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?