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