Thursday, December 6, 2007

As the Worm Squirms - The Dramatic Political Soap Opera in Phoenixville

Ahhh, political soap opera time in Phoenixville!

Grab your favorite cuppa, pull the foot rest up on your comfy chair, and settle back for the latest episode playing at borough hall.

DiG: Cut CDC contract

By G.E. Lawrence, Special to The Phoenix

The 2008 price tag for borough services may rise even more as a result of the latest round of finance committee budget discussions. In a scramble to locate offsetting savings, even the Main Street-Community Development Corporation (CDC) contract was put in play.

Over the strong objections of council president John Messina, D-North, and finance committee chair Rich Kirkner, D-North, the remaining six council members voted to recommend the addition of a second new police officer to Chief William Mossman’s rolls.

In a memo circulated to council late Tuesday afternoon and in remarks to council Tuesday evening, Mossman reported a conversation with the chair of a state “peer-to-peer” study team that had reviewed borough police operations in the autumn. The study, commissioned by borough manager Anthony DiGirolomo, was provided at no cost through the Commonwealth.

“I have not yet seen the final report,” Mossman told council. “He told me that the report should be sent to us in late December or January,” he said. “But he said that by the state’s formula, based on the size and population of the borough, we are four patrolmen under what they would recommend. He said the report will reflect that.”

That finding emboldened some council members who, following committee approval of a new drug enforcement officer at November 29 budget negotiations, had discussed the possibility of appointing a second officer – but stopped short of doing so, fearing its impact on residential tax rates.

“We want people who live, work and play here to get the services they deserve,” said
Carlos Ciruelos, D-East.

The line-item costs of the new officer position is $90,350. Messina noted that with this addition and those added previously, the borough property tax increase could rise to 15.83 percent.

A fresh attempt was made, led by Tim Daly, D-Middle, to eliminate the administrative staff’s purchasing agent position, at $57,500, in part as offsetting savings.

“Don’t eliminate the position,” said DiGirolomo. “I’ve said, ‘Give me a dollar amount,’ give me what you want to save, and we’ll go back and find it. But don’t cut the position.”

A vote to eliminate failed, 3-5.

“You’ve said, ‘Give me a number,’” Kendrick Buckwalter, R-West, interjected. “I asked you to find $60,000 and I got laughed at. Did you find it?”

“Look at the CDC contract,” DiGirolomo retorted.

Prior to the meeting, DiGirolomo had distributed to council an accounting of anticipated county grant marching obligations — with the planned 2008 allocation for the CDC of $111,000 included — as some $179,000 over the amount required. On these grounds, DiGirolomo said, the use of the CDC contract “as a match is no longer required.”

Also distributed prior to the session was a proposal from borough engineers CMX (formerly Schoor DePalma) for grant writing and administration, a portion of the work the CDC provides under contract with the borough, for $43-45,000 annually. “This is detailed. The CDC contract is vague…. With CMX, you’re saving,” DiGirolomo concluded.

“This is surreal,” Ciruelos exclaimed. “I don’t believe this. You want us to throw out an entire relationship. We need to save our relationships. That $111,000 is priceless. I find this embarrassing.”

DiGirolomo’s suggestion garnered no support.

“We need to keep the CDC exactly where it is,” Messina said. But in a reflection on the balance of the discussion, he added: “If you think a 15.83 property tax increase is too big, you can’t [cut it] without turning lights off or eliminating another body.”

Budget negotiations continue at the finance committee’s next scheduled meeting Thursday, at 7:00 p.m. at borough hall.

1 comment:

Karen said...

On the recommendation to consider CMX for grant writing and administration.

I believe this suggestion has merit and deserves a second turn on the floor of Council with a full examination of the idea.

Relationships, as Carlos mentioned, are important but delivering a product to and for the public at the least cost should be a high priority for Council.

I believe Council needs to further discuss this issue and draft an RFP for the work.

A better than 50% reduction in the taxpayer's costs along with the associated drama being instantly removed from all parties involved in the current program would better serve the public.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.