Monday, August 18, 2008

The Phoenix Steel & Slag - my response

The Phoenix has weighed in on the controversial vote by Ciruelos, Gill, Speck, and Wagner to contract with the CDC for $625,000 of tax monies from Phoenixville Borough's general fund.

My response follows.


Steel & Slag

First off, no Steel, no Slag, for the borough council's vote on extending the controversial Community Development Corp. contract. It was a tough call, and both sides had good reasons for what they did. The "ayes" are thinking of the $125,000 per year as an investment in the continuing revitalization of Phoenixville, and point to the new stores and restaurants that have happened so far. The "nays" are thinking of the taxpayers who keep having to dig deeper, who are wondering, if the millage is going to keep going up forever, what do they care about downtown commerce? Maybe in another five years people will be able look back and affirm it as a great or terrible decision, but it's too soon to say for now.

However, Steel awards do go to those who came up with some good ideas during the debates. For those who keep seeing their money go toward CDC, it is absolutely reasonable to ask for more of an accounting than they have gotten so far. If CDC keeps getting public money, why shouldn't it be publicly audited? Show exactly where the money is going — including salaries — and list the tangible benefits. And don't just list the grants and the new businesses that come to town; list the grants sitting idle because of CDC/borough conflicts, and the businesses that fail after a few months.


My response.

If I wish to be a philanthropist to an organization or charity, that is, and should be my decision. Borough Council has taken that option out of my hands and away from every other taxpayer in Phoenixville by gifting the CDC with $625,000 of our tax dollars.

Adding insult to injury, I don't even know where my money is spent.

Councilmembers Ciruelos, Gill, Speck, and Wager would have best served their constituency by completing the current Streetscape project and by placing a freeze on CDC services for an indefinite time period due to the current economic situation.

No one knows how drastically the borough budget will be impacted by constantly escalating costs but we do know we are starting with a 9.5% tax increase before they even begin this process. Are we looking at an outrageous tax increase totaling around 50% for over the last three years?

Personally, I have already learned of Phoeniville residents who have either had their work hours cut or have been laid off from long-tenured positions. These people along with many of our retirees and average wage earners will be forced, by Council decision, to fund professional services which will not return one dime to them when they most desperately need it.

For longer than the 12 years we have been waiting for the redevelopment of the former iron company we have been told to be patient, pay the ever rising taxes, and be happy to give our tax dollars away to the business community because we are seeking a "relationship" or a "partnership" with them.


I, for one, am tired of paying for 12+ years of promises and not one single tax break or any additional services.

An informed, concerned, compassionate, and competent Council would be rolling up it's sleeves and working hard on behalf of the constituency by whom they were elected to find ways to cut our costs. Additionally, they would bring to an end the abdication of responsibility and authority to given to unelected entities by charging the borough manager and staff to implement Council directives. Worsening the current budget situation by contracting with the CDC is fiscally irresponsible, utter nonsense, and a slap to the face of every Phoenixville taxpayer.

Ciruelos, Gill, Speck, and Wagner simply cannot keep asking us to pay the bill for anything other than the necessities.

In my opinion, there's not enough money in our pockets or slag left in town to give Borough Council.


Anonymous said...

Listen....I think downtown's revival is a good thing and I'm glad it happened and continues. I think the CDC had somewhat of a role but BC, while maybe competent as a grant requester, is a terrible project manager. He hasn't been able to finish anything on time or on budget and apparently is unaccoutable for anything. And he is abrasive, rude and apparently has a very questionable history as defined by his own words. And that is not just a local opinion. I understand there is a recent, very critical letter distributed from the county housing authority regarding more of his antics calling him unprofessional, mean spirited, self serving and counterproductive.

Here's the rub.....those benefitting the most pay the least as far as funding the CDC and other associated borough support services are concerned. Sure.... the business folks invested heavily for their own benenfit, as they should. That was their decision. When do they start investing for the communities benefit. Why aren't they paying more for the police protection they require? Why shouldn't they pay for the parking that benefits only them? Why aren't they contributing to the CDC if it so beneficial? Why do the homeowners have to pay for it? I wish I could enjoy downtown more than I do. The tax burden and cost of living keeps me home. Meanwhile, all those from the surrounding townships that enjoy our revival contribute nothing. And don't give me the baloney about how much my real estate value has gone up. It hasn't gone up any more than nearby communities without CDCs. The council people who made this a priority over every other budget item should be ashamed of themselves.

Karen said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your comments.

After reading your post, I realize I have to clarify the grant process.

Unless things have changed, the borough receives a list in notification of what particular grants are available. Council then has the ability to choose which grants to apply for, and IF the matching funds (our tax dollars) are available to make the required match.

Grant writing, as a good friend of mine puts it, is not rocket science. As a matter of fact, the requested information is basic, generic, and the language used in the application is rather mundane and boring, but it fits the bill.

There is no magic in acquiring grants. They are written every day and anyone with time and a basic knowledge can apply for grants.

The tax and spend nature of this council is vastly different from my time served. The then cost-conscious Council did not go beyond a preliminary discussion regarding the hire of an additional clerk, who, along with other duties, would assist the borough manager for the purpose of grant writing and assistance in administering them. Despite the fact that a new employee plus benefits would cost a fraction of the current fees for "professional services", to my knowledge, this Council didn't even consider the idea.

Anonymous, I want you to know your frustration and exasperation is echoed in telephone calls and personal comments I receive.

The question becomes what will it take for Council to hear we've had enough??

Anonymous said...

I want to know how MUCH in dollars my taxes will go up per year to pay for this $625000 expenditure. Will someone here break to down into actual cost per taxpayer per year? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Karen, Is is possible to get this issue placed on the ballot in November, a referendum on the CDC?

Anonymous said...

I think its about 10 bucks a year, or 80 cetns a month. I think it is worth having an active downtown.

Karen said...

Anonymous 9:39, I do recall seeing figures on another blog.

I'll get a chance to check for accurate numbers tomorrow.

Karen said...

Anonymous 10:04, an extraordinary amount of work is involved in forcing a referendum on an issue.

If residents are interested in persuing this avenue, I would make myself available to assist in the effort.

Anonymous said...

I'll happily pay $10 a month to keep the CDC functioning (if that figure is correct). Of course the CDC isn't perfect but it has helped a lot of positive changes occur in town and has a lot of creative ideas for the future.

Anonymous said...

The key issue with regards to the CDC is




What specifically has the CDC done to bring business' to Phoenixville?

why is it such a secret as to who is on the CDC?

Anonymous said...

Karen, you forgot to correct the anonymous, inflammatory comment about the tax payers paying for parking. As far as I know tax payers have yet to pay for any parking. I am also am assured that BC has acquired money (in the amount of $3.5 million for a garage).

I also see you creative writing abilities are tremendous when talking about how "easy" and "simple" it is to write grants. Wow! News to my ears because if it were so easy then why wasn't it done WITHOUT Barry. Why did we have to anoint BC the CDC director if it were "not rocket science". Would it be because the real art in acquiring grants is not applying for them but rather how and when you apply for them and also (just as in life) it's about who you talk to. Maybe one of the "rocket science" bloggers could take over for BC and start writing them for him. Or maybe council (past and present) could do it? Why not? Where have they been? Where are all the "rocket scientists" in the world?

Anonymous said...

I can hardly wait to see what kind of parking garage we'll get for $3.5 million. Are you kindding me? That doesn't even pay for the design Mr. Rocket.

Karen said...

Anonymous 5:04, you directed a question to me regarding correcting a previous poster on the taxpayers paying for parking.

My answer is this...the taxpayer WILL pay for parking in Phoenixville.

If the streets become metered, if a parking garage is built, where does the money come from to purchase the meters, and finance, build, and maintain a parking garage?

Grant monies are OUR tax dollars returned to us via the grant. Federal grants, as an example, are funded via our federal taxes. State and county grants are also funded by our taxes. A "pot" of monies are received by the various jurisdictions and dispensed BACK to the municipalities, etc., after the funds have been earmarked for certain projects and the applications for the grants are made.

So, Anonymous, yes, the taxpayer will pay.

In addition, Anonymous, if a Phoenixville resident visits the downtown when meters or a garage is operative, the resident taxpayer will pay again for the priviledge of parking downtown.

So, Anonymous, yes, the taxpayer will pay.

If the parking authority requests monies directly from borough council, the taxpayer will pay tax dollars if council decides to fund their request.

So, Anonymous, yes, the taxpayer will pay.

Anonymous, do you think Phoenixville has never, ever applied for a grant before the CDC director arrived here? I respectfully suggest you contact the council president or the new borough manager and ask them to provide you a listing of all the grants applied for since 1849 when the borough was incorporated. I can guarantee you that many, many grants have been successfully passed through the borough and into completed projects.

The CDC was contracted to complete and administrate the Streetscape project. You will have to ask a member of council as to why this project needed to be handled this way. It is really no different or no more complicated than any other grant. Strange days, huh?

Applications are fairly standard, they request certain information, have a deadline for submission, and pass through the same channels with each application process.

I can tell you this, a former borough manager once said to me that the writing and the process is "boring and a pain in the ***".

I guess that about sums it up.

Grant writing is NOT rocket science, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Why are we grumbling about 10 dollars a year for the CDC to continue? Certainly our downtown is worth that much to us! Isn't it? TEN DOLLARS? Come on people. We lose more than that in our couch cushions in a year. I am sick of this inbred conspiracy theory mentality.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh! But Karen in you zeal to prove me wrong with grant money you fail to mention that those tax dollars are all of the states tax monies turned into grants (your stretching now) and if we didn't acquire the grants then someone else would - Right? Rigggggghttt! So you little game of playing with words isn't working. Stick with politics and get out of the creative writing. It just seems funny your so quick to correct everyone except when they support your arguments. That person specifically stated we have paid for parking and you let that statement stand as is (which was completely incorrect so therefore inflammatory in nature).

As far as the grant writing - well whoever was writing them before must be some pretty obscure grants that no one ever noticed. I can't think of one name EXCEPT Barry Cassidy. So the guy must be doing something right. And if its so much of a pain the the a.. process and completely mind numbing then maybe BC is the perfect person for it. Its just funny you can't muster any praise for the guy and his accomplishments (sounds like envy to me).

So what I'm trying to say is your long winded comments are full of inaccurate, inflammatory remarks meant to bolster your weak arguments. Sorry but it had to be said.

Anonymous said...

And to the wise a.. with the remarks about what kind of a garage would 3.5million pay for? Well its the start and there are ways to stretch money and make it work in your favor. Lets put it this way its 3.5 million dollars worth of arguments YOU can't make. You are all just wishing this project to fall flat on its face and that makes me sick. You folks are shameful. Have fun in your misery.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I hate to say this but if grant writing is such "easy" work and anyone can do it then that doesn't say much for previous councils who didn't seem to accomplish much other than... well.... not much!

Karen said...

Anonymous 10:46, you're absolutely correct in that if we didn't secure a certain portion of an allotment of grant monies for specific projects they would go to another municipality.

If you would like to contact me off the board, I will be more than happy to give you a crash 101 course on what I know about grant writing. Frankly, I don't have the time to write EVERYTHING I know about grant applications here, but take me up on my offer. I'll even throw in a couple of copies of real grants to peruse and judge for yourself as to whether one needs to be a rocket scientist to complete them.

Anonymous, this is my blog. I respond to posters when I have the time and when I have something to say or add. No big deal.

With regards to all the prior to the CDC contract grants. Please, check with borough hall. The data I mentioned is easy to obtain, and it is public information.

On public praise for Barry Cassidy, why would my praise make any difference? Barry knows very well how I feel.

With regards to your last paragraph.

My blog is public and open to everyone. Is someone forcing you to read here?

And, you may need another crash course.

Politics 101.

The only time one should apologize for voicing an opinion is when they never really believed it to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Funny Karen, your 101 Crash Courses seem to be empty. I still stand by my comment that the few times I have spoken with you in person and online you want to offer everyone crash courses on what to say and not say and yet if I remember you had a chance to make a difference. I believe you probably did make a difference in your time on council because you are passionate about you efforts with Phoenixville - that I appreciate. But your constant offers of classes in person and online come off as being a "know it all". Thanks but I can figure some things out myself. One of which is that the progress downtown speaks volumes. Whether you like it or not BC and the CDC are a big part of that success. Like the movie "Silence of the Lambs" so profoundly said "...why don't you point that high powered perception at yourself Dr Lechter".

Karen said...

Ahh, you return, Anonymous.


I have not offered "everyone" a crash course. Only you.

I recall your use of the same "Dr. Lechter" remark in another blog, and since you've twice mentioned you and I have spoken in the past, I do believe I now know to whom I am writing.

Please know you are welcome to stop by and chat.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for the offer Karen. Since I'm always at the park with my daughter I may see you again and chat if we coincidentally walk by each other at the park but only if my daughter is not with me this time (although you were very nice to her).

Anonymous said...

Back to my question- What is the actual cost in dollars to me annually as a Phoenixville taxpayer for the $625000 CDC contract. If we are griping about the increase in tax dollars for this thing I want to know just how much it costs the individual in dollars and cents. This is a worthwile question and I can't find this answer on any other blog.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is $125 / person over the full five years of the contract. That was quoted from the council but not confirmed.

Karen said...

Anonymous 11:06, I haven't forgotten your question.

As with all real estate taxes the impact a resident will feel as a result of this addition of $125,000 for a total of $625,000 will depend on the assessed value of your home.

As every residence and commercial establishment assessments vary, there is no flat amount. The tax would vary.

To help you understand here is the link to Councilmember Ken Buckwalter's site and his discussion on the impact on taxes of the CDC contract.

Before we answer the above question, context is needed as to how the Borough raises money to pay for the goods and services it returns to its residents for their tax dollars. Two of the main sources that comprise the general fund (GF) monies are the property tax and the earned income tax, also known as the EIT.

Currently, the general fund property tax is 2.06 mills (3.8 mills for all funds) and the EIT is one half of one percent. At a 93% collection rate, the Borough is projected to collect $1,316,442 property tax and the projected amount for collection of the EIT is $1,675,000 for the 2008 budget.

Each property owner gets a tax bill each year that states what their property value is assessed for. That amount is then multiplied by the millage. So a property assessed at $100,000 pays $206 into the general fund.

The total assessed value of Borough property for the 2003 budget was $$591,262,530 and five years later for the 2008 budget it came in at $687,150,078 for a net gain of $95,887,548. At the 2.06 mills, this represents additional GF monies of $197,283 or $39,505 per year.

The increase is understandable in two ways. First, the hospital property went from tax exempt to now paying taxes. Second, building in the Borough has been good in the past five years.

A person earning $44,460 would pay $222.30 in EIT that goes into the general fund. We supply the wage of $44,460 because that is the average wage a person earns in the greater Philadelphia area.

Now the answer to the question.

It takes about 65 million dollars of assessed property value to raise $125,000. To raise $125,000 from the EIT, using the greater Philadelphia wage average, it would take 562 new residents to move into the Borough. If we were to use the wage average of food workers at $20,920 per worker, we would need to see 1195 new residents move into the Borough.

The simplest solution though, would be to raise the property tax 9.5% to raise $125,000. And if we were to take the advice of our local columnist, Mr. Lawrence, we would double that and pay $250,000 for a tax increase of 19%. To read the column, “CDC a bargain at twice the price” click on the title.

Of course a 9.5% increase would only cover the additional $125,000. The increases in labor, health insurance, fuel, electric, materials, etc. would necessitate say, another 18% GF tax increase.

A bargain only becomes a bargain if you can afford to pay for it.

The 2008 budget can be downloaded by clicking here.
Posted by Blogwalter at 12:07 PM

For further discussion on this issue, please use the link provided.

Anonymous said...

>>>>>To raise $125,000 from the EIT, using the greater Philadelphia wage average, it would take 562 new residents to move into the Borough<<<<<

Certainly we've seen that with all of the new development in Phoenixville as a result of our downtown reputation? I would guess there are 562 people in Northridge and French Creek alone and at the assessed value of those homes the owners make more than $44000/year. I think we are on the upside of this problem. I think the downtown has made us money as a borough and perhaps we need the CDC as much as it needs us?

Karen said...

Anonymous 8:14, Mr. Buckwalter stated "it would take 562 NEW (capitals mine) residents to move into the Borough..".

The $125,000 is a NEW additional amount which will be added to our budget for the next 5 years and which will have to be paid for from NEW additional taxes.

Each year for the next FIVE years we have to find ANOTHER additional $125,000.

So, we're already in the hole for each of the next consecutive five years with no way out of tax increases each year unless the borough comes upon a goose which lays golden eggs or if Council finds one of those rare and indigenous only to Washington, D.C. money trees.