciresi
Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the office of Joe Ciresi.

State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist., will be hosting a mobile event for Veterans’ Photo ID Discount Cards with Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds Jeanne Sorg.

The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 24 at his Royersford Office, 301 N. Lewis Road, Suite 140C, Royersford, 19468.

Veterans’ Photo ID Discount Cards may be used for discounts on goods and services at participating merchants. 

All Montgomery County veterans are welcome and should bring a photo ID, such as a drivers’ license, and DD214 forms to receive the discount ID card.

An accessible entrance is available in the rear of the building off Oak Street.

Contact Sorg's office at 610-278-3292 or Ciresi's office at 484-200-8265 for more information.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Board Mulls Turning Edgewood into Kingergarten Center, Moving 5th Grade Out of Middle School

The former Edgewood Elementary School.

Having held off on any decision to turn the former Edgewood Elementary School into a fifth grade center, and removing that class from the middle school, the school board is considering a different option.

Last night, Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez made a presentation to the full school board that mirrored one made to the facilities and finance committee on Oct. 3.

The idea is to consider turning Edgewood into a kindergarten center. That would create enough space in the elementary schools to allow fifth grade students to stay in their home elementary school for another year before moving to the middle school.

Since the fifth grade was moved into the middle school in 2014, making it the largest school population-wise, parents, teachers and students have complained about behavior problems and bullying.

When bullets ripped through a West Street home one March evening in an incident connected to what police and school leaders say is a long-running dispute among eighth graders, the discussion reached a whole new level.

But even before that, the district was already deep into an exploration of moving the fifth grade to the former Edgewood school, which was closed in 2014 after Pottstown's other four elementary schools were expanded.

The process included a series of town hall-style meetings hosted at the building where the pros and
Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez at an 

Edgewood town hall in February
cons of the move were discussed. Looming large was a price tag of more than $6 million to get the building back into shape.

The building is currently occupied by two education tenants, a Head Start program and an alternative education program called Cottage 7 Academy.

But last year, the school board put the breaks on the exploration, saying it was not ready to make the decision.

During the Oct. 3 facilities committee meeting, Rodriquez said the idea is not a new one, but at the time it was first considered, it was quickly obvious that Edgewood does not have space for both the kindergarten and Pottstown's growing pre-K presence. 

The building has 14 regular classrooms and Pottstown has 12 kindergarten classes. So there is no way to fit both kindergarten and pre-K in the building without expanding it, an even greater expense. Accordingly, it was discarded.

But since the board shelved discussion of turning Edgewood into a fifth grade center, the problems at
Town hall attendees toured Edgewood classrooms in February.
the middle school have remained. "The object here is to move the fifth grade back into elementary school," Facilities Committee Chairman Kurt Heidel made clear.

Rodriguez said the administration still wants to talk to the teachers, conduct a "listening tour" with parents and speak to those who use the North End Early Learning Center opposite Franklin Elementary, once used as an administrative annex but increasing used to house pre-K classes.

That building started out with one pre-K classroom and is now home to 90 pre-K students, Rodriguez said. He said because the pre-K program is spread among so many partners and so many buildings, it is sustainable without including it in the Edgewood building.

"This is not to say that moving the fifth grade into Edgewood is off the table," said Rodriguez. "This is just another option."

And like all options, it has benefits and concerns.

As outlined by Rodriguez, the benefits include:
  • Addresses the main concern of too many students at PMS 
  • Addresses some concern of a 5th grade center not being as popular or sustainable 
  • Alleviates some Spec. Ed. and LRE Requirements associated with 5th grade 
  • Allows for flexible grouping with some of our most vulnerable students 
  • No or less special education concerns 
  • Less reconfiguration required at Edgewood 
  • Much more common model throughout the commonwealth and more sustainable.
The concerns he outlined include the following:
  • Cost-This will require significant investment in the building and require a hefty bond purchase 
  • Bussing- the affected bussing areas will remain the same, but the age is young to be on the bus independently.
  • 10 teachers from PMS to Elementary bldgs rather than 12 
  • The unknowns…. 
Rodriguez said there will be three public meetings on Edgewood kindergarten center idea.

The meetings will be Thursday, Oct. 24 at 6:30 at Rupert; Monday, Oct. 28 at 3:30 at Barth; Friday, Nov. 8 at 9 a.m. at the administration building on Beech Street.

Things to keep in mind include:
  • No matter what, Edgewood will need repairs. There is no scenario where we keep Edgewood,
    Rodriguez reviews basement repairs needed
    at Edgewood 
    during one of the building tours
    in February.
    but don’t repair it.
  • Resale value has been considered, but the deferred maintenance and limited use options also drives down the market value, making a sale scenario far MORE expensive, than including the property as a part of the solution.
There is also the matter of the tenants. Rodriguez said as leases with the current tenants expire, the possibility that the school make take the building back has to be taken into consideration when negotiating new leases.

Under the timeline Rodriguez outlined last night, the board would have to make a decision by March of 2020. If the decision is to make the change, the new kindergarten center would open in August of 20201.

Bond Re-Financing

The other item of interest from last night, which also occurred during the first five minutes, meaning I missed it, is a bond re-financing that could save the district between $300,000 and $500,000.

The bond is from 2017 and still has $9.915 million on it.

Jamie Schlesinger, from PFM Financial Advisors LLC explained to the board that the current interest rate on the bond is 2.55 percent but in eight years will re-set to a variable rate as high as 4.5 percent.

He said the better option is to lock in a lower interest rate now, while they are at historic lows, for the life of the bond. "We won't do it if you won't save money," he said, explaining that because of the variable rate, the actual savings will not be known until the bond is fully paid off.

As a result, the motion the board passed Thursday night is to set "parameters" for the bond sale.

Because of the structure of the bond, the savings will be realized over the life of the payments instead of in one lump sum, as often happens with re-financing.

And with that, it's late and I am putting the head to bed.

Here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Authority Budget Carries Second Water Rate Hike

Right on schedule, water rates for Pottstown water system customers are set to increase by about 4.5 percent in 2020.

The increase is part of a three-year rate increase schedule adopted last year that will, over its course, increase the average annual water bill by about $56 by the final rate increase in 2021.

For the average residential customer, the 2020 increase will add about $16 to the average water bill, according to calculations by Gerry Keszczyk, budget analyst in the borough's finance department.

Every water customer pays a base rate, but it varies depending on the size of your water line.

The base rate is the fee you pay for water service no matter how much water you use and is applied toward capital projects to improve the water treatment and distribution system. 

An additional consumption rate is applied to the readings on water meters which measure how much water is used at a property and is called the usage rate.

Currently, most residential Pottstown customers of the system pay a base rate of $43 per quarter or $172 per year. In 2020, that same base rate will increase by 4.65 percent to $45 per quarter, or $180 per year -- an $8 annual increase.

The average residential customer in West, Lower and Upper Pottsgrove already pays a $45 per quarter base rate and would see that base rate increase to $47 per quarter under the budget endorsed Wednesday night by the borough authority board.

Over the course of the next three years, the base rate increase represents a 14.6 percent increase for the average Pottstown customer over the current rate and a 14 percent hike for water customers in the three Pottsgrove townships.

As for the usage rate, the current rate is $3.20 for every cubic foot of water, which equals about 748 gallons said Finance Director Janice Lee.

Keszczyk said the average residential customer uses 13 cubic feet of water per quarter, or 9,724 gallons.

In 2020, the usage rate will increase to $3.35 per cubic foot. That means the average residential usage rate will increase by 4.69 percent from $41.60 per quarter to $43.55 per quarter -- an increase of about $1.95, or 7.80 per year.  Add that to the $8 cost of the base rate increase and you come out with an annual increase of about $16 per average household.

The rate hike is part of several budgets adopted unanimously Wednesday night by the borough authority board. Ultimately, said Lee, they are part of the entire borough budget adopted by borough council and do not become official until that happens.

Under the $45.3 million draft borough budget unveiled last week, property taxes would go up by 4.25 percent, in addition to the water rate increases. Sewer rates remain the same under the plan.

Authority board member Aram Ecker made note Wednesday of the savings expected once the new sewer sludge dryer is fully functioning, producing a product that can be sold as fertilizer rather than having to be landfilled at a high cost.

"Is there any chance sewer rates could be dropped as a result?" Ecker asked.

Lee and Authority Manager Justin Keller replied that the sewer system still has debts to pay off, and the better course of action is to keep them stable, using the additional revenue, once the debts are paid off, to maintain the aging system and replace large capital items.

"It was worth a shot," Ecker said ruefully.

The budgets recommended to council by the vote Tuesday include a water budget of $7,245,252; water capital budget of $537,000; a sewer budget of $9,420,534; a sewer capital budget of $515,000 and a sewer lines fund of $748,700.

Cleaner Water

As an example of one expense, as yet undetermined, the water capital fund will shoulder is a required change to how Pottstown's drinking water is treated.

The Pottstown Water Treatment Plant
on Old  Reading Pike in Stowe.
Wednesday night Borough Solicitor Vincent Pompo outlined the terms of a consent decree with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Driven by higher safety standards required by the EPA, the state has tested surface drinking water sources and the lower reaches of the Schuylkill River, where Pottstown gets its water, show a higher level of cryposporidium bacteria than EPA standards allow.

The strain of bacteria of concern is resistant to chlorine, which is how the Pottstown plant treats its water, so a new system that also used chlorine dioxide must be installed to meet the new standards.

As a result, the Pottstown Water Treatment Plan must implement the new treatment system by April 1, 2022.  The cost has not yet been determined.

Pompo said all systems that draw water from the lower reaches of the Schuylkill, including Royersford and Philadelphia will have to comply with the new standard. Similar measures are also being taken in portions of the Susquehanna and several western Pennsylvania rivers he said.

The improvements come on top of other similar measures adopted in May, again at the behest of stricter federal government drinking water quality standards.

Those changes resulted in the water treatment plant having to add more chlorine to the water in order to prevent microbial contamination at a much smaller level than was previously required.

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Council Picks Boyertown Agency to Run Ricketts

The Ricketts Community Center.

Given the choice between four Pottstown-based organizations and one based in Berks County, borough council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to go with Berks to run the Ricketts Community Center on Beech Street.


Having just weathered the fall-out from being dumped by the Berks-based Olivet Boys & Girls Club, which was repeatedly accused of being out of touch with Pottstown's needs, Pottstown Borough Council said "that pleased the community so much the first time, why not try that again?"

Council members Ryan Procsal, Don Lebedynsky, Vice President Carol Kulp and Council President Dan Weand voted to begin negotiations for a two-year contract with Boyertown Area Multi-Service, best known for its Spring Street senior center.

Those who saw Weand, Procsal, Lebedynsky, Weand and Kulp with their heads together just before the meeting started may have reached the conclusion that decision was reached before the meeting.

Councilman Joe Kirkland, who represents the Seventh Ward where the center is located and
The Hall (Wall) of Fame inside the Ricketts Center.
Councilwoman Trenita Lindsay voted against it. Councilwoman Rita Paez also opposed the choice but because she is affiliated with one of the applicants, she recused herself from voting to avoid a conflict of interest.

The applicant with which Paez is associated is Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos, a Latino-oriented non-profit in Pottstown which was a late-comer to the group bidding to run the center, but never a serious contender.

In fact, not only was the group unable to make a presentation last Wednesday, when STRIVE Initiative, YWCA Tri-County Area and the borough Parks and Recreation Department made their proposals, the one presented Tuesday does not yet even have the support of its board.

Board chair Edie Sheehan-Hammond instead simply offered council an overview of CCLU and its programs. Council had no questions.

The dedication plaque outside the Ricketts Center.
But Kirkland had a few statements, speaking out strongly against the motion made by Procsal and
seconded by Lebedynsky to award the job to the Boyertown agency.

"I'm leaning toward having the borough take over running the center again. It's clear that's what the people want," Kirkland said to the many speakers who have addressed council in recent months, none of whom have asked for another agency from outside Pottstown to run the center.

"The more we keep giving this out to outside parties, the harder it will be to bring it back in, we're just washing out hands of it," Kirkland said.

His assertion gained traction when it became clear that most of council did not even know how long the contract is to be, as outlined by the borough's own request for proposals.

Hannah Davis from STRIVE had to call out the answer from the audience.

"We're going to award this contract and we don't even know how long it is?" Kirkland fumed. "We're always looking for the easy way out. Let's do what's right for a change," he said.

"Everyone said the center was best when the borough ran it. The borough (presentation) had everything the others did," he said. " We can take of this ourselves."

"I agree 100 percent," said Paez. "We have to do what's best for the children."

"We should keep this in-house," said Lindsay. "I have faith in our borough. I know we can do this."

The argument against have the borough take over operations is primarily financial. Parks and Recreation Director Michael Lenhart told council it would take an additional $37,000 to have the borough run the center. That's above and beyond the $40,000 the borough contributes annually toward the center operations.

Weand said the budget draft for 2020 already calls for a 4.5 percent tax hike and adding the cost of running the center could increase that.

"My constituents tell me they're not willing to take on any more expense," Weand said.

Procsal noted that Boyertown Area Multi-Service has strong financial backing and a record of professionalism. He said there is nothing that prevents the agency from working with parks and recreation in running the center.

Procsal said before the meeting he spoke to Johnny Corson, president of the Pottstown Chapter of the
NAACP "and he understands our reasons."

Mayor Stephanie Henrick, who does not have a vote, said financially, the Boyertown choice makes sense, but she is concerned that the center and agency being in two different counties could make getting grants more complicated.

"The smart move is to bring it in-house and ask STRIVE to help guide the borough through the first year or two," she said.

It remains to be seen how much collaboration among those who expressed interest in helping to run the center will occur come 2020.

And with that, given that I had a tooth pulled this afternoon, I am calling it a night.

Here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Monday, October 14, 2019

Nov. 9 Talk at Pottsgrove Manor Tells How Marriage, War and Business Built the Potts Family Iron Empire

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by Pottsgrove Manor.
Iron historian and author, Dan Graham will present a program on the Potts family at Warwick Furnace on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m., at Pottsgrove Manor.

Warwick Furnace was one of the most successful iron furnaces of the 18th-century. 

Established in 1737 by Anna Nutt, John Potts soon became a prominent part of the furnace due to his marriage to Anna Nutt’s daughter, Ruth. 

Explore how strategic business marriages and the Revolutionary War impacted this important piece of local history. 

Dan Graham will unpack the Potts connections to the furnace and how the family was able to navigate the changing landscape of the era. A questions and answers session will follow this fascinating lecture.

Tour the Potts family 1752 manor house before or after the lecture to learn about the Potts family and life during the 18th century. The Museum Shop will also be open to purchase books, games, period reproduction items, and much more. This event is rain or shine and invites all ages to participate. There is a suggested $2 donation per person for this lecture.

Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King St. near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off of Route 422 near the Carousel at Pottsgrove and Manatawny Green Miniature Golf Course, in Pottstown. 

Pottsgrove Manor is operated by the Montgomery County Division of Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites.

For more information, call 610-326-4014, or visit https://www.montcopa.org/930/Pottsgrove-Manor. Like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pottsgrovemanor.