Our Fire Companies — No Reinstatement of Their Budget Cut!

Tonight’s Board of Supervisor meeting tested my faith in our local government.  The audience witnessed our supervisors heap accolades on our firefighters, praise their saving of a handicapped, wheel-chair bound resident in Chesterbrook on Thanksgiving Day, and then watched as the firehouse representatives groveled to have their 5% Tredyffrin Township 2010 budget cut reinstituted.  How is it possible that in one meeting, our supervisors can extol the virtues of our volunteer firefighters and their life-risking efforts and at the same time (some of the supervisors) can vote to take away township support?  And yes, the supervisors can vote to leave the annual fireworks in the budget (I think that budget line item was $20K).  I am all about the 4th of July and fireworks, but does this seem an equitable trade?

Let’s remember tonight’s meeting when some of these individuals take to the campaign trail and speak of their emergency services support. 

As for the BAWG report and the St. Davids Golf Club’s $50K cash offer — I think I better sleep on it before I write how I feel about that part of tonight’s experience.  I have to remind myself that I will take the higher road and not follow the example of other’s bad manners.

Understanding Township Planning Commission Authority

So that everyone is on the same page, here is the description of the township’s Planning Commission and its authority.  It seems fairly clear that the Planning Commission is the last word on land development in the township.

From the Tredyffrin Township website:

“Tredyffrin’s Planning Commission is a volunteer group of nine residents appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Each member is appointed to a four-year term. The Board of Supervisors has authorized the Planning Commission to prepare, update and oversee implementation of the Comprehensive Plan, Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance and Zoning Ordinance and to review land development and subdivision applications. Land development decisions by the Planning Commission are final, while the Board of Supervisors has final approval authority on all subdivision applications.”

Did the BAWG committee consult the Planning Commissioners before including the St. Davids Golf Club’s $50K sidewalk offer in their report?

The Plot Thickens . . .

I continue to focus on the mystery $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club which appears in the recently released BAWG report.  Details and bio information concerning one of the BAWG members has surfaced which could begin to answer some of my questions.  John Petersen speaks directly to this subject in his recent posting on Tredyffrin Township Political Notebook.  

I understand that the budget suggestions made by the BAWG committee to the Board of Supervisors are just that suggestions.  However, by making the BAWG report public on the township website, its contents are then available as public record (and public scrutiny).  If the mission of the BAWG was to look at all available revenue resources, than one might assume that the $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club is an available revenue resource.  But in my way of thinking, the St. Davids Golf Club sidewalk offer is not an available revenue resource.  The Planning Commission’s decision to include the sidewalk requirement was part of the contractual agreement between the township and St. Davids Golf Club for their building project.  Although previous attempts were made by St. Davids representatives for ‘relief’ of this land development requirement, as of now the requirement for the sidewalks still stands. This is not negotiable and therefore can not be represented by the BAWG report as an ‘available revenue resource’. 

Countdown to Board of Supervisor Meeting. . . Looking for Answers

Full Disclosure Request

Where are you going to be Monday night at 7:30 PM?  I suggest that you either attend Tredyffrin Twp’s  Board of Supervisors meeting or tune in from home.

There are questions swirling in regards to the recently released BAWG report and the suggestion of a $50K offer from St. Davids Golf Club in regards to the sidewalk construction.  St. Davids Golf Club has been in default since July 2008 to build the sidewalks and now mysteriously this $50K offer from the country club appears in the BAWG report. Since BAWG released its report, I have been trying to get the following questions answered, but to date I have come up short. 

  • Where did the $50K St. Davids Golf Club offer come from?
  • Was this a written offer from St. Davids Golf Club Board of Directors and was it made directly to the BAWG committee?
  • Was the Township Solicitor, Township Manager and members of the Board of Supervisors advised of the St. Davids Golf Club offer (prior to BAWG’s publication of its report)?
  • If this is a written offer, what are the conditions and timeline for its acceptance?  Who has the authority to accept the offer?
  • Was this offer and the details discussed with the Planning Commission or Sidewalks, Trail & Paths (STAP) Committee prior to appearing in the BAWG report?
  • Are any of the members of the BAWG committee also members of St. Davids Golf Club?
  • Are any of the members of the Board of Supervisor also members of St. Davids Golf Club?

Prior to Monday night’s Board of Supervisor meeting (and BAWG presentation), I suggest that you review the timeline (and Planning Commission minutes) that I put together for an earlier blog entry.  Click here for St. Davids Golf Club Sidewalks – Is it to Nowhere? 

It is my understanding the Tom Colman, Chairman of the BAWG committee will make a public presentation on the report and here’s hoping that there will be time for the public’s questions and answers.  This is one taxpayer with questions, and so far . . . no answers.

Happy Thanksgiving

In the words of John F. Kennedy,

 “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Looking for School Board Budget Details

I explored the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board website looking for current comprehensive school budget information.  I found the final 2009-10 School Board budget which is marked ‘draft’ online. (I am assuming that this became the final budget).  The document is actually a 6-page overview — the budget line listings are limited at best.  The complete budget for the current fiscal year needs to be posted online.  I would also like to see budgets from previous years linked to the school district website, for comparison.

Overwhelmingly, comments received from emails and phone calls have been in regards to teacher salaries, teacher union contracts and the process.  Understanding the teacher salaries are the major component in the school district budget, I was hoping to be able to review the salary schedules, health care benefits, tuition reimbursement, union contract information, etc.  Unfortunately this level of detail was not available on the district website.  I did determine the combined school district salaries and benefits in the 2009-10 budget  listed as $71,595,554.  If my addition is correct, district salaries and benefits is equivalent to 65% of the total listed expenditures of $110,424,721.  Now more than ever, with our continuing economic crisis, full disclosure and transparency is needed and would be welcomed by this taxpayer.

I suggest that the school district’s website include a section where it provides comprehensive information about, and copies of, the school district’s major contracts with employee organizations (unions) entitled to bargain collectively on behalf of teachers. The teacher contracts and benefits account for nearly 2/3 of the total districts costs and commit the school district to maintaining agreed-upon payments over many years. Unions representing teachers in Pennsylvania have the legal right to strike, so I would suggest including information on contract negotiations and proposed terms of future contracts, including: 

  • Number of years the contract is proposed to remain in force
  • Salary schedules
  • Summary of health care benefits
  • Retirement incentives (bonuses, continuing health care coverage)
  • Days per year/hours per day worked
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Other personal benefits
  • Assessment of union dues for non-union members

Not being successful on the Tredyffrin Easttown School Board website, I researched beyond our school district in hopes of understanding the process.  What I discovered was great variances in available information and level of transparency among the 501 public school districts in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania spends approximately $22 billion annually on public education from all sources. About 35% of this money is appropriated by the General Assembly and allocated to local districts by formula. These formulas are partly set by programmatic factors (e.g., funds for “basic education” and “special education” are allocated separately) and by measures of a district’s potential tax base. For most Pennsylvania school districts the main source of local revenue is the property tax, followed by either an earned income tax (EIT) or personal income tax (PIT). Local districts have the legal right to levy other taxes, but many have abolished these so-called “nuisance taxes” on various grounds.

Since the passage of Act 1 of 2006, boards must announce during December of the year before a school fiscal year whether they will increase property taxes beyond a formula-determined ceiling or to request exceptions to this ceiling from the state. 

All of this being said, do you think that our School Board will consider making more budget details available on the district website along with continuing updates on the 2010-11 budget process?  Comments?

Tredyffrin Easttown School District – 7.2% Tax Increase Possible

In an update from the Tredyffrin Easttown School District, it is stated that there is a deficit of $1.5 million in the current school year (2009-2010) budget.  This deficiency plus the current economic situation is affecting the 2010-11 budget decisions.  It is anticipated that the 2010-11 school year’s expenses will exceed revenues by approximately $8 million!  Act 1 of the 2006 Pennsylvania Tax Relief Act allows for a 2.9% increase.  The 2.9% tax increase would provide additional $2 million revenue.  This tax increase would not require voter referendum to pass.  The School Board has not raised taxes above the annual index since Act 1’s enactment in 2006. However, even with the 2.9% tax increase, a $6 million deficit remains in the budget. 

The School Board is allowed to increase taxes above the annual index based on specific allowable exceptions.  The District’s analysis confirmed the eligibility for exceptions in (1) state mandated retirement rate increase, (2) special education and (3) maintenance of selected revenues.  If these options are applied for and approved by the State, the School Board would have an option of raising taxes up to an additional 4.3% – combined with the allowable Act 1 increase of 2.9%, taxpayers could be looking at an increase of 7.2%!  We understand that the current economic situation presents a real struggle for the School Board and the administration, but how to balance the budget?  How do you want the School Board to balance the budget?  Do they greatly increase taxes, reduce services, eliminate programs (such as FLES), increase existing fees, charge for extra-curriculum programs? 

Tonight’s discussion at the School Board meeting should be very interesting — 7:30 PM at Conestoga HS.  Come out and let your voice be heard!  Here is a link to the agenda, October meeting minutes, correspondence and financials.

Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) – Budget Cut?

There is a T/E School Board meeting tonight at 7:30 PM.  One of the major  discussions tonight will be the possible elimination of the FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) program.  Many T/E parents strongly support the continuance of foreign language learning at the elementary school level.  They believe that the T/E middle school foreign language program is accelerated compared to other school districts as a result of FLES.  An online petition opposing the elimination of FLES has had 571 signatures since November 12 – click here for the petition.  Will the supporters of FLES prevail?  Stay tuned.

I’m hearing that our proposed school tax increase may be as high as 7.2%.  Let’s hope that this isn’t so — let me do some further checking.

Families Helping Families – T & E Cares

Thanksgiving is a few days away . . . and then the calendar will be closing in on Hanukkuh and Christmas.  We have much to be thankful for in 2009 so let’s spread the goodwill and cheer throughout the community.  If you want to help and give back locally, I suggest a visit to the website of a local nonprofit 501c3 organization, T & E Care for ways that you can help with their Holiday Drive 2009.  The organization has identified 40 local families that need our help this holiday season with food, presents and gift cards.  The website lists many ways that you can help your neighbors – and remember help is needed year-round, not just during the holidays.

I am proud to look at the T & E Care Board of Directors and know many of these people are my friends; they represent some of the ‘best of the best’ of this community.  T & E Care believes in our community and believes in families helping families.

Celebrate these holidays by doing something for yourself . . . by doing something for others!

Thank you to Save Ardmore Coalition

Save Ardmore Coalition, “working together for Lower Merion’s future” is a grassroots community organization that is dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Ardmore business district.  However, many of the blog contributors including Carla, are interested in communities beyond their own backyard, including Tredyffrin Township.  Carla has been following Mt. Pleasant’s neighborhood struggles and recently conducted a field trip to Mt. Pleasant to document the community. Her posting titled Visiting Mt. Pleasant: Another Small Neighborhood at Risk tells it all.  Carla’s Mt. Pleasant photos.

I am excited that the Save Ardmore Coalition has announced my Community Matters in Tredyffrin Township blog to their audience; click here for the announcement.  Communities helping communities is how we are going to make a difference! Thank you Save Ardmore Coalition for doing your part!

Local Nonprofit Organization has Apartment For Rent in Historic Revolutionary General’s House

General DuPortail House

Do you know someone who would enjoy the unique experience of living in a Revolutionary War General’s headquarters? I serve on the Board of Directors for  historic DuPortail House in Chesterbrook and the home’s 2-BR apartment is now available for rent.  I’m sure that most people don’t realize that there is a rental apartment, located on the 2nd floor of the 270-yr. old stone farmhouse.  The DuPortail House property also contains a rental cottage on the grounds (the cottage is currently leased). Up until a few weeks ago, the house apartment was rented by a lovely young professional but unfortunately Rachel’s company went through an acquistion, she lost her job and was forced in to moving to her parents home. 

The DuPortail House board is now trying to find a new tenant; below is the Craigslist posting for this wonderful historic apartment.  For information or to see the apartment, please contact me at pattye@greatvalleyhouse.com .

Apartment has two bedrooms, one bath, kitchen and living room on second floor of historic DuPortail House in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County. Includes a room A/C and washer and dryer in basement. Rent is $1100 per month, including untilities. Close to shopping and Route 202. Located in lovely park setting in Chesterbrook. Quiet small pet permitted with additional security deposit.

DuPortail House and the Federal Barn in Chesterbrook are both on the National Register of Historic Places.  DuPortail House is available to rent for weddings, receptions, corporate meetings, etc.  There are ongoing maintenance costs in the preservation of this historic landmark property and our nonprofit board struggles to meet these financial demands.  The rental of the house, the cottage and the apartment are required just to meet the monthly costs of the house and grounds.  We can not afford to have the apartment vacant – please, if you know someone who may be interested, I ask you to pass the information along.  If you want details of renting the house for a meeting or special event, contact Event Cordinator Kate Frey, 610.644.4840 or visit the website.

Mt. Pleasant Update

Some updates to report on Mt. Pleasant:

Recently, there was a meeting with some of the Mt. Pleasant residents, the township police and Supervisors Judy DiFilippo and John DiBuonaventuro to discuss concerns and ongoing issues in this neighborhood.  A town hall type meeting is currently in the works which will include Mt. Pleasant residents and landlords, in addition to township representatives.   Providing an open forum for the participants to air their differences will encourage a path for peaceful solutions.  This is good news. I salute those involved in the process and look forward to hearing about the scheduled date for this town hall meeting. 

At this time, Tredyffrin Township does not have a specific ordinance that address student housing in the township. I was told that the township is looking at neighboring municipalities ordinances for student rental properties with the intention of creating our own ordinance.  With the township budget cuts, are we going to have money to pay for a new ordinance? I did some checking on my own — Radnor Township has specific ordinances and guidelines concerning student renters. In their ordinance, Radnor has established oversight and enforcement policy for landlords and students.  It would be interesting to know if Radnor has seen a difference in policing requirements as a result of stricter penalities for landlord/student offenses. Following up and enforcing rental housing is challenging in Tredyffrin. Tredyffin’s  Zoning Officer, Emmy Baldassarre (Tel: 610-408-3614) is doing a good job with follow-up when specific situations are brought to her attention. Understand that she can only do this job if she is provided with specific details of offenses.  Emmy is very approachable and I would encourage the public to contact her with zoning questions.

I received an update from last night’s Planning Commission Meeting.  An applicant for a property on Upper Gulph/Mt. Pleasant area presented a subdivision plan to convert a single family home in to a twin. The plan included an addition which would greatly expand the footprint of the properties.  A number of Mt. Pleasant residents attended and after thorough discussion, the Planning Commissioners voted unanimously, 7-0 to not recommend the proposed subdivision plan to the Zoning Hearing Board.  The plan now moves to the Zoning Hearing Board and we will wait to see what happens.

Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood. . . How Can We Help?

Mt. Pleasant community is located in the panhandle area of the township and borders on Upper Gulph Road.  The historic Carr School (c.1833) is a local landmark that you pass on Upper Gulph. I became particularly aware of the Mt. Pleasant community when I co-chaired Tredyffrin 300 with Judy DiFilippo.  For the celebration, we did a special 2007 calendar which featured special places and people from around the township.  Included was a photo which featured a tea party in front of Mazie Hall’s house in Mt. Pleasant. Ms. Hall passed away in 2006, at the age of 103 – she never married and lived her entire life in the same Mt. Pleasant house.  Read the Phila Inquirer’s Mazie B.Hall obituary for details of how Mazie made a difference!

During my election campaign, I spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon in Mt. Pleasant and spoke to a number of its residents.  One young woman, Christine Johnson impressed me with her spirit and community activism on behalf of her neighbors.  Mt. Pleasant is an interesting mix of young families, older people who have lived there for years and college students from Cabrini and Villanova who are renters during the school year.  There was a real sense from Christine and her neighbors that the township was not helping them with their ongoing issues and they have become frustrated to the point of creating a Mt. Pleasant Community Action Group.  The residents complained of loud parties, speeding cars, trash, etc.  In addition, the neighbors do not think that the zoning has been followed in regards to single family homes housing multiple unrelated persons.  Mt. Pleasant residents feel that their community is looking more and more like college dorm life.  Apparently as recently as 6 years ago, there were no college rentals and that now 1 in 4 houses in Mt. Pleasant is rented to students.  The residents have documented 17 homes are now college rentals. It appears that the ordinance and zoning in the Mt. Pleasant area allows for 3 unrelated persons living in a house but my guess is that there are often times more than 3, their names just don’t appear on the lease.  Maybe 3 or less persons sign the lease but I’m guessing that these houses are home to many more during the school year.  As I walked through the neighborhood, I saw several instances where multiple mailboxes existed on individual houses.  One house had a commercial trash dumpster in the back of the house with a large commercial-like asphalt parking area.  Would appear to me that it was designed for many more cars than would be needed for a single family dwelling.

Another complaint which community members echoed was in regards to police.  The police are often called to Mt. Pleasant because of the loud parties, drinking, etc. but are giving the kids warnings in lieu of fines.  I am all for the idea of warnings, but are the police keeping track of how many warnings some of these kids are getting?  At some point a stricter approach may be in order.  Don’t get me wrong – I spoke to some of the college students and they were respectful and actually one of the neighbors spoke highly of the students living next-door to her.  I am sure that the majority of the students are ‘good kids’, I just think maybe some guidance could be useful.  If the landlords are aware of their tenant issues in the neighborhood, why not supply a list of ‘dos & donts’ that might improve the community living situation. 

The residents have taken their concerns to the Board of Supervisors a number of times, asking for help with the situation.  One resident stated that when she complained about the noise to the police, she was told by the police to shut her windows and doors as a solution.  Not acceptable.  I would like to know the record of complaint calls to Mt. Pleasant and how follow-up to the neighborhood was handled.

Bottom line is the students may have a right to live in Mt. Pleasant (assuming no zoning ordiances are being broken) but the residents also have rights.  We need to ensure that the quality of life of these residents is also protected.  On behalf of the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, I would ask for township support . . . supervisors, police, zoning officer, etc.  Tonight’s Planning Commission agenda actually includes a subdivision request on a Mt. Pleasant-Upper Gulph property.  Here’s hoping that the Planning Commissioner ask the intentions of this owner (investor?) — is this property going to be used as another college rental to add to the other 17 rentals? 

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St. Davids Golf Club Sidewalks . . . Is it to Nowhere?

It seems that the discussion of St. Davids Golf Club sidewalks has stirred some ‘old wounds’.  Not understanding why the BAWG report contained an offer of $50,000 from St. Davids Golf Club re the installation of sidewalks, I did some background research.  Based on meeting minutes from the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission, I think I have been able to piece together a timeline for the St. Davids project.  It is important to understand the history of the project to see where we are. 

St. Davids Golf Club Timeline:

  • 11/04: St. Davids GC presents Planning Commission with sketch plan for their proposed new country club addition.  Following the initial meeting, the Planning Commission discusses the the land development plan at many meetings and on-site visits.
  • 8/05: Sidewalks, Trails & Path Board (STAP) established by Board of Supervisors to review sideswalks, trails, etc.
  • 8/05: Planning Commission approves the final plan for St. Davids project with 8 conditions (including sidewalks).  $25,000 was put in to escrow for the sidewalks. STAP would review the sidewalk requirement for the St. Davids project and offer their opinion on materials, size, etc, understanding that the Planning Commission had the final decision.
  • 7/06: STAP makes recommendation re sidewalks at St. Davids –  4-ft wide asphalt path.  (As a concession to St. Davids GC, using asphalt would not require curbing and stormwater management.  The cost of construction would be far less using asphalt.)
  • 7/06: Planning Commission accepts STAP’s recommendation and St. Davids GC is given  2-year construction timeline, which by my calculations expired in  7/08.
  • 10/08: St. Davids GC comes to Planning Commission and requests reconsideration of ordinance and plan requirements for the sidewalks previously approved in their 2004 application to rebuild the clubhouse.  Request denied.

The October 16, 2008 meeting minutes of the Planning Commission are extremely useful to this discussion, here is the link.  There was much discussion at this particular meeting from representatives of St. Daivds, Planning Commissioners, neighbors, etc.  The final vote was 6-2 against St. Davids GC request.

Now 13-months goes by with no further discussion between St. Davids GC and the Planning Commission.  Fastforward and we now have an offer (?) in the BAWG report of $50,000 from St. Davids Golf Club in lieu of building sidewalks?  Am I missing something?  First off, where did the $50,000 number come from?  Was this offer made directly to the BAWG committee; was the offer in writing?  I found no reference to this offer anywhere in the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisor meeting minutes. 

Aside from not understanding why this sidewalk issue found its way in to the BAWG report, I am troubled by the precedent that can be set by this kind of situation.  What does this say to the authority of the Planning Commission?  What about future developers working in the township — everyone will want to work in Tredyffrin because each time a land development requirement comes up that they think is ‘too expensive’ and don’t want to do they can just offer the precedent set by St. Davids Golf Club (should the sidewalks decision somehow be changed). 

Another question – it appears to me that St. Davids Golf Club has been in default since 7/08 to build the sidewalk.  The Planning Commission approved the country club’s project with certain requirements, including the construction of sideswalks.  Does St. Davids just get a ‘pass’ . . . and why is the country club not expected to be in compliance as any other developer or contractor?  Why should the rules be different for the country club?  Again, am I missing something? 

I know that I stated that I didn’t want my blog to be political but rather community  based, however I’m guessing that there is some behind the scene politics involved with St. Davids and the $50,000 showing up in the BAWG report.   Wonder how the Planning Commissioners are feeling about this item in the report, particularly the 6 members who voted against St. David’s request over a year ago?  I would hope that the Board of Supervisors supports the decision made by the Planning Commission.

Is this indeed going to be the ‘sidewalk to nowhere’ because St. Davids Golf Club doesn’t have to build it?