Saturday, December 8, 2007

The train study proposal.

Thanks to an anonymous contributor, here is the current train study proposal.

(I regret that the proposal, which had been posted earlier, is now gone. Sorry, not my doing. The link is now gone.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Getting on track

Some details that I think need to be addressed regarding the potential Phoenixville–Great Valley train line:

Is the plan to run just between Phoenixville and Great Valley, or to have a connection to the R5 line?

Where will the stations in Phoenixville, Great Valley, and elsewhere be located?

What is the projected service area at each end or station (i.e., from what distance around each station are riders expected to originate or end their trips)?

How are riders at each station expected to travel between the station and their ultimate starting or ending points?

Who (i.e., what entity) will operate the train?

Is the line between Phoenixville and Great Valley single, double, or multiple track? How does that affect operations and schedules?

Is the line between Phoenixville and Great Valley electrified or not?

What sort of rolling stock (cars, locomotives) will be needed, how many of each?

Will the rolling stock be compatible or interchangeable with other commuter lines (such as SEPTA Regional Rail)?

What is the expected ridership, in terms of distinct persons and trips per workday, nonworkday?

What is the projected operating schedule?

What is the projected staffing (positions and numbers of persons in each) to run the train?

Will the existing track need to be rehabilitated? At what cost?

What physical facilities will be needed: stations, parking lots, turnarounds, maintenance yards or sheds, offices, etc.? At what cost?

What are the projected operating costs? To what extent will they be covered by fares?

What are the projected capital costs? What is the source of capital funds? To what extent will the capital costs be covered by fares?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Budget Mysteries

According to The Phoenix, the scaling up of a rental inspector position from three-quarter time to full time is among the costs that would boost the announced tax increase for 2008.

Why the rental inspector’s costs should have any effect on taxes is a mystery that Council and the Manager should have to explain. Rental inspections are a regulatory program whose costs should be borne by fees imposed on the applicable properties.

In fact, the projected rental license revenue for 2007 is $167,500 and the budgeted amount for 2008 is $167,000, a mere $500 less. Could it be that $167,000 isn’t enough to cover the costs of one full-time inspector? What is the inspector being paid? Go to the first comment for an answer.

Council Member Wagner is right, Council is not micromanaging the budget. In order to micromanage you must first manage.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Borough's proposed 2008 budget

The proposed 2008 “basic” borough budget calls for a real estate tax increase of 8%, no increase in water or sewer rates, and a slight decrease in the trash fee.
But, the “basic” budget does not include

Budget “B”–“staff recommended budget additions” totaling $3,420,640
Budget “S”–“sponsored items for consideration” totaling $120,500
Budget “C”–“other items for consideration” totaling $1,535,010

In other words, there are still over $5 million in possible outlays awaiting decision.

For some other budget thoughts that I’ve passed on to Council, {sorry, that link is gone now).

The Phoenix "Skips" the News

Phoenixville's 2008 proposed budget was presented to Council Tuesday night, November 13th.

To read our local paper, The Phoenix, you'd never know that.

Maybe it's because they didn't bother to send a reporter to cover the meeting.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Leaks from the secret budget

Rumors abound that the Borough is exploring the imposition of a business privilege tax to staunch the expected flow of red ink in the 2008 budget.

Maybe we should try to recall that the Borough once had such a tax.

Maybe Messrs. Messina, Kirkner, and DiGirolomo, our triumvirate of financial whizzers, should try to recall that the Borough's business privilege tax was REPEALED while they were all on Council.

If they try real hard, they might even discover why they repealed it.

Barry Cassidy--Beyond All Bounds

In his 'Guest Column' in the November 1st Phoenix, Barry Cassidy writes:

"We will be seeking to 'Connect Underutilized Networks of
Transportation' to make sure Norristown is not our window on the world and we connect better with Chester County."

You can't believe that the slogan he chose is an accident.

What is the matter with The Phoenix for publishing this--and as a 'Guest Column' no less?

What is the matter with the Main Street CDC Board for continuing to employ Cassidy?

What is the matter with the Borough Council for empowering this vulgar miscreant to represent our Borough?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Phoenixville phiscal phorecast?

Proposed county budget
includes no tax increase

The Daily Local News, October 30, 2007

Wonder why you don’t see the Phoenixville Borough budget yet?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Phoenix gets one right

Steel & Slag

from The Phoenix, October 26, 2007

Slag goes to the borough administration for not presenting even preliminary budget estimates at the borough council committees meeting on Monday, despite council’s previous order to do so. Borough Manager Anthony DiGirolomo said that presenting current estimates would only waste time. Is that really his decision to make?

Apparently so, because council made hardly any objection. Slag goes to the seven members who tamely accepted this refusal of their direction, but Steel goes to Kendrick Buckwalter, the councilman who has been pressing to get budget figures sooner, so that there would be sufficient time for debating them and making changes, if necessary.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Happy holiday pay

Did you know that last November or so, the Borough announced it was changing how it paid police officers’ holiday pay?

Did you know that apparently someone in the Borough administration thinks that the Borough had been overpaying holidays?

Did you know that the police association has filed a grievance on this issue? (Not too surprising, is it?)

If the Borough is wrong, do you have any idea about how much more the Borough will have to pay the police officers?

If the Borough is right, do you have any idea how long it had been paying incorrectly, how much was paid incorrectly, and what plans there are to recover the overpayments?

It’s only our Borough, it’s only our police force, and it’s only our money–why should our Borough government tell us about it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Help--my budget's fallen and I can't bring it up

On October 10th the budget preparation was on target for distribution to Council Members on the 19th, according to the Manager.

By October 18th, he announced it had fallen so far behind that it would not be ready until November 9th.

Can anyone offer a rational explanation of how the schedule could slip three weeks over only eight days?

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Boro budget -- a tale of deliberate impotence

October 9th– Council unanimously directs the Manager to present a draft budget and narrative on October 22nd, with advance distribution to all Council Members on October 19th. Councilman Ciruelos states “This will be a pillar year for the budget. This is the first year of feedback on a different way of allocating funds [in a new budget format adopted for 2007], and it will help to have a little bit of extra time.”

October 10th– Borough Manager DiGirolomo tells The Phoenix “We will be ready. Really, October 22 was the date I was shooting for anyway. [Departmental] managers are sending their material to me now, and I’ve blocked out next week to work with Steve.”

October 22nd– The Manager fails to deliver a budget, stating that it will now be delayed until November 9th. Other than Councilman Buckwalter, who protests, and Councilman Ciruelos, conveniently absent, Council does nothing.

But the Finance Committee did recommend approval of a budget transfer of $8.06 for soap. That's right, $8.06. At least they are keeping the important things in focus.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Revitalization--best practices?

The New York Times reports on October 14, 2007 about a number of more interesting revitalization projects, among them the conversion of the former “State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers” Massachusetts into luxury residences. Click here.

Makes you wonder what could be done with Phoenixville Borough Hall.

Reading comprehension anyone?

There was also the reconfirmation of the fourth-quarter trash fee, of $73.50. Council believed that it had in June imposed that amount for both the third and fourth quarters, having effectively budgeted in January a trash fee for the first and second quarters only.

–G. E. “Skip” Lawrence in The Phoenix, October 15, 2007

Councilman Gill made a motion that was seconded by Councilman Ciruelos to approve the 3rd Quarter Trash Fee of $73.50 conditioned on the Solicitor’s Opinion as to the need for a formal resolution. The motion passed 4–1.

–Phoenixville Borough Council Minutes of Meeting of June 25, 2007 (approved August 14, 2007); minute book page 468, as available on the Borough’s unofficial/official website.

Instead of just trying to remember (incorrectly) what they had done, why didn't Councilmembers read their own approved minutes? Isn't that why Council keeps minutes?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Revitalization math -- 2 + 2 = ?

For a perspective on government tax incentives for business development read this New York Times article of July 31, 2007, entitled

State Warns Companies in Tax Deals

At least it's not Houston

Two separate headlines that appeared, one after the other, in the October 7th “Local News” section of

Officials: Middle School Students Caught In Sex Act In Class

Despite Law, Breeders Ignore Permits

The link is here

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Revitalization math -- the Schuylkill Metro

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics November 14, 2006 news release, the average weekly wage in Chester County was $1,083 in the first quarter of 2006, while in Philadelphia it was $979.

So we want to build a rail line to encourage commuting from Chester County to Philadelphia, in order to earn $104 less a week, not to mention the additional costs, taxes, and time incurred.

Revitalization math -- jobs

Another justification that is claimed for Borough revitalization investment is the creation of new jobs and the resultant additional employee taxes.

With the unemployment rate for Chester County at 3.5% (Source: BLS Labor Force Data By Counties, 2006 Annual Average), is job creation an issue that really needs to be stressed?

As to tax creation: a single new $40,000 job generates $252 in Borough wage-related taxes, assuming that the employee lives in the Borough and wasn’t employed elsewhere before. And what do the new 'arts and entertainment' jobs really pay? More or less than the first-quarter 2006 average weekly wage of $1,083 in Chester County (Source; BLS Philadelphia News Release November 14, 2006).

A $1 million CD would earn about $40,000 a year.

To produce the same $40,000 in revenue, the $1 million Borough investment would have to generate 159 newly tax-generating jobs.

Again, this assumes that the government incurs no additional costs because of the employee influx. Now, if you have to create parking for 159 people, perhaps the picture changes.

Revitalization math -- real estate ratables

One justification that is often claimed for the Borough’s investment in revitalization is the increase in real estate tax revenue. Let’s take a look at this claim.

A $1 million Borough investment in a certificate of deposit could generate about $40,000 per year.

At the Borough’s current real estate tax rate, 3.296 mils, it would take $12,135,922 in new real estate ratables to produce the same $40,000.

This assumes that $12 million in new development imposes no additional costs of government services and ignores any tax abatement programs, such as LERTA, which reduce taxes on new development.

If we assume that the development would require $10,000 a year in government services, the amount of new development required would rise to $15,169,903.

Do you think that $1 million of bricks and lights generates $15 million in new ratables?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Connecting the dots

In October 2006 the Borough Solicitor was asked to research matters about the “ownership” of a “blog.”

In February 2007, Emanuel DeMutis filed suit in Chester County against “” leading to the ‘outing’ of blog author in April 2007.

Is there a connection here?

Kirkner takes the lead in bad excuses for budget delay

In a recent email to Council Members, Finance Chair Richard Kirkner points out that under the Borough Ordinances “apparently the manager has until Dec. 31 to provide us with a budget.”

Kirkner goes on to state that a budget submission in early November is, in his view, “well above and beyond” the ordinance requirement.

Question to Councilman Kirkner: precisely how late a start to a public budget process are you advocating? How much of a New Year’s fiscal hangover will you be giving us?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cheap trash

Don't forget that Council raised the trash fee for the third quarter only.

For the fourth quarter (beginning October 1), it's back down to $55.25, payable in advance. Pay the new lower fee now.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

And he won't even need clean underwear

"We've tried to tailor the budget process to my schedule, such as it is. Because I'm on medical leave from my job until at least Oct. 24, I cannot attend any public meetings before that time (not to mention the chairs in Council chambers would probably discloate [sic] my new hip). So as far as I'm concerned, my public involvement in the budget process is on hold for the best part of October."

"That said, it did seem like you and other council members were trying to force a change in the process without my involvement, and I just had to hold up a red flag as chair of the committee in charge of the process. My approach may not have been most tactful, but at the time tact was a quality difficult for me to muster."

–Councilman Kirkner, writing to Councilman Wagner

Council consists of eight members. It takes five of the eight to conduct business. This system exists precisely so that our local government can continue to function without all Council Members present.

Councilman Kirkner not only clings to the delusion that he is indispensable, he has apparently decided that his personal participation in the budget is the most important objective, even if it means the exclusion of the six Members other than Mr. Messina and himself. And the public, of course, can be disregarded entirely.

The choice about Kinker's participation is, in any event, a false one. Has anyone considered just putting a speakerphone in the Council Chambers and letting Mr. Kirkner participate from home while Council does business in public as usual?

He said it himself

To see Council Member Kirkner's December 2006 eloquent praise (or is it self-congratulatory posturing) of an open public budget process go here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Pulitzer for the pusillanimous

Only in Phoenixville would the local paper run a column suggesting that the public needs to “get over” the fact that the government is intent on hiding the annual budget just as long as it can.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lots of heads are better than none

The Manager's own schedule calls for having a first draft ready for the Council President and Finance Chair during the week of October 15.

Just distribute that material to the remaining six council members. (Hint: you just add the six addresses to your email.)

Indeed, why not put the draft on the Borough's official/semi-official/unofficial (your choice) website? (Hint: you just add one more address, the webmaster, to your email and ask him to put it up.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sooner or later trash is gonna getcha

The quarterly trash fee will revert to $55.25 for the fourth quarter, due to Council's failure to address this issue properly in June (or earlier).

That will result in a shortfall of about $90K from what the Borough needed to collect.

Where's the cash going to come from?

What will the Council need to do in January to fix the problem?

Call your Council Member and ask him or her to explain it to you. Contact information for the Council Members can be found at the Borough's unofficial site.

In the market for a corrupt, nightmare budget?

“Last year’s budget sheets are corrupt,” [Borough Finance Director Nease] said. “We’re in the process of reconstructing all of it. It has been kind of a nightmare.”

By the new schedule, Borough administration budget recommendations would not be submitted for final review by finance committee chair Rich Kirkner (D-North) and Council president John Messina (D-North) until November 5.

All Council members would not see the results until November 13.
[Borough Manager DiGirolomo] said further that Council “will have a ‘Chinese menu’” of policy and budget alternatives before them at the November 13 meeting. Besides, he said, he expected that Kirkner and Messina would “be working with you guys behind the scenes” well before that meeting.

–The Phoenix, September 26, 2007

It’s been a nightmare, all right. And the new budget process seems to guarantee that the nightmare will only continue.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stand up and be counted

Last year, public meetings for discussion of Phoenixville’s budget started at the end of August. In response to the obvious success of that undertaking, the Council President has decided to prepare the first drafts in secret, not only outside the public eye, but hidden even from the other Council Members.

Council Members do not have to accept this. The Council can direct that the budget be taken up in public and can direct the Manager to furnish the draft budget to all Members.

Council does not have to wait until the October 9th council meeting to press the point. The written request of one third of the council is all that is needed to convene a special meeting (53 P.S. §46006).

Are there three Council Members who will stand up for the public they have been elected to serve?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

If ignoring the solution once is good, ignoring it twice must be better

Back in June, Borough Council finally realized that a trash fee increase would be required. Based on the adopted budget, the trash department was running a deficit in excess of $80,000 in the first half of the year. The information in June indicated that an increase to around $73 per quarter for the balance of the year would be needed to balance the trash budget.

Faced with that information, what did Council do? It voted to increase the trash fee to $73 for the third quarter only.

Guess what: the fourth quarter starts on October 1. The next scheduled Council meeting is October 9. Absent Council action, the trash fee will drop back to $55.25 for the fourth quarter.

The reduction would be nice, if it were not for the red ink it will likely spill.

What were Council Members Ciruelos (Chair of Utilities Health and Sanitation) and Kirkner (Chair of Finance) thinking? Where were the Manager and the Finance Director?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Remediation reading

In connection with the sale of the Foundry, PAEDCO and Hankin Phoenixville Foundry Partners, LP, agreed to a consent order with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Under that consent order, PAEDCO and Hankin agreed that there were hazardous substances on the Foundry tract. PAEDCO agreed to remediate the property to a site-specific standard by January 1, 2009.

The consent order and agreement are matters of public record in the Chester County Recorder’s Office, part of the deed at Book 7051, Page 1916, or click this link. The documents reveal that the property has excessive levels of arsenic, chromium, and lead.

Before we are dragged into another multi-million dollar fit of public spending to make the Foundry “succeed,” maybe it’s time for PAEDCO to show that it is on target to “attain and demonstrate compliance” with the clean-up plan.

What is much more likely to happen is that PAEDCO, which failed to remediate the site while it owned it (sculpture being much more important) will continue to do nothing. After the remediation deadline passes, the Hankin group will assess the risk as acceptable and the DEP will walk away with a wink and a nod.

Phoenixville’s getting a gift, just like a child’s toy from China.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mural, mural on the wall--UPDATED

Dear Ms. Cohen:

PAEDCO’s easement on the Fazzini building is a private issue between PAEDCO and the Fazzinis.

The Borough is not responsible for enforcing such arrangements. The Borough’s only concern with building and demolition permits is whether the standards for permit issuance have been met.

Please go have your hissy-fit with the Fazzinis, not with the Borough government. The Borough is too busy messing up things that they actually should be doing without getting involved taking care of PAEDCO’s foibles. By the way, doesn’t PAEDCO have a million dollars or so left over from the Foundry sale that it could use to repair the mural and remove the oh-so-attractive fence around Renaissance Park? Why doesn’t PAEDCO just buy the Fazzinis’ building, so it can then own both sides of the mural?

As a new Schulykill Township Supervisor, are you now going to advocate your Township’s involvement in all private arrangements between adjoining property owners?

If the easement protects PAEDCO's rights in the mural or creates obligations of the Fazzinis, why doesn't PAEDCO just enforce those rights against the Fazzinis? The Fazzinis did agree in paragraph 3 of the easement that they would "...maintain the Wall in its current condition or better and not to demolsih or allow the Wall to fall into disrepair, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Grantee."

Even if it were the Borough's responsibility to enforce the easement, which it isn't, PAEDCO made it nearly impossible to find the recorded easement unless one already knew it existed. The easement was granted to the "Greater Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce," while the record owner (at the time) of Renaissance Park was the "Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce." The Chamber actually remained the record owner of the park site until August 9, 2007. I suppose after the Mural started to collapse, the Chamber recognized that it had a liability on its hands and finally deeded the problem to PAEDCO, which created the problem in the first place.

FLASH UPDATE: According to Doug Murray, as quoted in The Phoenix, Ms. Cohen wasn't even whining on behalf of PAEDCO, but only on her own ticket. PAEDCO, said Murray, was happy with what the Borough did.

But Murray is concerned about the cost to repair the mural, maybe $100,000. Gee, what did PAEDCO get when it sold the Foundry? Or is it time to bilk the public again?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What do you do with a 13-year-old delusion?

The Phoenixville Renaissance [a subsidiary of PAEDCO] Proposes to Develop the Foundry Property . . . . The project will generate sufficient cash to permit the Phoenixville Renaissance to be financially self sufficient while functioning as the engine to drive compatible development in Downtown Phoenixville.

–from PAEDCO’s 1994 “Vision 1999–Agenda for Action”

You give it a birthday party: September 28, 2007 at the Foundry.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Let's think outside the box

Nepal's state-run airline has confirmed that it sacrificed two goats to appease a Hindu god, following technical problems with one of its aircraft.
The airline said that after Sunday's ceremony the plane successfully completed a flight to Hong Kong.

–From a BBC News story, September 5, 2007.

What size would you like your fakery?

“Now that we have entered the knowledge-based society, we have to deal with an overflow of fake knowledge.”

–South Korean prosecutor Moon Moo-il, speaking about that country’s problems with falsified credentials.

How much fake knowledge is too much?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

"Bad Actors"--A Play in Six Bad Acts

Video of the August 29th Special "Lack of Public Notice but it Doesn't Matter Because We're Really not Doing Anything" Council Non-Meeting with the CDC Board in six ten-minute segments here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Barry really does have ‘magic powers’

September 17, 2002: Barry Cassidy purchased a townhome at 211 Cherry Street in Downingtown from Main Street Village, Inc. The purchase price was $150,047. The deed to Mr. Cassidy was signed by Anthony D’Agostino, President of Main Street Village, Inc.

The financing for the purchase was a $75,000 mortgage loan from WSFS and $75,000 in take-back financing from the developer.

Cassidy was Downingtown’s Main Street Manager from 1994 to 2002.

Now, Barry’s here in Phoenixville as Main Street Manager. Mr. D’Agostino, who was President of Main Street Village, is also the President of S&S Development, now building in Phoenixville.

So, if you’re looking to buy a townhome in Phoenixville and could use 100% financing with a 50% seller take-back, call Barry. Let him tell you how he did it in Downingtown.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The gang that couldn't meet straight

Council found itself unable to meet lawfully on August 29, since it didn't give proper public notice of the special meeting. The Borough was thus briefly rescued from the agenda, which had been packed on some seven hours notice, with a whole array of matters.

Undaunted, Council President Messina pressed ahead with the CDC Board, then adjourning immediately afterward. I suppose there is another 'memorandum of understanding' that gives them greater status than is accorded to other citizens.

Notably absent, in any event, were Barry Cassidy and Manny DeMutis, the real moving forces behind the CDC. Instead, those of us present were treated to the rest of the CDC Board, a group of well-meaning folks left to clean up the mess.

The real problem, I suggest, is not one of 'communication.' The question is whether the CDC, as an entity, is the right partner for the Borough.

Had the meeting proceeded, this would have been my public comment:

We are told to look forward–toward progress, not to back to assess blame.

That is good advice. But we need to look back, just a bit, not to blame, but to see what we did right or wrong in the past.

What other agents of ‘economic development’ has Council supported over the last 15 years?


What economic development have they achieved?

This Council and past councils have felt so pressed to do ‘something’ that they have failed to recognize that in a public-private ‘partnership’ you need partners who have capability, integrity, real commitment (i.e., their own money in the game), cooperation, acceptable conduct, and public accountability.

PAEDCO and PPG each were lacking in these factors.

The CDC is also lacking: it has, I believe, virtually no private funding of any significance and exists, instead, on its Borough contract. There is only lip service, no real commitment from the downtown business community that the CDC represents and which reaps the lion’s share of the redevelopment benefits. It has little depth of capability, since it depends on a single, unreliable individual. It is sorely deficient in its ability to cooperate with the Borough. Mr. Cassidy conducts himself in a vulgar, immature, and uncontrolled manner, completely contemptuous of everyone who does not agree with him, and completely contemptuous of the Borough, which albeit indirectly, pays his salary. The CDC Board, by its failure to control or condemn Cassidy’s conduct, condones it, or, even worse, through Mr. DeMutis, encourages it.

The deficiencies of the CDC do not minimize or excuse the failures of the Borough’s own staff.

Revitalization is not ripping up and replacing perfectly functioning sidewalks. Revitalization is not a two-block run of new streetlights, blue, black, or fuchsia.

The responsibility rests with you, the Council, to take the word “revitalization” and turn it from a shibboleth into a specific set of meaningful and measurable objectives. The responsibility rests with you, the Council, to marshal the resources of government and to associate with real private sector partners to accomplish those goals.

Beyond repugnance

First, the 'repugnant' back-room "memorandum of understanding" between the CDC and the Borough finally comes into the open, after months of obfuscation and chicanery.

In response, the Council sets a special meeting to discuss these issues in public, where they should have been handled in the first place.

Then, Council places that discussion on the agenda before any opportunity for public participation.

An excerpt from Council's draft agenda, distributed mid-day August 29th

I. Invocation/Pledge of Allegiance - Chair

II. Roll Call – Borough Secretary

III. Discussion regarding the Community Development Corporation

IV. Public Participation – 30 minutes

Sunday, August 26, 2007

It is the dawning of the age of nefarious

The 16-point "memorandum of understanding" between the Borough and the CDC had been the result of weeks of negotiations involving, at various times, Cassidy, CDC president Manny DeMutis and CDC board members, DiGirolomo, Council president John Messina (D-North) and a select group of members of Council, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

The terms of the agreement, according to those same sources, were proposed by Messina, transcribed by DeMutis, and then circulated among Council members Henry Wagner (D-Middle), Carlos Ciruelos (D-East), Tim Daly (D-Middle), Rich Kirkner (D-North) and Dave Gill (D-West). With a single last-minute clarification, the agreement as transcribed stood.

—G. E. Lawrence in The Phoenix, May 12, 2007

Fast Forward to August 2007--

Now, all of a sudden, the Council and CDC Board are meeting in public to discuss this issue because the 'agreement' either didn't exist (Messina) or was 'repugnant' (Kirkner). Only Daly actually cops a plea: he thought 'we had this handled.'

What is really repugnant are the flat-out lies by those other Council Members involved in this travesty, coupled with the complicity of the CDC in a back-room deal that everyone should have known was plainly illegal.

It's the Sunshine Law, stupid!

MacPhee, MacPhi, MacPho, MacPhum

"French Creek Center is going to have a core commercial piece," says John MacPhee, Project Manager for the Delta Organization. "It's going to reestablish a strong tax base, as well as provide offices for companies and jobs. It will also include residential components, some of which have already been built."

--"The Phoenixville's Renaissance" by Bert Wylen (in 2005) at

Fast Forward to 2007

Judgments entered against PPG, Delta Organization, Walter J. Logan, etc. in Chester County Court for $1,002,695.57 (docket no. 07-06153) and for $7,655,320.54 (docket nos. 07-06345 and 06347).

Phiction in Phoenixville

The Point, a Bryn Mawr coffeehouse that offers live music, and Kildare's, an Irish-themed pub and restaurant, formed a joint venture to put in a Kildare's restaurant and a 350-seat entertainment venue that many liken to the old Valley Forge Music Fair in the Foundry.

--Philadelphia Business Journal - June 3, 2005 by Natalie Kostelni, Staff Writer

Anyone remember the local charlatan who was touting this delusion two years ago?

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
–George Santayana

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Are you a Cassidy supporter?

i am working with a bunch of yahoo administrators who “can’t carry my jock strap”

--–Barry Cassidy, in an email to Councilman Kirkner, June 6, 2007

Don't miss a shot at this desirable local job.

Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons)

(with apologies to Pierre Choderlos de Laclos)

In his August 15, 2007 letter to The Phoenix, Councilman Kirkner, writing as the “now former liaison to the Community Development Corp.,” responds to Mr. Cassidy’s earlier broadside.

Councilman Kirkner calls the so-called ‘memorandum of understanding’ between the Borough and the CDC a ‘repugnant document.’ He concedes that this document, which he had since May and which became public only Tuesday night, was not even shared with all of Council.

When did the document become ‘repugnant’ to Mr. Kirkner?

Did it became repugnant only when his role as liaison, created by the now-‘repugnant’ document, unraveled in public? How perfectly satisfied was Mr. Kirkner to serve as a cog in the back-room deal which he now denigrates? Just look at Mr. Kirkner’s reaction when Mr. Cassidy distributed his email exchanges with Mr. Kirkner; emails that Kirkner wrote in his official role, but sought to conceal not only from the public, but also from many of his council ‘colleagues.’

According to Kirkner, the CDC Chair told him the document was for ‘his back pocket.’

"For your back pocket" -- a really fascinating choice of phrase, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cassidy the (Un)Quotable

How Barry Cassidy works with us ... in his own words (for $111,000 a year):


anthony requested to attend the PABA business association meeting to tell his side of the story ...what’s up with that? see he is fighting no matter what...doesn’t get leave me alone

---May 31, 2007 email to Councilman Kirkner

it di not predate steve. I just gave them every contract; this is exactly what they do...fuckin exactly. need more information...don’t know...i have been after him for a year on this 5k...they don’t want to work with me. tell them to fuckin find it...I HATE WORKING HERE.

---June 6, 2007 email to Councilman Kirkner

Rich; yeah your right...but they do this all the time. I am sorry. I want to discontinue our meetings. I think that it is a waste of both our time. I heard that same question over and over and provided the information...they suck...your just a guy that really wants to do the right things...I realize that. I am frustrated and really I want out...I can go somewhere where they have someone who can process a simple invoice and tell me what is happening not me have to make them work. these are very dark days for me...i do not want to ruin your revitalization but i am not prepared to work like this much longer...a revitalization is not one guys should be happy i got you this far and move on. anthony is not welcome at the merchant meeting. ellie is calling him and telling him to stay home. if he comes i eat him alive in front of everyone...the press attends that there. attached is the grant list. Just get me my 5000 and we can call it a day. If there are any requests just e mail me and i will comply. let me know when you want me to show up at a council meeting. I really have lost the spirit to work here. I do hate working here, from the most fun job to dreading to come to work because i am working with a bunch of yahoo administrators who “can’t carry my jock strap” to quote larry holmes and really why should i care if you have lots of money out there? no skin off my is your cash flow not mine. I met with manny today and he talked me into staying for a little while longer. I cut out our previous conversation on this e mail and am sending you my response with a cc to manny because even after the pep talk...i just can’t do this much longer and he should know where i am.

---June 6, 2007 email to Councilman Kirkner

it does not really matter anymore i am applying for other jobs and i will be gone soon. that day at the foundry showed me that this will not work. we came up with 16 points and he did not follow need to come up with any more. i had a pretty successful interview with west hollywood arts and entertainment district and i am waiting to see if i made it to the second round. i spoke with greensboro NC and pensacola. I am preparing to list my house for guys already lost me. I am at peace with myself now...knowing this will never work and i have stopped trying.

---June 19, 2007 email to Councilman Kirkner

One Flew Into the Cuckoo's Nest

(with apologies to Ken Kesey)

This document was distributed by Barry Cassidy at the August 14, 2007 Phoenixville Borough Council Meeting. It has never been discussed by Council at a public meeting. It has never been voted on by Council. Ask your Council Member who wrote this and if it’s real. Ask a member of the CDC Board whether it’s real.

Is this what the public pays $111,000 a year to get? Is this the CDC's idea of a public-private partnership?

Or is it just another piece of back room sleaze that has finally made it into the light?

Memorandum of Understanding

This letter of understanding between the Borough of Phoenixville and the Main Street Community Development Corporation will define the parameters by which each entity shall operate and conduct business. This document will define how each entity will interrelate. SO that the inherent nature of each entity can work in harmony and accomplish their individual and common goals.


1. The Borough council will appoint a Rich or Henry as liaison to the Main Street CDC.
2. The liaison will in effect deliver to the borough council and staff all appropriate information and material necessary to complete the mandates of council.
3. The liaison will likewise be the conduit between the Borough Manager and Barry Cassidy.
4. The Borough Manager will at no time contact Barry Cassidy either by mail or phone.
5. The Borough Manager will limit his responsibilities to the administration of the Borough outside the down town Business district.
6. Barry Cassidy will have separate contact with the Borough Solicitor, engineer, planner and any consultants, on any matter pertaining to the Downtown Business District. Or mission that pertain to the work of the CDC.
7. The Borough Manager at no time will lobby, interfere, and impede the work and mandates of the CDC as given by council.
8. Barry Cassidy will be the contact for all public finance.
9. Signing authority will be the responsibility of the liaison and the responsibility of the Borough Council President.
10. It is the responsibility of Barry Cassidy to promote , retain, and expand the mission of the CDC and the Downtown Business District.
11. The Downtown Business District for purposes of this Letter will include but not be limited to the areas south of the bluffs to Hall Street and from the Mont Clare Bridge at route 29 to the intersection of East Bridge Street and route 23, including both north and south side elm streets. Including the area of the former Steel property. And may be expanded by Borough Council.
12. Effective immediately, Barry with the liaison will create a program for parking.
13. In the event that the Borough Manager supersedes his responsibilities he will then be asked to resign or be removed. Let this serve as his notice.
14. A council representative will meet with Barry Cassidy to confirm this letter represents the feelings of a majority of council.
15. A council representative will meet with the Borough Manager to confirm that is letter represents the feeling of the majority of council.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Bit of Borough BureaucraZy

The state statute authorizing the Borough to create a HARB (53 P.S. §8003) sets certain criteria for the membership of that board:

"The board shall be composed of not less than five members. One member of the board shall be a registered architect, one member shall be a licensed real estate broker, one member shall be a building inspector, ..."

The present members of Phoenixville’s HARB are Joseph Puleo (who has submitted his resignation effective the end of August), Dana Dugan, Frank Tallarico, and Brian Ayers.

So, we have four members of a board that must have five, no architect, although one is required by law, and a real estate broker who will be gone in a month.

Is the Borough serious about having a HARB? Has anyone bothered to think about whether it is proper to require applicants to appear before a board that is not even properly constituted?

Friday, July 27, 2007

And now, a recipe for a little fudge

Phoenixville’s administration continues its sorry pattern of financial misreporting to the Council and the public. Needless to say, it’s in the Trash Fund, where the trash just won’t stop.

In a budget report submitted to Council, covering the first six months of the year, the administration reports “solid waste collection” charges of $948,805.21. Since for the first half of the year, the quarterly charge was $55.25, the corresponding revenues should have been around $570,401 ($55.25 times 2 quarters times 5,162 customers). So, what accounts for the $378,404.21 higher figure in the administration’s report?

Let’s just try dividing that number by 5,162 and see what we get.

Gee whiz, it’s $73.31.

Isn’t that pretty darn close to the new quarterly trash fee?

I get the funny feeling that our fiscal geniuses put the third quarter revenue into the figures for the first half year. What a set of accounting principles!

And, by the way, for some reason the first half year’s figures do not contain any of the $24,000 annual budget for workers’ compensation expense.

So, we have a revenue overstatement of $378K and an expense understatement of $12K.

Your $390K fudge is now ready.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Rip Van Wagner -- Awake at Last

Reporting on the June 25, 2007 Council Meeting, G. E. Lawrence of The Phoenix writes:

“Henry Wagner (D-Middle) asked for a breakout of the $247,000 in such [allocated] costs applied to the sanitation budget.”

The printed publicly available version of the 2007 approved Borough budget lists the breakdown:

Legislative: $66,262.96
Executive: $48,407.21
Finance: $109,313.04
Public Works (Director): $19,354.37
Public Works (Mechanic): $3,676.76

Total allocation: $247,014.34

Wouldn’t this have been a question for last December, not for this June?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Trash - it's not over yet

Council voted Wednesday night to keep trash collection in-house. What Council did not do is address the looming six-figure deficit that faces the trash fund.

Read on.

According to the Borough’s approved budget, the total annual costs of trash services are $1,438,562. This figure is made up of direct costs of $1,191,548 and allocated overhead of $247,014. According to the spreadsheet presented by the Finance Director on Wednesday night, the direct costs are actually up a bit, to $1,223,842, bringing the total to $1,470,856. The budget also includes about $129,600 in miscellaneous revenue (sale of scrap, grants, and so on), so that the net total cost drops to $1,308,962 or $1,341,256.

In any event, the net cost per customer is either $253.58 or $259.83 per year.

Now, the problem is that the Borough has been billing the service at the rate of $221 per year ($55.25 per quarter). What do you think happens when you price something at $221 when it costs you $254–260? You lose money.

The short answer is that if the Borough keeps charging $55.25 per quarter, the trash fund will run a deficit of $168K–$200K this year. Since there is only half a year left to correct the underpricing, the needed trash fee increase will, of course, be much larger than it would have been had it been priced correctly at the beginning of the year.

The quarterly fee will need to go to $71.54–$74.67 (increase of 29–35%) for the balance of the year to plug the gap.

By the way, if you think that contracting with Mascaro would have solved this problem, think again. Mascaro quoted $269 or so per customer. This did not include any additional direct costs (such as billing and collection expenses) that the Borough would incur. More importantly, it did not include the $247K in overhead that was allocated to trash collection. That overhead allocation amounts to $47.85 per customer. The underlying overhead expense, which is allocated to all Borough departments, is not eliminated by outsourcing. The $247K would have remained a Borough cost, whether or not it was recovered through the trash fee.

The real problem is that the Borough Manager concealed the problem in the original 2007 budget, counting on the mid-year introduction of PAYT as the ‘stealth’ means to saddle trash customers with a higher fee.

The question now is what will the Council do about the trash fee.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Who's sleeping with whom?

“It’s also true that the previous three weeks of Council business left precious little time for most members to do much else and still keep their day jobs. Ask how much sleep Carlos Ciruelos, Henry Wagner, Dave Gill, Rich Kirkner and John Messina got over the three weeks prior to election day. Then you’ll know how little Daly got.*

*. . .The reasons for the unusually heavy claims on Council members’ time for the three weeks prior to election day were a string of meetings and extended phone and e-mail conferences, all about revitalization strategies. But those issues had resolved themselves, for that moment, into Borough personnel issues.”
–G. E. “Skip” Lawrence in The Phoenix, May 21, 2007.

The above excerpts are taken from Mr. Lawrence’s apologia for the defeat of Council Member Daly in the primary election. He’s right–it was the voter's fault. Had he been able, Mr. Daly would certainly have reappointed himself.

Not content just to blame the voters for their decision, Mr. Lawrence proceeds to heap praise on six council members for dealing with Borough business in a series of backroom meetings and communications that they think get around the Sunshine Law. Interestingly enough, the gang of six left out not only the public, but two of their own elected colleagues.

Whether or not the Sunshine Law was violated may be a question. That the public trust was violated is a certainty.

Monday, May 14, 2007

All it takes is a little putsch

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” –Winston Churchill


1: a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts certain local business interests above those of Phoenixville’s citizenry and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

2 : a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control of Phoenixville government

(With apologies to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary)

In a stunning back-room deal, Borough Council has reportedly turned over major management powers regarding ‘revitalization’ to Mr. Cassidy of the CDC and Councilman Kirkner.

Is there in fact a ‘deal’? Councilmen Wagner and Daly seem to say yes, echoing the proclamations of CDC President DeMutis. Of course, the whole thing was done in private, leaving out not only the public, but two elected Council Members, Ms. Jones and Mr. Buckwalter. The only Councilman with enough sense to realize that such conduct is invalid and unlawful is Mr. Messina. So, having orchestrated the whole thing, he now just lies and says there is no agreement.

On to the ‘deal’ as described. Councilman Kirkner is now the point man, replacing the Borough Manager in dealing with the CDC and with the CDC’s access to Borough staff. Who elected Mr. Kirkner to that job? Like every other Council Member, Mr. Kirkner is elected from a single ward as a representative to function as part a collective body, the Council. That position is not invested with any executive authority.

Indeed, under the Borough’s ordinances, the Borough Manager is “the Chief Administrative Officer of the Borough, and he shall be responsible to the Council as a whole for the proper and efficient administration of the affairs of the Borough. The powers and duties of administration of all Borough business shall be vested in the Manager, unless expressly imposed or conferred by statute upon other Borough officers.”

Not only is the Manager put in charge of the administration, individual Council Member are prohibited from interfering with that role. The Borough ordinance on that subject states that “Other than for the purposes of inquiry the Council or any of its members or any of Council’s committees or its members, shall deal with the administrative service solely through the Borough Manager, and neither the Council nor any of its members, nor any of the Council’s committees or its members, shall give orders, publicly or privately, to any subordinate of the Manager.”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hiding from public scrutiny--unfit for public office

"WEST CHESTER -- Republican commissioner candidate Sandy Moser has purposefully avoided filing a mandated campaign finance report for the May primary, saying she wants to keep her funding and campaign expenses a secret from her opponents.

'It’s just better for me not to file,' she said Wednesday, five days after the finance reports were due to be filed at the Chester County Office of Voters Services. 'This way they can’t look at my reports and see where I’ve been spending my money.'"
--Daily Local News, May 10, 2007.

A candidate for County Commissioner who deliberately withholds her campaign finance report with the stated purpose of obscuring exactly what those reports are intended to reveal--amazing!

An open letter to Phoenixville Borough Council

Members of Borough Council
Borough Hall
Phoenixville, PA 19460

Dear Council Members:

Recent unfortunate events, as reported in our local newspaper, call for a reexamination of how the Borough and the downtown business community must relate in order to improve our town.

I would like to suggest a different approach, which I believe would disentangle what seems to have become a nonworking relationship between the Borough and the CDC.

State law permits the Borough to define a downtown business improvement district and create a business improvement authority to operate certain facilities and provide certain services in that area.

Some of the parameters of such an authority and their advantages are:

1. The authority has a specific focus on issues that affect the district. Council, by contrast, must deal on an on-going basis with issues throughout the borough.

2. The authority is a separate municipal corporation. It would thus in all likelihood qualify on its own for grants that would otherwise require the borough's participation, even if only as a “pass-through” entity.

3. The powers of the authority are granted and limited by statute and its articles of incorporation (which are created by the borough).

4. The authority would be governed by a board of directors appointed by the council. There must be at least five and they serve for five-year staggered terms. (The staggering of the terms is accomplished by setting different terms in the original board appointments.) I think the best approach would be to populate the authority board with active members of the relevant business community. Thus the business community would have a direct role in the governance of the authority. At the same time, the authority is a public entity and its activities would be subject to scrutiny by the general public.

5. The borough would either deed or lease (for a nominal rental) to the authority the existing parking lots, street lighting, and other public facilities (such as the small lot at the northeast corner of Bridge and Gay Streets). The authority would have the responsibility of operating these facilities. The type of improvements that the authority could make include: sidewalks, retaining walls, street paving, street lighting, parking lots and garages, trees and shrubbery, pedestrian walks, rest areas, and the acquisition and remodeling or demolition of blighted buildings or structures. An authority can also do water lines and sewers, but a water or sewer operation apart from our borough departments seems to have little purpose.

6. In addition to operating its facilities, the authority has the ability to provide “administrative services.” These are things that improve the ability of the commercial establishments of the district to serve consumers. They can include: free or reduced rate parking, transportation repayments, public relations programs, group advertising, and district maintenance and security services. I think this would allow the authority to hire the “main street manager.”

7. The authority’s financing would come from a borough appropriation, grants that the authority was able to obtain, and fees levied by the authority for its services.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours very truly,

Richard A. Breuer

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Barry-Tone Solo

“Main Street-CDC Executive Director Barry Cassidy released the following statement Wednesday:

Barry Cassidy has been placed on administrative leave based upon substantial changes in the agreement that made him feel comfortable working in the borough. ‘A deal is a deal,’ Cassidy said. ‘I just want to get my work done in a timely manner. Working with people who are unqualified for their job is one thing, working with people who are unqualified for their job and don't know it is difficult at best. I have never worked in a system that is so bad, I do not believe, in my professional opinion that either Borough Manager Anthony DiGirolomo or Finance Director Steve Nease are currently qualified to work in the positions they occupy. Steve Nease would be okay if he takes government finance 101, as for DiGirolomo, I think he is beyond saving.’ ”
–The Phoenix, May 10, 2007

For those who are not conversant in “Barryspeak” I offer the following tentative translation:

“I work for the CDC, which is almost entirely funded by public money under a contract with the Borough. I have a beef with the Borough officials with whom I must work. Until I get to run things my way, I am giving myself time off with pay.”

About your recent order for a garage

“ ‘Get us our garage ...’ said Ken Beard of Jaworski’s Music.”–The Phoenix, May 10, 2007

Dear Mr. Beard:

Thank you for your order to Garages ‘R Us. In order for us to process your order, please fill in the following information in our order form:

1. Size of garage (number of spaces): _________

2. Price per space: ____________

3. Base construction cost (1 x 2) = ___________

4. Land acquisition cost: ____________

5. Administration, miscellaneous costs: ________

6. Total price (3 + 4 + 5): ________________

7. How will you be paying for your new garage:_________________ (i.e., cash, credit, yours or someone else’s).

8. Will parking be free or will a parking fee be charged? _____

9. Estimated fee ___________, estimated occupancy ________, estimated fees collected (per month or year) _______________.

10. What are the estimated operating costs for your new garage: _______________/year.

11. How will you pay the operating costs: _______________

12. If you are financing your garage, what are the estimated payments (principal and interest) per year: _______________

13. How will you pay the principal and interest: _________________

14. Do the estimated fees cover the estimated operating, capital, and financing costs?

We look forward to receiving your completed order.


Garages ‘R Us

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

When you need to fill a gaping hole

“Approximately 50 square feet of the mural depicting Phoenixville’s history crumbled away Tuesday, leaving a gaping hole in what represented part of the former Phoenix Iron Company against the skyline.”–The Phoenix, May 9, 2007

It is unfortunate that part of the Renaissance Park mural has collapsed.

It is fortunate that Charlie Berger is able to provide his expertise to explain the problem.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Berger’s expertise was not brought to bear before the mural was painted–perhaps the stucco surface could have been made more durable.

Even a Potemkin village needs repairs.

Enter Barry Cassidy and Barbara Cohen.

“At present, there is no estimate as to how much the repairs could cost, but both Cohen and Cassidy . . . agree that is the least of their concerns at this point.”-The Phoenix, May 9, 2007.

Ms. Cohen was, of course, responsible for the project from the beginning (including the fact that it came in at almost double its projected costs). She went on to create an “Impairment Loss” of $3,195,951 at another Phoenixville site.

Mr. Cassidy’s most recent accomplishment is the inability to flick on the lights in the 200 block of Bridge Street.

Mr. Cassidy and Ms. Cohen are plainly the choices for this job: they share not only a monogram, but also a common devotion to public accountability, a unique clarity in their communications, demonstrable project management skills, and a deep commitment to public funding.

Oh, for the good old days, when they were at each other’s throats over the color of the streetlights!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

In today's mail

Less than two weeks before the primary election it was not surprising to find in today’s mail a glossy piece of political advertising for one of the candidates for County Commissioner.

What is astounding that the ad carries an endorsement from “Barry Cassidy, Director, Main Street Community Development Corp., Phoenixville.”

Please raise your hand if you think that a non-profit tax exempt organization should be supporting a candidate for public office, especially when that organization is almost wholly funded by public funds.

In his own words, and against his better judgment

Barry Cassidy's email of Thursday morning, addressed to numerous downtown merchants:

From: barry cassidy []

Sent: Thurdsday, May 03, 2007 8:42 AM

To: [List omitted]

Subject: Re: first Friday/advertisement campaign

The borough has made an offer to me to increase my access a little bit which should solve the problem about streetscape being delay by a month for no reason and the put an end to the borough managers wacky idea about putting parking meters on the street. We will be moving projects forward much faster in the future. Please give Borough Council credit for realizing there was a problem and attempting to correct it. They are good people and they want to do what is right for the downtown. My issue was with the Borough Manager and delays in my projects. When he lost the change order for the second time on the streetscapes I snapped...started to go into “old barry syndrome” as my ex-wife used to call it (new barry is much much more polite and is the smiling fellow you know today. But I caught myself and quit instead.

I am sorry I put everyone through this but I am here to do something, not entertain some weak sister’s inability to do their job...I should have become more vocal 6 months ago but tried to work within the system...I showed too much reverence to the system.

anyway I will be back tomorrow and it is against my better judgment. I spent the last two days seeing what my alternatives were and it looks like I am employable...but manny demutis and his dad are persuasive kinda guys and the council has done their part. Although this is the second time I quit, I really never wanted to come back the first time and did not want to come back this time but I am doing it, fulfilling my commitment to 12-31-08 departure. Phoenixville is a lot like the hotel can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. sorry this had to happened but i do not like to work in an atmosphere of mistrust and be forced to embrace the inability of those around me to perform simple tasks. All I have in life is my integrity and the ability to perform at a high level. I would rather go somewhere and do something than sit back and collect a paycheck. I have a career not a job.

We will not really be shooting too many inside shots for the commercial tomorrow but more outside and crowd shots. there will be a plethora of community groups this week for first Friday.
barry cassidy

Thursday, May 3, 2007

We regret to inform you

Barry is reportedly back from his tantrum.

Not on today’s front page. . .

This news is not on today’s front page or anywhere else in our local paper, but you might want to know why:

● Manny Demutis is telling people that the Borough Manager is being asked to resign.

● Barry Cassidy has cleaned out his Bridge Street office.

● Karin Williams is desperately lobbying Council to do something to bring Cassidy back – is he gone?

● Council President Messina is desperately trying to fulfill Ms. Williams’ wish.

I gather the Borough government just hasn’t been supportive enough of the CDC for the tastes of the unelected Mr. Demutis and the unaccountable Mr. Cassidy. (Ignoring that the CDC gets $111K a year – in advance – to work for the Borough.)

Bridge Street is not the only place where the lights are out in Phoenixville

Friday, April 13, 2007

Trash Costs--A Mid-Year Suprise in the Works?

In his recent article in The Phoenix about Phoenixville’s trash service, Mr. Lawrence states that the trash fee is $220 a year. While that is technically true, the article fails to explore the real trash fees that will need to be charged in order to meet the 2007 budget.

The Borough’s approved 2007 budget shows trash fee revenue of $569K from quarterly billings in the first half of the year. For the second half, it shows a total of $824K from lower quarterly charges combined with per-bag charges, based on two bags per user per week. My analysis of the 2007 trash revenue and expense shows a deficit of $81.5K in the first half, which is reversed by a $104K surplus in the second half. I sent a detailed description of my calculations to all the Council Members on April 6, 2007 and spoke to that issue at Tuesday’s Council meeting.

The Borough’s own approved budget thus shows an average per user charge of almost $160 for the second half year, equivalent to $320 per year. The second half charges represent an increase of 44.8% over the first half. The first half rate was itself about 30% over last year’s, if my recollection of a quarterly rate if $42 is correct.

Even if the per-bag system, which creates additional cost, is not implemented, a rate increase of about 29%–33% is needed to balance trash revenue with budgeted expense.

In short, Council low-balled the trash charges at the beginning of the year, when Council and the Administration knew, from their own approved budget, that users would be hit with another, even larger, increase.

If you want to see the letter and spreadsheets that I emailed to the Council Members, contact them. I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear from you and to share the information that they have.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some words from the US Supreme Court on anonymous political discourse

“Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind.” .... Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names.FN4 Despite readers' curiosity and the public's interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose his or her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation,by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one's privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author's decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

FN4. American names such as Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) come readily to mind. Benjamin Franklin employed numerous different pseudonyms. See 2 W. Bruce, Benjamin Franklin Self-Revealed: A Biographical and Critical Study Based Mainly on His Own Writings, ch. 5 (2d ed. 1923). Distinguished French authors such as Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet) and George Sand (Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin), and British authors such as George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Charles Lamb (sometimes wrote as “Elia”), and Charles Dickens (sometimes wrote as “Boz”), also published under assumed names. Indeed, some believe the works of Shakespeare were actually written by the Earl of Oxford rather than by William Shaksper of Stratford-on-Avon. See C. Ogburn, The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & the Reality (2d ed. 1992); but see S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare's Lives (2d ed. 1991) (adhering to the traditional view that Shaksper was in fact the author). See also Stevens, The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction, 140 U.Pa.L.Rev. 1373 (1992) (commenting on the competing theories).

McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Com'n, 514 U.S. 334, 341-342, 115 S.Ct. 1511,1516 (U.S.Ohio,1995)

Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. See generally J. Mill, On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government 1, 3-4 (R. McCallum ed. 1947). It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation-and their ideas from suppression-at the hand of an intolerant society. The right to remain anonymous may be abused when it shields fraudulent conduct. But political speech by its nature will sometimes have unpalatable consequences, and, in general, our society accords greater weight to the value of free speech than to the dangers of its misuse.

514 U.S. 334, 357, 115 S.Ct. 1511, 1524

The Right to “No”–Lights Out for Phoenixville Public Records

Latest Update: At about 2:48 PM, the Borough now advises that the records will be available.

You may recall the recent questions in Council and in other places about the newly-installed streetlights (or perhaps streetdarks) in the 200 block of Bridge Street.

In an attempt to get some information on that subject, I wrote to the Borough Manager on March 12, 2007, asking for “[a]ll contracts, invoices, payments, and vouchers related to the purchase, installation, or electrification of the new streetlights on Bridge Street during 2006 and 2007, or related to the management of the aforesaid matters.” Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law grants the public access to this kind of data.

Despite the law’s requirement that the Borough respond in five business days, my request was ignored until after I sent a written follow-up on March 21. On March 22, the Borough made available 35 pages of bills and accounting records, but no contracts.

When the omission of the contracts was brought to Mr. Nease’s attention, he provided 11 pages of contract documents. Those eleven pages represent a small part of just one contract. And, since the bills show payments to numerous vendors, there are undoubtedly, more contracts.

At last word from the Borough Administration, sent on March 22, they “will inform [me] when they are available for review.”

The Administration either can’t find the documents for the multimillion-dollar Streetscapes project or they are hiding them. A bit of both, maybe? What do you think?

And what about the lights?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Battle of the Trash Talkers

Councilman Buckwalter has posted a presentation by J. P. Mascaro, Inc. See Mascaro's Q&A.

I think that some of Mascaro’s points are well taken; others less so.

My thoughts:

Low Bidder – Yes, Mascaro was the low bidder. It was also the high bidder. It was the only bidder. When there’s only one bid, do you have confidence in the bidding process?

Fixed Price for Five Years
– A legitimate point.

Containers per Collection
– Whether the limit is ten (Mascaro) or five (Borough) is probably more of a theoretical than a practical concern for most trash customers. What is much more of a concern is that under the suggested PAYT system, the pricing is established based on an estimate of TWO bags per week. Therefore, anyone who disposes of the present weekly limit of five containers will be paying 2.5 times as much in weekly charges.

Bulk items
– Included (Masacaro), separate–fee and by appointment (Borough). A legitimate difference to consider.

Yard Waste
– Six per year (Mascaro) versus two (Borough). Another legitimate difference. Of course, you can track down the Borough’s conveniently parked trucks and engage in DIY disposal.

– Fixed price (Mascaro) versus probably increasing price (Borough) must be considered. But, Mascaro’s annual price of $1.388 million is a big (about 90%) uptick from the $730K they charged in 2004. Also, the $574K annual price of the 1999–2001 contract went to $730K in the 2002–2004 contract, a 27% increase. To be fair, we should expect a larger step up at the end of a multi-year fixed price deal.

Liability and Workers’ Compensation
– These are both just insurance cost issues. Obviously the insurance costs go away if we use a contractor. Environmental liability is probably not as clear-cut.

Equipment Costs and Availability
– A larger fleet operation should be more easily able to provide substitute collection trucks without disruption.

Transition Issues
– If the Borough goes to a contractor, disposal of the present equipment is an issue. Employment of the present sanitation staff is also an issue: we might be looking at unemployment compensation claims.

Share your thoughts as comments or with your Council Member.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

If it looks like a duck ...

The web site at has the Borough seal and the Borough letterhead. The domain name is registered to the Borough.

But, the site's webmaster tells us in his special note and several postings that it's "unofficial" and that he runs it as a favor, that he sort of just posts whatever he gets, and that he takes his directions from Borough Council Members and other people whom he does not identify. This is all part of his explanation for what's on (or not on) the site.

OK. If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's.... a mongoose?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Just a Minute?

The official Phoenixville web site posts Council minutes, but for some reason the latest is for October 2006.

See for yourself at the Borough's Minutes Page.

Since Council has met since then and since the minutes already exist in electronic form, would it be that hard to post them? Or are there other reasons?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

“Talking Trash”

The cost of trash collection service to the Borough is what the Borough pays for it, not what the customers pay through either periodic fees or per-bag charges.

If the Borough uses its own personnel and equipment, that cost is presumably what is reflected in the 2007 approved budget. That amount, before the “allocation of expenses” (i.e., overhead spread from other departments) is $1.26 million.

If the Borough were, for example, to contract with Mascaro, on the basis of a fixed fee per residence per month, the cost to the Borough would be the number of residences times the monthly rate.

Unless the trash hauler is paid strictly per bag, the per-bag PAYT method does not affect the overall cost to the Borough. PAYT is nothing more than a billing mechanism for recovering the real cost. If the real cost is less than the PAYT receipts, there’s a ‘profit’; if it’s less, the difference must come from tax revenues.

The Borough’s hope is that PAYT causes residents to recycle more and, generally, be less trashy. This is certainly a worthy objective. The question is whether PAYT is the way to achieve it.

Using the Borough’s own trash collection, there is very little that changes when recycling is increased and other trash volume is reduced. Reduced trash volume would reduce tipping fees, but they are $319K, only 25% of the basic sanitation department expense. Realistically, how much can we expect the trash tonnage to diminish. Remember, by the way, the PAYT method is based on volume, not weight. Has anyone heard of trash compactors?

If you cut trash tonnage by 25% (just a SWAG figure), the reduction would be about $80K, or about 6% of the total.

The other factor is the ‘recycling grant,’ which is budgeted at $69K. This is income from the state, which obviously reduces the net cost to the Borough (though not to the overall public). How much of this is attributable to the effect of PAYT is not clear. Then there’s an estimated $36K of receipts for recycled waste. Again, how much of that depends on PAYT isn’t stated. Since we already recycle to some extent, presumably both these revenue items would exist in some amount, even under the current per-residence system.

Then there’s the cost of the bags, which is estimated at $70K. Seems to wash the grant, doesn’t it?

The additional cost of administering and enforcing the PAYT scheme isn’t clear either. And the ability of the Borough to capably administer and enforce is yet another question.

If trash collection costs are a concern, maybe we should look harder at where the costs really are. There a nine full-time, two part-time, and one temporary employee in the budget. The full-time personnel account for about 90% of the basic wage cost of $427K and, since the other personnel receive few benefits, virtually all of the benefits cost. The wages and social security for the full-timers are about $389K. Add to that $113K for health insurance and $51K for vision and prescription coverage (average $18,200 annually per employee), and you get $553K. Yes, $553K annual personnel cost for a nine-person staff.

To validate PAYT, our public works department now suggests a trial, using volunteers. Of course, public works has no agenda (other than that of the Borough Manager) and the volunteers are, by definition, self-selected. A good way to assure an unbiased trial.

It’s a pleasure ‘talking trash’ with you.