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It’s Friday, October 1. Welcome to October. Boy, that came fast. This week we dig into the West Chester 2022 budget plan – brace yourself for a little déjà vu, by which I am mean another tax increase. We look at why this keeps happening. Plus, residents’ thoughts on the end of the Gay Street closure, West Chester High Schools get ranked – can you guess who’s on top this year? – and West Chester University gets ready for homecoming. Fall is coming in hot. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
“To plan for the realities and our financial future over the next 5-10 years, I believe Borough Council and the Administrative staff must focus more on a long-range plan.”Mike Perrone, West Chester Borough Manager
Budget Deja Vu – and not the good kind
Think last year’s property tax increase was a byproduct of the pandemic? The result of plummeting parking revenues? Well, then, like me, you’ll be surprised to hear the budget conversation has not changed much over the course of the year. Now, I am not saying the indicators weren’t there or the warnings that the budget was too reliant on parking revenues weren’t uttered, because there were. I guess I just assumed this was a medium-range problem and a year after raising property taxes by 6 percent, sewer rates by 16 percent and factoring in at least a partial rebound on revenues, we’d have at least a year to game plan. And, that’s my friends, where I was wrong.
In his final budget message (see Goodbyes), Borough Manager Mike Perrone pulled out a 2002 Borough newsletter to illustrate that the woes of the borough were not born over that last two years but are rather long standing.
“To plan for the realities and our financial future over the next 5-10 years,” Mr. Perrone wrote. “I believe Borough Council and the Administrative staff must focus more on a long-range plan to find new revenue sources or tax increases that will provide new revenue streams, that will be able to pay for the services* that our residents enjoy today.”
*Specifically trash and recycling, but we’ll come back to that. Before we dig into the specifics of the budget here’s a very high-level overview of this 60-page document. If you are details man, you can find it in its entirety here.
The Borough budget is made up of five sections:
- General Fund, includes most of the borough’s operating costs such as administration, recreation, IT housing, public works and the Police Department. The Police Department and Public Works are the two biggest line items in the General fund accounting for 73 percent of the budget.
- WasteWater, this covers the operation and upkeep of the sewer plant
- Parking, this is primarily a revenue source whose assets are currently added into the General Fund budget.
- Highway aid
- Stream Protection, funded primarily by the revenues from the stream protection fee. This money is used to address stormwater management upgrades.
Each fund is then broken out into operating expenses and capital projects. With the exception of parking which is used to fund the General fund, the others operate as standalone units with their own revenue sources and expenses. The funds that are out of whack this year are the General Fund and the Waste Water fund. Ok, now that we are on the same page.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s budget:
The Borough’s General Fund is not able to generate enough revenue (even when including parking) to cover expenses. This is pretty much the long and the short of it. The General Fund has managed to stay afloat in past years based on the strength of the Borough’s parking revenues but the pandemic has exposed the foundational cracks in this approach. Once again parking revenues have fallen short of expectations at the same time post-pandemic expenses continue to rebound (See policing).
Good policing is a privilege, not a right – and it costs. After years of operating lean, the West Chester PD is back where it is hoping in regards to staffing but that strength comes at a cost. Salaries and associated benefits are projected to increase by a little over $450K next year and that does not include needed contributions to the pension fund. In all, the police department is looking at a 36% increase in its operating budget. “This is a borough issue, not just a police issue,” Police Chief James Morehead cautioned at the September budget meeting.
Capital projects have been slashed. In order to bring the budget closer to balanced, more than $460K in planned projects have been removed or delayed from the original budget proposal. This includes replacing sidewalks, paving parking lots and purchasing mobile video recorders for the police department but the largest hit came from the parks department which had its project budget chopped by more than 96 percent, leaving them with $10K, to replace some benches.
Another tax increase is likely coming. Despite all the cuts and the increases (last year), it appears not to be enough. The current budget proposal calls for another 4 percent increase in real estate taxes. According to the Borough’s calculations, this would be a $54 increase for the average borough resident.
So is another sewer increase. While we’ve spent most of our time chatting about the general fund, the WasteWater fund is also over budget thanks to significant repair costs. To cover what is needed to maintain the treatment plant’s aging infrastructure a 6.5% increase in sewer rates is proposed – this is on top of last year’s nearly 16% increase.
You are not being charged for trash and recycling pick up, at this time. Let’s end on a high note. But, know it is being looked at. Many municipalities charge for trash collection or outsource it to a third party, the borough does not but as the need to raise revenues increases charging for trash pickup is on the table, as is raising fees and parking costs. As Borough Manager Perrone cautioned at the start of this, unless we want to start on a perpetual annual cycle of budget shortfalls and tax increases we have to come up with a long term plan to get the Borough budget back under control.
Have a question about the budget proposal? You still have time to make your voice heard. Council will likely vote on a preliminary budget in October and then in either November or December a public hearing will be held and the final vote taken.
No, we are not done yet. There’s still warnings, accolades, hellos, goodbyes and weekend plans to discuss, but first wanted to remind you to signup to follow the blog. It only takes a second and an email and then you’ll never have to worry about it again. Ok, back to your regularly scheduled update.
Look both ways before you cross the street. Over the last several weeks, West Chester police were out on the streets reviewing the basics of pedestrian safety. This includes looking both ways, crossing the street at marked crosswalks or intersections not whenever the spirit moves you.
Don’t. Just don’t. West Chester resident Steve Reaney, 30, was arrested by the West Chester PD late last month after a search warrant led to the discovery of multiple weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, body armor, gas masks, and your above average assortment of illegal drugs.
High fives to West Chester schools. After what can only be described as a rough couple of years, the West Chester School District still managed to rank 26th in the state and its high schools among the top 50(ish) both according to Niche.com. Rustin and Henderson even managed to tick up a few spots from their previous rankings. The site ranks schools and districts based on key statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and millions of site reviews.
West Chester High Schools rankings among other public high schools in PA:
21. Bayard Rustin High School with a grade of A+
37. Henderson High School with a grade of A
51. East High School with a grade of A
All three schools received their lowest marks for diversity.
Also this week, some Title IX shout outs as women’s sports across the borough are on a roll this season. High fives to the WCU women’s soccer team and the Henderson girls soccer team – both of which remain unbeaten half way through their respective seasons. Fist bumps to the WCU women’s rugby team which eked out a win against Navy this week on their way to a 3-0 record and to the Henderson girls tennis team which took the ChestMont championship on their way to a 12-0 record and finally, cheers to the number 2 ranked WCU Field Hockey team which delivered coach Amy Cohen her 200 win this week in a nail-biter over Millersville. With the win the Golden Rams improve to 7-1 and 2-0 in the conference. You go, girls.
Also, speaking of outstanding West Chester women, this week West Chester University officer Cecilia Escobar-Duplan, who was tragically killed last month after being struck by a vehicle while attempting to aid a car crash victim, was fittingly, posthumously inducted into the Mid Atlantic Association of Women in Law Enforcement. Congratulations to Cecilia and her family.
Hello, cars, trucks and delivery vehicles, Gay Street is open once again. After what seemed like a rather short experiment this summer – just 90 days with no extension – Gay Street is once again open to through traffic. Again the experiment has proven popular with residents. “It needs to stay longer!” ekmiller46 wrote on Instagram. “I’d eat outside through October at least.” I agree. Felt like it was gone this year before it really got a chance to get started. What did you think? Share it here.
Also, say hello, to lunch on Church Street. Further signs the pandemic may be behind us, Slow Hand will once again be serving lunch. Starting this week their new hours are 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday – Saturday. Sunday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Need an excuse to check it out? The Nashville Hot Chicken looks yum.
Finally, get ready to say hello to a new crew of Wildcats. West Chester’s very own semi-professional basketball team is holding tryouts this weekend. If you think that could be you, head over to William Hicks Center in Wilmington. 30 players will be selected. Pre-registration is required.
It’s almost time to bid farewell to Borough Manager Mike Perrone. After five years leading budget discussions for the borough he has confirmed this will be his last. Mr. Perrone has set a date for his pending retirement of January 1, 2022 at which time management of the borough will be turned over to Assistant Borough Manager Sean Metrick, who is also currently Borough’s Direct of Parking. Mr. Perrone accepted the role of Borough Manager in 2017 after the resignation of then manager Michael Cotter.
Also, say goodbye to boring Mondays. Movie Mondays are back at Uptown starting this Monday with a free showing of the Disney classic “Up.” Reserve your tickets here and pack the tissues – those opening scenes get me every time. Can’t make Monday? “National Treasure,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” are all planned for this month. Just note, all patrons 12 years and older will be required to provide proof of vaccination or a recent (within 72 hours) negative COVID test to attend.
Pay it forward.
High fives to all of you that showed up last weekend to support the 19th Annual Up on the Roof – and many of you did. The event was sold out. The fundraiser, which takes place on the rooftop of the Chestnut Street Garage every year, is a collaboration between the West Chester Downtown Foundation and the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID). Proceeds from the event help fund the annual cleaning, flower beautification and marketing of Downtown West Chester. To date the event has raised more than $301,000 and quite a few spirits.
Also, congratulations to West Chester University which continues its massive fundraising campaign with a sizable ($162K) donation from Aramark. The donation will go towards supporting meals for students that can’t afford them and help WCU further its massive initiative to make college accessible to all.
Finally, for those of you with a background in finance and a hankering to get involved, boy, do I have an opportunity for you. Last month West Chester Borough Council approved changes to the management of its pension funds, moving away from a third party firm and instead forming a committee to assume management responsibility of the assets. Now Council is seeking residents to sit on the committee. Four residents are needed. Each will serve a four-year term. Experience in the field of asset management, investment management, pension management or the like is required. If you are interested in volunteering your time and expertise, you’ll need to send a letter of interest and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than October 13, 2021.
Finally, finally. Levante is holding its First Responders Appreciation week this week. If you are a first responder, stop by any time before October 3 and get a free pour of your choice. Yes, this is four days late, but the best drinking days are still ahead of you. Promo ends with the weekend.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We are heading to the soccer fields and making our bi-annual attempt at landscaping. One of these years, I will get the ratio of carefree landscape to grass correct. Plus, we may try to walk over to the University to check out their family friendly block party. It’s being held in Ram Park – or the field next to Sykes Union from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. We’ve been in the past and its a good way to get into the homecoming spirit without getting into the the homecoming spirits.
If you got nothing planned, tonight is First Friday downtown (think free metered parking) and the Fall 2021 Gallery Walk. There are 16 locations participating in this year’s walk. If you need a map, you can find it here.
Also, Gemelli gelato is celebrating seven years in the borough this weekend. Stop in for some amazing treats including – gelato doughnut sandwiches(!) – a limited-time collab with Yori’s Bakery and cheesesteaks are back at the Split Rail Tavern, but only on Sundays and only during the game (1-5 p.m.). Just as it should be.
Also, of course, it’s homecoming weekend. This is the first real homecoming in two years, so expect it to be a big deal. If you are heading to the game, WCU Athletics recommends purchasing tickets online to avoid the lines. Gates open tomorrow at noon. If you are planning to head downtown, plan accordingly.
Mark your calendars:
Oct. 1 – Gallery Walk, Downtown, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. open to the public, free metered parking.
Oct. 2 – Homecoming, Henderson High School
Oct. 2 – Homecoming, WCU vs. Bloomsburg, 2 p.m. Farrell Stadium
Oct. 2, 6, 7, 9 – Chilling West Chester II, Chester County History Center, 6:30 p.m. – These are not ghost stories; these are true tales of terror pulled from the CCHC archives. Tickets $16. Note: Due to the graphic nature of the material, this event is not suitable for children.
Oct. 6 – Energy Efficiency Day, West Chester Borough. I don’t know, turn something off. Try to save some energy today.
Oct. 13 – Motown Night, West Chester Elks, 401 W. Washington. Open to member and non-members
Oct. 16 – Homecoming, Rustin High School
Oct. 17 Pumpkin Party with Cinderella, Lulu’s Casita, 9:30-12 p.m. Pumpkin decorating, bubble dance, snacks and mimosas provided. $25/child; adults are free.
Oct. 23 – Homecoming, East High School Oct. 25 – 10th Annual West Chester Preservation Awards, Chester County History Center, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
That’s all for now. Stay safe. Stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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