Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Draft Upper Pottsgrove Budget Won't Raise Taxes

Photo by Evan Brandt
The Upper Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners met Monday night.

 The $3.6 million budget the Upper Pottsgrove Township Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to advertise does not raise taxes in 2021.

It is still early in the year so the budget could change and the final budget is not traditionally adopted until December.

As it will be advertised, the tax rate will remain at 4 mills, 3.4 mills for the general fund and .6 mills for the fire tax.

According to the review provided by Township Manager Michelle Reddick, savings were obtained by, among other things, eliminating medical and fitness center reimbursement payments for non-uniformed employees, as well as by reducing by $5,000 the township's annual contribution to the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

"And the library has been notified the commissioners may do away with the contribution all together," Reddick said.

Other savings were realized when the health insurance premium estimates came in significantly lower than projected.

Neverthless, Reddick reminded the commissioners that the budget they voted to advertise Monday night is operating at a deficit in the general fund, the sewer fund and the liquid fuels fund, although she did not indicate how much of a deficit for any of the three funds.

Commissioners Chairman Trace Slinkerd said there is adequate reserves to cover those deficits and noted that the township's pension funds are in better shape then they were the year before.

He praised the staff for getting the budget done so early and said it is all part of crafting a four-year-plan for the township's finances.

And when Commissioner Martin Schreiber said he thought the board was "cowardly" and lacked "transparency" by reducing the library contribution at a budget meeting, Slinkerd replied "well as I recall you were outvoted, so I guess that's just sour grapes."

Click here to read the Tweets from the meeting.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

$400K Grant to Restore Railroad Bridge for Trail

The railroad trestle bridge over the Schuylkill River between Royersford and Spring City requires extensive work before it can be opened to pedestrian traffic.

The effort to restore a former railroad bridge into a link between Royersford and the Schuylkill River Trail has received a $428,000 boost from the state.

The investments are among 41 grants supported by the Keystone and Environmental Stewardship funds, ATV and Snowmobile restricted accounts and federal Pennsylvania Recreational Trails funds awarded statewide, announced last week. 

This year's disbursements total approximately $7.6 million for trail projects including planning, construction and rehabilitation, as well as for ATVs and snowmobiles.

The funds allotted to Royersford Borough are to be used for the development of the Schuylkill River Trail, including rehabilitation of the Royersford Trestle Bridge, ADA access, landscaping, project sign and other related site improvements.

“This funding for the joining of our twin boroughs [Spring City and Royersford] with a rehabilitated trestle bridge is another great step toward waterfront revitalization and bringing the towns together,” state Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist., said in an announcement from his office.

“Greater walkability and bike access will improve connections for residents of both boroughs to recreational trails, schools, small businesses and grocery stores, while highlighting the historic industrial link that the trestle bridge once provided," he said.

“I’m glad to see this project gaining more momentum,” state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157th Dist. said in a statement issued by her office.

“Restoring this trail creates a great outdoor recreation opportunity for community members, and I’m pleased that this funding will help everyone of all abilities utilize it,” Shusterman said.

“Restoring the Royersford Trestle Bridge will make pedestrian and bicycle travel a safe, easy and appealing option between Royersford and the Borough of Spring City, just across the Schuylkill River,” state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-155th Dist., said in a statement issued by her office.

“This expands opportunities for business and community while providing us with a new way to enjoy our beautiful surroundings, Friel Otten said. "Strengthening ADA access ensures that all residents will be able to benefit from this project.”
Rehabilitation of the Royersford Trestle Bridge, which connects walkers, runners and bikers on the Schuylkill River Trail from Royersford to Spring City, has been ongoing.

Nearly a year ago, a $1 million grant for restoration of the 1919 railroad trestle bridge was announced.

The bridge is approximately 1,020 feet long and requires extensive repairs. The total project cost was estimated at the time to be $1.4 million.

“Completion of this trestle project will mean increased opportunity for leisure, recreation and tourism in our community,” Ciresi said. “Being able to restore a century-old railroad bridge not only keeps Royersford and Spring City connected, but it adds to the beauty of our region and the safety of the entire Schuylkill River Trail.”

In Pennsylvania, outdoor recreation generates $29.1 billion in consumer spending, $1.9 billion in state and local tax revenue, $8.6 billion in wages and salaries, and sustains 251,000 direct Pennsylvania jobs.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Phoenixville Gets $500K Grant for Street Upgrades

Blogger's Note:
The following was submitted by the Borough of Phoenixville.

The Borough of Phoenixville has been awarded grant funds from the Chester County Department of Community Development in the amount of $500,000.

The grant, issued on Oct. 13, will be used for the next phase of the downtown streetscapes revitalization project.

“The goal of our streetscape project is to give an identity and sense of place for residents, visitors, shoppers, and commuters to live, work, and play,” said Borough Manager E. Jean Krack.

These funds will be used to update Gay Street between Bridge Street and Church Street by:
  • Upgrade existing sidewalks for a safer walkable Gay Street.
  • Twelve (12) new ADA compliant ramps
  • Update crosswalks to be more visible to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic
  • Update lighting for both practical and aesthetic purposes
  • Benches
  • Trash and recycling cans
This portion of the streetscapes revitalization will be a continuation of the updates made to Bridge Street in 2013. 

“The streets of Phoenixville play an important role in the livability and character of our neighborhoods and commercial areas," said Assistant Borough Manager Kelly Getzfread. "A safe streetscape plays a vital part in the economic success of Phoenixville especially in our historic downtown area and the small business located in that area.”

Friday, October 16, 2020

Jack Koury Steps Down from PAID After 55 Years

Jack Koury
Blogger's Note:
The following was provided by the Pottstown Area Industrial Development Inc.

Douglas Adams said “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” 

John A. (Jack) Koury, O’Donnell, Weiss, and Mattei Principal, has served both Pottstown Area Industrial Development (PAID), Inc. and the Pottstown community for decades. 

He has volunteered his time and provided exemplary counsel in an effort to further PAID’s mission of developing, coordinating and implementing an overall economic development strategy for the Borough of Pottstown. 

PAID has gone through a series of transitions of its corporate structure and areas of focus since its inception in 1965. 

Through multiple transitions, Jack was there guiding with his ever-steady hand and legal expertise. He served in multiple roles as President, Board Member and Solicitor of PAID’s Board. 

Perhaps most notably, he was responsible for writing the covenants for and was instrumental in the development and sale of the Pottstown Airport Business Campus now known as the Circle of Progress. 

In addition, Jack was a key voice in the execution of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that laid the groundwork for PAID’s current organizational structure.

In this year of unfathomable changes, Jack Koury has stepped down as the official solicitor of PAID. The Board of Directors and the Executive Director owe him a debt of gratitude for serving selflessly with sincerity and integrity.

PAID, Inc. 2020 Board of Directors and Executive Committee
Justin Keller, President – Borough Manager, Pottstown Borough
Stephen Rodriguez, Vice President – Superintendent, Pottstown School District
Jerry Nugent, Immediate Past President – Executive Director, Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority
Eileen Dautrich, Treasurer – President, TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce
Peggy Lee-Clark – Executive Director and Secretary, PAID, Inc.
John A. Bown, III – Partner, Industrial Investments, Inc.
Therol Dix, J.D. - VP of West Campus, Montgomery County Community College
Dan Glennon – Attorney, The Glennon Firm
David N. Heffner - Executive Vice President, CODY Systems
John Jones – Owner, Budget Maintenance Concrete
David Kraybill – President, Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation
Lisa Lightcap – Vice President Commercial Banking Relationship Manager, Tompkins VIST Bank
Richard Newell – CEO, Pottstown Hospital Tower Health
Louis A. Rieger – CEO, The High Street Music Company
Rick Wood – Chief Financial & Operating Officer, The Hill School

Pottstown Area Industrial Development, Inc. (PAID) is a 501c(3) non-profit corporation originally formed in 1965 to promote commercial and industrial development in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. PAID provides services to businesses and organizations seeking to invest, expand or relocate including assistance with site selection, commercial and industrial real estate development and redevelopment, financing, and workforce development. PAID continues to carry out the I Pick Pottstown campaign to create awareness of Pottstown’s assets and attract new businesses to the Borough.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

$1.4M Sewer Project Set for Grosstown Road

Drivers who use Grosstown Road regularly may want to start looking for alternatives.

About a half mile of the road between Berks Street and Roberts Drive will be torn up soon for a major sewer project.

At their Oct. 7 meeting, township commissioners approved the borrowing of $1.4 million for the project.

Township Manager Scott Hutt said the township will pay an interest rate of only 1.573 percent, meaning there will be no rate hike necessary to pay off the borrowing over the next 25 years.

"We're really happy with the rate we got," said Hutt, who said that section of the township's sewer system is older and has been plagued with problems for years.

He confirmed that after several years, the township had decided to disband its fledgling sewer authority.

"As I understand it, the thought was the authority might be able to get better interest rates, but it turns out that was not the case," he said.

The "paperwork" has not yet been filed to officially disband the authority, but it is, in effect, moribund, Hutt said.

As for the project, detour routes will be set up and only local traffic will be allowed on the road while it is torn up.

A start date has not yet been set. "We still need to work out some issues with PennDOT" due to the fact that Grosstown Road is a state road, Hutt said.

"But we would like to get started as soon as we can," he said. Once begun, the project will take between four to six months to complete.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Area Firefighters, EMS Get $300K in COVID Grants

Nearly $300,000 in grant funding that will be awarded to 10 local fire, rescue and EMS companies in the region to help offset expenses accrued because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through Act 26, the state made $50 million in grants available to fire and emergency medical services organizations affected by the coronavirus, as announced last week by Governor Tom Wolf. The funding can be used for operational and equipment expenses.

“As somebody who very recently needed the assistance of firefighters at my house because of a gas leak, I speak with even greater admiration of and appreciation for the men and women who work tirelessly and selflessly to keep us safe in emergency situations,” said state Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist., whose office issued a release announcing the grants.

“This funding through CARES Act grants will provide valuable support to these companies in their ongoing efforts to protect our communities and residents," Ciresi said.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our office has remained open to provide the necessary resources that our fire service and EMS personnel need to fulfill a critical public safety role throughout the commonwealth," state fire commissioner Bruce Trego said in the release. 

"Departments have been exceptionally patient during this process, as our office has worked through changing federal guidance dictating how these dollars can be spent,” Trego said.

In the 146th Legislative District, grants totaling $292,939 were awarded as follows:
  • Goodwill Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 1 (Pottstown) – $39,021.
  • Limerick Fire Dept. – $36,842.
  • North End Fire Co. (Pottstown) – $25,342.
  • Perkiomen Township Fire Co. – $25,342.
  • Royersford Fire Dept. – $36,842.
  • Trappe Fire Co. No. 1 – $40,119.
  • Friendship HLH&A Inc. (Royersford) – $15,048.
  • Empire Hook & Ladder Co. No. 1 (Pottstown) – $23,973.
  • Philadelphia Steam Fire Engine Co. No. 1 (Pottstown) – $25,068.
  • Ringing Hill Fire Co. (Lower Pottsgrove) – $25,342.
“I offer heartfelt congratulations to these companies and the heroes who work for them,” Ciresi said. 

“In my opinion, it is not possible to overvalue what fire, rescue and EMS mean to me, our district and the many people and businesses who’ve needed – or might eventually need – their assistance," said Ciresi. "Thank you for all you do.”

In response to his recent gas leak scare, Ciresi positioned his district office at 301 N. Lewis Road, Suite 140C, in Royersford to accept donations of new carbon monoxide detectors that will be distributed to local fire companies.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Greenway Needs 'Citizen Scientists' for River Study

Two Hill School students use tools to test the water quality of the Schuylkill River during an activity with Schuylkill Greenways at Towpath Park in East Coventry. This photo was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blogger's Note: The following was submitted by Schuylkill River Greenways.

The nonprofit Schuylkill River Greenways, in partnership with Berks Nature, Bartram’s Garden, The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Stroud Water Research Center, and Princeton Hydro, kicked off a Water Quality Monitoring Project for the Schuylkill River on World Habitat Day, Oct. 5.

This project, focused on the main stem of the river from Berks Nature in Reading to Bartram’s Garden in southwest Philadelphia, is aimed to document the current ecological status and health of the river and seeks to engage and educate a diverse set of river users and residents.

“An important aspect of our mission is to connect communities to the Schuylkill River through recreational and educational activities," said Tim Fenchel, Deputy Director of Schuylkill River Greenways. "To fully achieve the river’s potential, we must help the public understand the current health status and what they can do to continue to improve its quality for this generation and generations to come."

A Mayfly datalogger was installed at Towpath Park 
in East Coventry to collect water quality data 
such as temperature, oxygen, and turbidity.
In order to monitor the presence and/or distribution of litter along the Schuylkill River, water quality partners are launching a campaign to recruit “Community Scientists” to conduct 5-minute Visual Monitoring Assessments. Using their mobile device, these volunteers can simply record the trash accumulation or dumping points along a 100-foot section of the Schuylkill River via a user-friendly form accessible from a cell phone: bit.ly/litterform.

“Trash is important to address when talking about the health of a waterway because it’s often the most visually obvious form of pollution. Bacterial and chemical pollution are generally less directly observable, but when we see trash, it instantly informs our impression of a body of water,” said Chloe Wang, River Programs Coordinator at Bartram's Garden. “And, it can point to larger problems. For example, near Bartram’s Garden, a lot of trash washes into the river from combined sewer overflows, which also introduce harmful bacteria into the water. It will be interesting to see how the presence of trash differs along various stretches of the Schuylkill.”

“This is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in the Schuylkill River to spend time on the river and provide valuable feedback on the conditions of the river,” said David Bressler, Project Facilitator at Stroud Water Research Center. “Schuylkill River Greenways and its partners in this project are looking for motivated and dependable individuals to help them learn about the Schuylkill River and move in positive directions toward making the river more accessible to the community. Support from volunteers is very important and is greatly appreciated."

A Hill School student tests a sample of the Schuylkill River at 
Towpath Park in East Coventry during a water quality 
monitoring activity  with Schuylkill River Greenways.
The goal is to document critical areas of trash accumulation or dumping points in order to guide management efforts to better deal with this pollution. In addition to the multiple-choice questions to rank trash levels and quantities, this platform asks volunteers to submit a photo of the area and collects the GPS location. By utilizing this user-friendly platform, the data collected under this effort will be summarized and visualized by the project team.

“This project is an important study that we can hopefully use to connect people back to the river and show that the Schuylkill River is a place to be enjoyed by all,” said Michael Griffith, Education & Watershed Specialist at Berks Nature.

In 1985 the United Nations designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all to adequate shelter and to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat. By understanding and improving water quality in the Schuylkill River, we are creating a place that enables community members to access public green and open spaces. This effort also supports UN Sustainable Development Goal 11, which aims for resilient, inclusive, safe, diverse cities by 2030.

In addition to the Community Scientist visual assessments, the stakeholder team is conducting water quality sampling and monitoring over the next year at four locations along the main stem of the Schuylkill River. This scientific documentation of critical water quality parameters will be performed by the stakeholder group’s employees and long-term volunteers, who are trained in data collection and scientific methods. We will collect data on bacterial concentrations in the river using a combination of 3-M Petrifilm kits and laboratory based analytical measures. In addition, in-situ temperature, oxygen, pH, and turbidity data will be collected utilizing Mayfly dataloggers.

Sarah Crothers, Schuylkill River Greenways education director, 
teaches a group of students from the Hill School about water 
quality along the Schuylkill River at Towpath Park in East 
Coventry. This photo was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic
“Our research shows that residents care about the river but are not confident whether it is clean or safe to use for recreational activity. So, we’ve designed a volunteer survey and scientific water quality assessment to document the ecological health of the Schuylkill River,” said Michael Hartshorne, Aquatic Resources Project Manager at Princeton Hydro. “By studying bacterial inputs and identifying hotspots for trash, we can communicate the status of the river, provide recommendations on areas of improvement, and ultimately, change the current public perception of the river.”

For the water quality monitoring, Princeton Hydro scientists will provide training to the partner nonprofit organizations’ staff and review the methods and protocols to assure the highest level of quality. This long-term data collection effort is slated to begin this month and continue for approximately one year. The results of this assessment will allow us to determine potential hotspots related to nutrient and bacteria inputs and to understand the overall ecological health of the Schuylkill River.

Overall, through this effort, the stakeholder team hopes to connect residents and communities with the Schuylkill River and to encourage engagement with this special resource.