Monday, June 14, 2010

Thanks, But No Thanks

At any given time, there are residents who have a bone to pick with our elected township supervisors. Disgruntled residents file into the township building for any number of reasons, large and small, some legitimate concerns, others from people who complain about everything under the sun in general. That comes with trying to govern a community the size of, say, Lower Providence, with approximately 26,000 residents. There are bound to be problems, disagreements and mistakes made that need to be fixed. But, overall, I think Lower Providence is well managed by a terrific township manager in Joe Dunbar, an excellent staff of professionals at the top of their game, and five supervisors that more often than not make good decisions. We have, over the past few years, become a benchmark against which other townships measure themselves, progressive, proactive, and a leader among our local communities. We are, usually, at least a step ahead of everyone else.

 Imagine, for a moment, if that entity were gone or, worse, overruled and hamstrung by politics and government at the county level. We all read the paper. We know how dysfunctional that’s turned out to be. Think that’ll never happen?

Think again. It is a real possibility. Democrat Rep. Tom Caltagirone of Berks County recently introduced HB 2431 (link:, which calls for a constitutional amendment to make the county the basic level of government. This radical plan would drastically change how we are governed, as it calls for elimination of townships, cities and boroughs, leaving the county to oversee all municipal functions such as land use and zoning, trash removal, police, park maintenance, road repairs etc. that townships like Lower Providence perform now. It would also determine what if any duties local municipal officials would perform.

And, counties would presumably be in charge of determining and reaping the rewards of all municipalities’ property and local taxes, including earned income tax, water and sewage fees and, also presumably, disbursement of same back into the communities within its borders. But what’s to say it would be disbursed equitably or fairly?

 Given the 3-ring circus that constitutes the Montgomery County commissioners’ office these days, about the scariest thing I can think of is the ‘dynamic duo’ of Jim Matthews and Joe Hoeffel calling the shots that affect us, and running the day-to-day operations of Lower Providence. It’s tough enough to weigh the concerns of Audubon versus those of the residents of Trooper, but just imagine where we might fall in the bigger picture, as commissioners weigh the concerns of a Lower Providence against those of Narberth, Worcester, Abington, or any of the other of the 62 municipalities that comprise Montgomery County.

 How would we like it if the county planned to put a sewage treatment plant in your neighborhood, and you had no local government to seek recourse from? Oh, wait, we’re already sort of ‘there’, what with a regional authority, the Lower Perkiomen Valley Regional Sewer Authority, trying to jam a sewer interceptor project here, but at least residents have been able to get their local supervisors engaged to fight it. I can’t imagine where something like this would fall on the County’s list of “things to do”.

 As much as I dislike the whole idea, I think a municipality should, at least, be given the option of voting on a referendum to eliminate their local government and ‘opt in’ to this county option if they desire. To have it forced on local governments and their residents doesn’t make sense. I mean, where would it stop? Why not dissolve the states? Why not let the UN govern everything and dissolve countries? Absurd, of course, and this is, too.

 I hope that Rep. Caltagirone meant well. Certainly there are likely duplications of service and the potential for savings and efficiencies due to economies of scale in areas like sourcing and human resources, for example. Not that consolidating power is any guarantee that those efficiencies will be realized. All you have to do is look at any Federal government agency to see how bigger = waste and inefficiency. No, this seems much more like a blatant power grab by Democrats, especially when you consider that all of the bill’s sponsors are Democrats, and one is from Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) and another is from Philadelphia. Philadelphia, by the way, is listed as an exception to this bill. It would not have to worry about being governed by Philadelphia County.

 In my opinion, consolidating power is not necessary, especially when our local County government seems to be a never-ending episode of a bad soap opera, rife with obvious conflicts of interest and violating its own rules such as those governing how contracts are bid and awarded. The more local the government, the greater the opportunity of having an impact in your own community. Only local governments such as what exists already are the most accountable to their constituents and most committed to keeping the spending and taxation of their constituents – many of whom they know personally, and run into regularly at the gas station or grocery store – in check.

Consider contacting your local state rep (Rep. Vereb or Drucker, depending on where you live in Lower Providence) to tell them how you feel about HB 2431.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In the Light of Day

In case you haven’t yet heard, Methacton School District is holding a rare daytime meeting for residents on Friday, June 4 at 11 am in the large group instruction room at the high school to present an outline of the 2010-2011 proposed budget and to take questions about it.

Dr. Timothy Quinn, Methacton’s Superintendent of Schools, said in a press release that ‘members of the community expressed interest’ in a daytime meeting for those who have otherwise been unable to participate in the budget process via other electronic means or at the evening meetings until now. While I applaud this latest step toward more transparency and responsiveness, it’s not entirely as proactive as the press release would make it seem.

The school district only considered such a meeting because a Worcester resident collected petitions in both Worcester and Lower Providence from primarily senior citizens (who shoulder a significant chunk of the tax increases on fixed incomes), requesting that they be so accommodated. Nevertheless, it’s yet another opportunity for our residents to have input and dialogue with the governing body that is, to date, solely responsible for increases in your property tax bill.

There are a lot of numbers being tossed around, but the bottom line as it stands right now, with the cuts proposed to date, is that the average tax bill for Lower Providence househoulds will rise $235.08 for the year – primarily to pay down the debt load on the new Skyview middle school (and to staff it) slated to open later this year. That’s bad enough by itself, but don’t forget, caps on electricity are set to be removed in January 2011, causing electric rates to rise approximately 40%. Our seniors in particular are understandably very concerned, since their incomes are not rising at commensurate rates (heck, my salary isn’t either).

When it comes to Methacton Education Association (MEA), my understanding is that the proposed budget numbers only include what the school district has already offered to the teachers. A question I hope somebody asks is what they plan to do if the teachers keep asking for more, and strike until they get it. Where in the budget would that money come from?

As for that issue, I’m told that the school district and MEA are supposed to be negotiating today, June 2, as I write this, and that they will stay at the bargaining table up to twelve hours. Hopefully, today’s session will shed more light on the status of our budget for Friday’s meeting. I highly suggest you try to make it to that meeting and be heard if you have issues. Final budget approval is slated for the June 22 school board meeting.

For more information, check out the Methacton School District’s website at