Below are my 3 most recent newsletters. Scroll down below Fall, for the Winter and Summer editions.
Fall 2013 Newsletter
A message from Your Ward 2 Township Commissioner
St Mary’s Villa
Although St Mary’s Villa for Children and Families is not in Ward 2, it borders our ward. Any change there will have a big impact on our community.
St. Mary’s has been operating in Upper Dublin since 1936. Until this past April, it has been run by the Sisters of Holy Family of Nazareth and The Holy Family Institute. Now called “The Villa”, it is operated by Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC). PHMC’s website states “The Villa serves youth who have demonstrated a history of truancy, emotional trauma, family conflict and difficulties in the community.” The children are mostly adjudicated from Philadelphia and some have been in trouble with the law. Residents with children in the High School and Middle School may be aware of issues of bad behavior involving kids from St Mary’s, whom the Upper Dublin School District is required to educate.
Our police and fire company have responded to an increasing number of calls there over the years. Police have had physical altercations with some of the kids, and the toll this has taken on the Township has been costly. These costs have been rising for 15 years, but little can be done since the facility is under the State’s oversight.
The facility is zoned institutional, so any changes would require a zoning amendment. The property is currently under contract for sale with a developer. There is a little less than 2 years left on the lease with PHMC, and the sale will go through afterwards, contingent upon the property being rezoned. There is interest in retaining “the castle,” and I have heard that a historian may be hired to help guide the preservation. Although development plans have not been submitted yet, it is my understanding that the developer seeks to build high-density housing using a broad housing type mix. There has been some talk that a senior citizen friendly concept is being considered, but one that is not age restricted. My career in social work, community development, and management in geriatrics and senior living go hand in hand with my responsibilities as your Township Commissioner, causing me great interest in these plans. Not only because the plans have an impact on the way Upper Dublin residents may age in our community, but because any changes that focus on a particular demographic, may have a significant impact on the community as a whole, specifically Ward 2.
So what is best for the community? With the elimination of problems surrounding the residents of St Mary’s, police would be able to refocus their efforts on other issues. Currently, the facility does not pay taxes, creating a big burden on the Township and School District. New development will bring in tax revenue. With a mixed housing concept, the Township will have less a need to provide services typical of a solely single family development.
As a commissioner, it is my responsibility to evaluate all possible outcomes. The Township cannot restrict who could live in these homes, and development plans have yet to be created. By the time development begins, the plans for the type of homes and residents could change.
I value your feedback. Should the Township reject a zoning change request and continue to have an institutional use, housing more problem-some kids? Should a large scale housing development be allowed if the burden on the school district is unknown? Be assured that as your Commissioner I will stand with you with regarding any changes, and advocate for the best interests of the Township.
The Zieger property on Welsh Road has an approved development plan for large single family homes. With the collapse similar developments, the builder approached the Township to consider smaller single family homes but then asked to consider age restricted, 55+. There are advantages to each option, but for School District finances, age restricted is the best fit. An analysis by the School District showed about $600,000 in new tax revenue. Nothing has been decided or even presented to the Board of Commissioners for action yet.
One advantage to development there is the removal of the old green houses. The rose farm used a significant number of toxic chemicals as both fertilizers and insecticides. The ground is saturated with these chemicals which are leaching into the area, creating a serious environmental issue. Any development will be required to meet federal EPA and state DEP regulations and safeguards. It will be much better in the long term to remove the green houses and the soil on which they sit. The fields will not remain vacant as some people think they should. I will not support the Township spending millions of dollars to purchase the property, and remediate the toxic environmental issues.
The flood retarding structures (dams) are scheduled for completion around the beginning of the year. The Township is precluded by state law from instituting a business tax as many of our neighboring township have, so it is best if we can improve the viability of the Office Park and the real estate taxes. The dams are a big part of that picture as they will significantly reduce the flooding, although not eliminate it entirely. Remember that Upper Dublin received the largest H2O grant ever for this, nearly $12 million, I am very proud to be a part of the Board of Commissioners that worked diligently to obtain this funding.
The Township has a committee made up of staff, commissioners, community leaders and property owners to seek ways to improve the Park and ultimately bring in new commercial tax revenue. Our Comprehensive Plan for Upper Dublin, which was approved a few years ago, called for mixed use in the Office Park. One developer has an option on a large currently vacant area where he seeks to build high end apartments. The committee is “encouraging” him to include the mixed use, small scale retail / office, as part of the development called for in the Comprehensive Plan.
The Board of Commissioners will soon be considering the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) ordinance for the Office Park, giving credits for developers to move from the flood plain to “dry” ground, demolish the flooded buildings and turn the land over to the Township. It has the potential to bring in new “class A” commercial development and remove problem areas of the Office Park, bringing in new tax revenue.
What this means for you, is that the influx of new tax revenue would help offset the Township and School Distract taxes that you pay. We are taxed enough already, and new business interests coming into our community can help to improve our tax base. I will continue to be in your corner when it comes to taxes and spending, and will do what is necessary for the best interests of ALL residents.
Proposed State Tax Changes
Many have advocated getting rid of property taxes as a way of funding our schools. A bill to do so by increasing state income and sales taxes had more than eighty cosponsors in the State House. That bill was overwhelmingly defeated on October 2 and was opposed by almost all area State Representatives. Why? The bill would have cut funding in PA for public education by 10%, and even its proponents could not justify that. It is easier to call for getting rid of a tax than to vote for increasing other taxes.
Another proposal, a so-called local option plan, did pass the State House, with limited bipartisan support from local State Representatives, including Reps. Murt and Stephens. It was opposed by Rep. Dean and others, both Democrats and Republicans, including the business community. This plan would permit a school board to shift up to half of the property tax burden to earned income and business taxes. This plan would give school boards power to decide whether the communities they serve should be "business friendly" or not regardless of the views of the municipalities within a district. This proposal is rejected as a "phony" by those wanting to end reliance on property taxes. With their opposition and the business community's unanimous opposition, its fate in the State Senate is doubtful.
I will let you know of further developments.
As always, it is an honor to serve you.
Summer 2013 Newsletter
A message from Your Ward 2 Township Commissioner
In your responses to my survey earlier this year, public safety, including traffic issues, are very important to the residents of Ward 2. Our Police Department is one of the best in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Of the 1,150 law enforcement agencies in the state, our Police Department is one of only 85 accredited by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Program. We should be proud of the leadership team of Chief Thompson, Deputy Chief Benson and Patrol Commander Nyce, together with the other thirty-eight sworn personnel, and their civilian support.
However, as your survey responses indicate, there are issues that need to be addressed. First, in enforcing traffic laws, particularly speeding that affects residents on Joel Drive and Summit Avenue, among other places, focused patrolling is required. In our township that effort is spearheaded by Directed Patrols, a type of community policing strategy. Currently, only two officers assigned to this unit. As our local police force has grown, the number of Directed Patrols has dropped from 1008 in 2008 to 176 in 2012.
Using the data from the Police Annual Report:
I am not happy that the number of Direct Patrols has dropped so precipitously. I will work to reverse this trend.
Some of this drop is due to a substantial increase in investigations of police calls relating to juveniles. Much of this increase is due to increased reports concerning residents of St. Mary’s Villa (on Bethlehem Pike) and, to a much lesser extent, Wordsworth Academy (on Camp Hill Road). In the last year, St. Mary’s was sold to another non-profit, and we can hope that it will provide better management. Further, there are rumors that the new owner is itself considering changing the use of that property to residential. If so, this will, in several years, likely reduce the number of juvenile incidents and help shift police focus back to Directed Patrols and traffic issues in general.
The Commissioners have authorized a total of 41 sworn personnel in the Police Department. In addition there are a number of support staff. The Police wing of the Township Building is a “safe harbor” with someone there all the time if you need them. Did you know that there are several holding cells in the building? They are monitored by video whenever someone is being held. The Department also has “live scan” which is used for electronic fingerprinting. Other area police departments come to Upper Dublin to use the equipment for which they are charged $200. That pays for maintenance / upgrades of the equipment and greatly enhances the ability of all police using it to determine any warrants for people in custody.
Have you seen patrol officers riding bicycles in your neighborhood? They park the police car and take a bike off to ride through the residential streets. Yes, they have made arrests because people do not hear or readily see the police approaching. This program has been on-going for many years and has been another successful community policing effort.
Update on the Office Park
The Commissioners held a hearing in June on the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) ordinance. The goal of this is to encourage property owners to move out of the flood zones (sending area) into dry parts of the Office Park (receiving area). There are density bonuses for doing this. If a property owner decides to take advantage of the TDR, the building in the sending area must be demolished. There will be at least one more hearing on this ordinance later in the summer.
I have been looking into the potential uses of the vacated land in the flood zones, and feel a mixed use alternative energy concept may be ideal. This is a way for The Township to make revenue off land they would otherwise never see a dime from. There are investors seeking areas to install photovoltaic (solar) panels to tie into the PECO grid. This may be a good use for those properties and could benefit the township through a lease arrangement since that land in the sending area would be owned by Upper Dublin. If you drive along Rt 202 in New Jersey, some of the pharmaceutical companies have installed large fields of these panels to save on their electricity costs so it is not a “pie in the sky” idea.
If you remember, a few years ago the Commissioners enacted the Comprehensive Plan for Upper Dublin. A key portion was focused on the Office Park and it recommended mixed use in some areas. Mixed use is residential combined with commercial/retail. There will NOT be any big box stores in the Office Park but at least one developer is seeking to build high-end apartments. This would need a zoning change as residential is currently not permitted there but given the dire financial situation that the School District is in, a large influx of taxes will help them (and all of the residents). It will be a while before anything comes to fruition but it is being investigated.
Thank you to the many residents who completed and returned my survey. I received some great suggestions and looking forward to working with our Township Staff in evaluating and implementing some of them. 85% of the respondents reported that they thought they received adequate services from the township for their tax dollars. 91% reported that they utilized the various Township buildings, with only a few with concerns about them. Some of the concerns regarded building security and public access, number of handicap parking spaces, and school zone safety during a fire emergency during school drop-off and pick-up times. 93% utilize our parks, playgrounds or fields, however our beautiful trail system seems to be underutilized, with only 55% of respondents reporting they use it. About the same number of respondents reporting using the cable channel for Township information as there were for the website. I truly appreciate the time that many of you put in to writing additional comments and feedback. The areas of traffic concerns will be addressed with Township staff, and evaluated for possible solutions. I’d also like to thank the many who wrote personal notes of good health regarding my prior battle with cancer. It means so much to me.
At a later date, I will write a piece about the various Township buildings, their associated costs, how we have dealt with disposing of some of them, and the process we go through to evaluate them. However, I briefly want to address the recent vote to tear down the EPI center in East Oreland. The original section of this building was built in 1909, with additional sections built in 1924 and 1949. For years, we have used a band-aid approach to maintenance to keep the cost to the taxpayers low. However, that approach is no longer working or economical. The cost to heat this building for 2012-13 heating season was close to $28,000 dollars. At our October 2012 Stated meeting, the Friends of the East Oreland Schoolhouse(FEOSH) made a presentation to the BOC to save this building from being razed. With a renovation price tag of over a million dollars, the group convinced the BOC to delay the vote until the summer, so they could fine tune construction costs and find funding sources such as grants and possible tenants. I personally attended one of their meetings prior to the vote to get updated on their activities. At that meeting, I relayed to them the importance of not coming back to the Board with only one option that had the Township paying for an entire renovation. At their presentation at the July’s Stated meeting, they did just that. Their numbers were far apart (close to a million) from those of an engineer that the Township has used for several of our buildings. This is in large part due to the fact the Township has to meet set regulations and standards for building, as well as follow set procedures for hiring contractors. We can not cut corners when renovating, or hire the contractor that is willing to reduce fees for a good cause. The BOC voted to get bids to raze the whole building and have the site prepared for a future park, which this section of the township disparately needs. Although it saddens me to see a much loved Township building razed, I have make fiscally responsible decisions when using Taxpayer money.
Winter 2013 Newsletter
A message from Your Ward 2 Township Commissioner
Happy New Year! A number of you have asked about my illness. I am doing well, and am happy to say I’m cancer free! I’ve required radiation and additional surgeries over the last 3 years, the last being 2 months ago, and that have slowed me down a bit. Through it all, I’ve been here to advocate for my residents and serve The Township. Thank you for thinking of me.
This “superstorm” really tested the township staff and residents. Over 95% of the township was without power for an extended time. For the first time ever, ALL traffic lights failed, at least temporarily. Let me go through some of this event.
First and foremost, the township staff and the Fort Washington Fire Company did a great job. The crews were preparing for several days prior to the storm and once it hit on Monday October 29th, “all hands” were required to be available. Many members of this team stayed around the clock for days. Food and cots for sleeping was provided. Remember, they left their families in the dark to help the rest of the community. With the power out township-wide, the emergency generators at the Township Building and new Fire House did their job for days on end. The emergency center in the police wing remained open and conducted coordination for all responding entities. Township and fire vehicles were kept running and fueled at the township garage, even after a failure in the auxiliary generator used for those pumps thanks to a backup unit quickly wired in. The military “deuce and a half” truck that the township obtained a few years ago was once again pressed into service.
Many of the traffic lights, those in key intersections, have backup battery power and they immediately kicked in when power failed. But batteries only last so long and portable generators had to be utilized at those and all other traffic lights. Several failed over the course of the outage after days running continuously. The township staff was constantly conducting maintenance and refueling on those. Many members of the staff and FWFC withstood storm winds to direct traffic when some of those systems failed. They also had to keep people away from fallen trees and more importantly, downed power lines.
The power to the township took several days to restore and a few homes were without power much longer. The prime reason was trees breaking power lines. Even those areas with underground wiring lost power because they are fed by above ground power lines and transformers, and when they lose power so do the connected underground wiring. It’s important to note – Township staff are NOT allowed to go near downed trees when they are against power lines until the “all clear” is given. This is for the safety of the staff. Once PECO has de-energized a circuit the staff can move in with chain saws and trucks to clear the roads. It is not their job to restore power but only to make roads passable, especially for emergency vehicles and repair crews. There were crews from around the country here – Mississippi, Illinois and so forth.
The FWFC worked tirelessly and responded to 75 calls for emergencies during those few days. Those volunteers continue to give their utmost to Upper Dublin. Residents could go to the Fire House and Township Building to recharge cellphones since they had power and were open. The Township Building also functions as an emergency evacuation center where people could come to stay for safety and warmth.
By Thursday, the trash, recycling and yard waste (a lot more than usual as you can expect) collection were back on schedule. By Friday about 10% of the township remained without power. While many of us were disappointed that power could not be restored faster, we should give thanks that no one lost their life in Upper Dublin because of the storm and no homes were obliterated as many were for friends and family at the Shore, Connecticut, New York and Long Island.
The Township Budget for 2013 has an increase of 1.5% to the average home which amounts to the cost of a large pizza. There were multiple public meetings, one of which on a Saturday ran 10 hours. A $100,000 request was cut to help the School District and youth sports transform Cardinal Stadium with artificial turf. Some requests were deferred to another year. The police will be transitioning their dispatch center to the County but there will always be someone on duty at the station if you need help. (Upper Dublin was one of the very few remaining local dispatch centers.) Many other expenditure cuts were proposed but most of those are “small potatoes” in the grand scheme of a $30 million budget. That said,
There are items which must be funded, like the police, and there are those which would be nice to have. I have not and will not support “fluff” in a budget. We have real issues to deal with – flooding and storm water control can’t be deferred. I want to hear from you on some of the key items so the staff can better prepare options for next year:
Trash – The cost to the average home is $280 per year and is included in your tax bill. If you itemize your taxes, your cost is reduced further. Every truck in the township inventory is used for snow plowing so eliminating municipal trash collection will increase costs elsewhere as contract services for snow removal will be necessary. Some residents asked me about contracting for trash collection. Average costs throughout the County are about $350 per home. I’m open to suggestions and your thoughts.
Leaves – The cost for collection of leaves is $180,940 (budget) in 2013. Should the township stop leaf collection and let the homeowners fend for themselves? Should some other method of collection be employed (bags maybe) to reduce expenditures?
Fire Protection – The cost for fire protection is budgeted at over $523,000 for operational and capital expenditures. I continue to believe we are doing the right thing in FULLY funding the Fort Washington Fire Company. Our vehicles are purchased and owned by the township. Our volunteers can concentrate on fighting fires and emergency responses while the township Fire Administrator ensures they have the right tools for their job providing the support necessary for a professionally operating fire service. Should the township reduce funding and require the FWFC to raise funds for operational/capital expenses? I am personally against that, but as I speak for you, it is important for me to have your opinion.
While the township has some serious financial issues to contend with, they are nothing in comparison to the School District (independent taxing authority). A key element in financial wellbeing of both is the Fort Washington Office Park rehabilitation. Increases in the value of properties and the people working there will improve the bottom line. Which leads me to…
A special committee was created made up of business leaders, township staff and others to find ways to improve the situation in the Office Park so that our long term tax base can be augmented. A planner has been hired specifically to challenge the Commissioners with new ideas, not dwell on old concepts. He is developing new strategies in conjunction with ongoing efforts to enact an ordinance for Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) to give incentives for businesses to relocate out of flood areas. A person has also been engaged to seek high value grants and to work with businesses to move into the Office Park while helping to providing financing to improve the infrastructure. I will keep you informed of progress.
The library has completed its initial refurbishment and it is a better facility for all to use. There is no plan to build a standalone library, as we can’t afford it. In 2012 there were about 200,000 visits to the library with about 300,000 items checked out. It is very well utilized and should be a quieter place now with some dedicated rooms for various groups (high school students and little kids like mine!). The Friends of the Upper Dublin Public Library (private group) is in the process of raising $100,000 to continue the improvements at the library. If you can, please make a contribution.
Stay safe and healthy this winter!