The easiest way to be in the know.
It’s Friday, Jan. 13: It’s mid-January and the Borough is having a rough start of it. First, it learned its long-time Parking Director has been stealing for who knows how long. It lost its legal battle against West Chester University over whether or not it (and every other tax-exempt organization in the Borough) has to pay the Stream Protection fee. Don’t worry, you still do. And there was a prostitution bust on Church Street. When it rains, it pours. But we do have a new stormwater project to deal with that and I have the deets on the new Caribbean restaurant. Hang on. You’re in for a ride.
Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
The Borough’s No Good, Very Bad Week
The New Year so far has not been kind to the Borough of West Chester with two rounds of pretty crappy news coming out this week.
The Parking Director was stealing
Correction: an earlier version of this write-up included a picked-up typo from an earlier Daily Local story which stated the perspective theft ran from April 2002 to September 2022. That should have read April 2022 to September 2022 or the six-month period Mr. Mojica was under surveillance by West Chester police – which honestly, makes a whole lot more sense.
First, (former) Borough Parking Manager Hector Mojica was (finally) charged with theft. Rumors have been swirling to this effect since the long-time parking employee was let go in September. However, facts substantiating the speculation were unavailable until Tuesday when charges were filed in District Court. According to court documents Mr. Mojica is being charged with three counts of theft, including:
- Theft by unlawful taking of movable property
- Receiving stolen property
- Theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received
These are all third-degree felonies under Pennsylvania state law.
In an arrest affidavit accompanying the charges, police allege Mr. Mojica failed to make deposits of coin revenue of $4,143.39 during a period from April 2022 until September 2022. According to the report, these actions were caught on video surveillance and Mr. Mojica has confessed to the thefts.
While the court filings start to paint a picture of what has been going on at the West Chester Parking Department, there are still plenty of questions left to answer.
- Was anyone else involved? There was chatter that someone was led from the Borough offices in handcuffs in November. Mr. Mojica should have been long gone by then so could he have a conspirator(s) within the department or is Borough Manager Sean Mettrick really starting to regret taking this job about now?
- How much was stolen and how long has this gone on? According to court reports, Mr. Mojica is suspected of pilfering just over $4000 from borough meters during a six-month period earlier this year. While I could not find a hire date for Mr. Mojica he has served in a leadership position in the department since before 2013, first as parking enforcement officer supervisor and then as interim parking director while the Borough searched for a new leader of the department. He did reportedly apply for the lead job at that time but was ultimately passed over in favor of an outside candidate. (See the July 31, 2013, Daily Local article attached to this post for details.)
- What is the Borough doing about this? According to a report on the incident this week in the Daily Local, Mettrick told the paper they have “reviewed and implemented internal controls responsive to this event.” He, however, would not go beyond that instead resorting to what is becoming a very common borough line. “Since this is an active legal matter, the borough has no further comment at this time,” he told the paper. New Parking Director Ramsey Reiner did provide a few additional clues at this week’s Parking Committee Meeting telling members the department has “really been focused on internal controls.” These Include clearer schedules for enforcement routes, clearer collections policy, and a Standard Operating Procedure manual for officers and clerks.
A preliminary arraignment was held on Wednesday in Judge Marian Vito’s court as we await more details, the Borough may want to update its website.
Borough Loses Stream Protection Case
You know that letter you just got informing you how much you owed this year toward the Borough of West Chester Stream Protection program – well, turns out that bill’s a tax, not a fee. At least that was the judgment last week of the seven-member Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
I’m sorry, but does it matter what they call it? I still have to pay it, right? Yep, you do but it turns out what you call it has significant implications on who else has to pay it. The Borough was hoping that if they structured it as a fee rather than a tax – tax-exempt organizations, like West Chester University, would also have to pay.
West Chester University, however, was not to be fooled. Instead, they argued this “fee” was simply a tax in disguise and refusing to pay. So, the Borough took West Chester University and the whole PA State System of Higher Education to court.
So what exactly is the difference between a tax and a fee? According to the law, a fee is only applied in specific cases and for a specifically defined outcome to the express benefit of the individual paying it. Trash collection is a fee. A tax, on the other hand, is broader. It’s imposed “on many or all citizens” to “benefit the entire community.”
The Borough argued it is cleaning up stormwater coming off West Chester University property and into its stormwater system to the benefit of West Chester University. To which WCU countered, well, we have our own systems in place and besides you have no way of knowing which stormwater is ours and these projects you are funding with this revenue don’t deal with our stormwater specifically. They benefit the system as a whole.
What did the Judges say? Well, they said, they told the Borough at an earlier hearing that is could be a fee if the service provided by the Borough is “reasonably proportional to the value of the benefit conferred to Respondents [in this case West Chester University] in a quasi-private capacity.” In other words, can you show us how WCU specifically benefits from the fee?
After hearing oral arguments they determined they could not. Their thoughts:
- “Here, the Stormwater Charge does not constitute a special assessment subsidizing a particular project of limited duration, such as constructing culverts and pipes,” they said.
- They also referred to former Borough Manager Mike Perrone’s own testimony stating owners of developed and undeveloped properties benefit similarly under the ordinance and that managing stormwater provides a “general benefit to the community.”
- Finally, they shot down the Borough’s assessment method. (“We agree with Respondents’ assertion that the impervious surface area of a property does not correlate to the level of benefit accorded the owner of that property,” the court wrote.)
What does this mean? I posed this exact question to Buckley Brion lawyer Michael Gill, who argued the case for the Borough. Unfortunately, he responded with what is becoming a common Borough answer.
“The Borough is reviewing the Decision and, at this time, will not have any further comment on pending litigation,” he stated via email.
Fortunately, the Judges were much more forthright. “Because the Stormwater Charge constitutes a tax, Respondents are immune from payment,” the opinion reads.
For the Borough of West Chester, this means that West Chester University’s 32 north campus acres, nearly 8% of the total impervious area within the Borough, are exempt from the Stream Protection Program. That’s an annual loss of $132,000 on University property alone. It does not include the Borough’s churches, hospital, various nonprofits, and government offices.
We do not yet know if the Borough will appeal. I did ask but you can probably guess the response.
Justice is served. Convicted sex offender and former West Chester Christian School teacher Randy Lee Boston, 64, was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison this week for abusing a child at the school a decade ago.
Proceed with caution. West Chester Fire Chief Steve Pelna and Good Fellowship Interim Director of Operation Justin Robbins both announced record-setting years. Good Fellowship Ambulance responded to 7378 calls for service, an increase of 700 calls from 2021 and WCFD received 1576 calls. “That’s the most we’ve seen in our history,” Chief Pelna told Borough Council members on Wednesday.
Calls are down, crime is up. The West Chester Police Department, on the other hand, saw a 4% decrease in calls in 2022 but a 6.5% increase in crime. “But don’t be alarmed,” said Chief James Morehead. “Our serious crime is only 5% up, and remember last year was still a recovery year from COVID when crime was down significantly,” he said. Nuisance crime was up by 7% in the Borough.
Beware of traffic backup. Starting this week, the neverending PECO Harmony Project moved to the 100 block of W. Market Street. Work is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. Expect delays and lane closures during this time. Work will last at least through January 20.
See something. Say something. West Chester Police are looking for information regarding a burglary attempt at West Chester Cycle on Downingtown Pike earlier this week. While police reported that no items were immediately found to be missing, several doors sustained visible damage, presumably where they had been pried open. If you have any information about this incident contact Officer Barnes at 610-696-2700.
It’s a scam. West Goshen police are warning residents of a mail scam with assailants offering free benefits from the PA Department of Aging to those that make a call. See the fake letter here. Same for any refund texts coming from the IRS.
Not all endings are happy. Seriously, a massage parlor?
Congratulations to the six Henderson teachers and students who faced off this week on the Fox 29 quiz show ClassH-Room. (That’s Clash Room. In case, like me, you didn’t see it.) I won’t spoil it for you but let’s just say Henderson’s teachers are cooler than you may think. Watch the episode here.
Also, congratulations to Rustin’s Girls Lacrosse Coach Sarah Kropp on her recent induction into the Elizabethtown Athletic Hall of Fame. Fun fact: Coach Kropp is the only Blue Jay ever to be named a First Team All-American in women’s lacrosse.
And following up on last week’s update, high fives to the East Boys Basketball team which secured cross-town bragging rights with a win over Rustin on Saturday. Both beat Henderson earlier in the season.
On the girl’s basketball front, there will be no outright victor because Henderson and Rustin do not meet this year. Rustin at 10-2 is doing their best to show who’s number one with a resounding victory over East this weekend. East, however, had a bit of a victory of its own. The game, which also doubled as a Coaches vs. Cancer event, raised $1,373.98 for The American Cancer Society smashing their $500 goal. This was the first such event the school held.
Switching lanes for a minute, a round of applause to East’s Swim Team which improved to 2 and 1 this week with a decisive win over Bishop Shanahan. Three Viking swimmers posted district consideration times. Keep an eye on Giulian Bucciarelli, Caelan Ladd, and Grace Herlihy as the pool heats up!
Also, I wanted to give a shout-out to Christina Valocchi who turned to the West Chester Community Facebook page this week to try and find the rightful owner of a suspected holiday card that was delivered to her residence by mistake. There was no return address and the address on the card did not exist. She made several attempts to return to sender only to have it redelivered to her house. There were a lot of comments about the proper procedure when dealing with lost mail but I thought the effort to locate the correct recipient admirable – which she did by the way!
Last week I mentioned the opening of a new Caribbean restaurant on E. Gay Street but I couldn’t find much else. Now, thanks to a faithful reader, we have the full scoop. Earlier this week I spoke with Gersen Gabriel who owns the Manje Caribbean with his wife Gwendolyn. This is the first restaurant for the Gabriels but not Gwendolyn’s first time in the kitchen. She handles food preparation using family recipes passed on from her dad, a Caribbean native.
Good Caribbean food starts with that signature spice mix and takes a lot of prep, Gersen tells me. It’s not something you can just head into the kitchen and do. “This is one of those cooking styles that is very labor intensive,” he said “You really have to prepare.”
So what to get? “Right now, hands down the butternut squash. The butternut squash soup is amazing,” he said. Oooo, I love me some butternut squash soup. Plus, don’t miss on the fried plantains, the Jerk chicken and can you believe it the burger. “You don’t think Caribbean with a burger but the burger’s pretty good,” Gersen says with just a little drool in his voice.
And not a new restaurant but a new look for West Chester’s Brickette Lounge. According to Main Line Today, everyone’s favorite honky tonk has a new look thanks to the team that also owns West Chester’s Slow Hand and Square Bar. Don’t worry, the vintage neon cowboy boot sign is still there.
January’s a good time for fresh starts. West Chester (and Wilmington) -based Gawthrop Greenwood announced earlier this year it had acquired Chester County-based Landis & Setzler. The merger will boost the firm’s residential and commercial real estate offerings. All lawyers will now be working out of the West Chester office.
Also, making a career change is John Crouser. The retired Marine Corps human resources director has signed on as the Borough’s new HR Manager. His West Chester saga began in December.
The Borough of West Chester will soon be saying hello to a new roof on Borough Hall. Since the roof was damaged during a storm last year employees have been dealing with leaks in the building. “Every time it rains we have to throw the buckets out and we are covering computers and workstations with trash bags,” said Sustainability Director Will Williams.
Borough engineers estimate it will cost $426,000 to repair damage and replace the roof. Bids for the project should go out next month. Fingers crossed we’re insured.
Finally, hello, film fame? If you think that might be you, you have until January 21 to get those entries into the West Chester International Short Film Festival. Films must be under 30 minutes. This year’s film festival is planned for the weekend of April 28.
Say goodbye to regular floods at Greenfield Park as contractors packed up this week and left the (nearly) completed stormwater management project. The project consisted of adding rain gardens and hardy plants to the parking lot to slow runoff to nearby Goose Creek. While the construction of the rain gardens is complete, landscaping will not happen until spring.
“It’s not going to look great until later in the year,” Mr. Williams told Borough Council members this week, but he is happy with the results so far. “We’ve had a lot of wet weather and it’s nice to see those rain gardens functioning retaining water from the creek.” Note: the project will not end flooding in this area altogether but hopefully it will slow it down a bit.
Want more background on the project? You can see the complete plan here.
Say goodbye to Dryuary. I know it’s only mid-month, but you may want to stock up now.
Pay it forward.
Looking for a Martin Luther King Day service project? Here are some ideas.
Homeless care bags. The Oscar Lasko YMCA is collecting small care items for members of the community experiencing homelessness. Want to help? Drop off any or all of the following items: hand warmers, pocket tissues, deodorant, chapstick, wash clothes, toothbrushes, travel-size toothpaste, mini-first aid kits, bars of soap, and/or small body washes. Items are being collected through Jan. 15. Kids will be assembling the care bags as part of the Y’s MLK Day activities.
Baby bundles. In a similar theme, Prepared to Thrive of Chester County is collecting items for new parents. Bundles will include a blanket, baby wash, board book, and diaper cream. Create the “bundles” yourself or drop off the individual items at their Exton Mall Location.
Home goods drive and art project. The Friends Association is hosting a number of MLK activities including:
- A Community Conversation panel discussion on housing as healthcare from 9 – 10 a.m. register at friendsassoc.org/MLK
- A community art project – create an art project showing what “home is where the heart is” means to you and drop it off at their Chestnut Street location between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Home goods drive. Most needed items include pillows, laundry detergent, pots and pans, and paper goods. Again drop off between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at 113 W. Chestnut Street.
Not MLK related but do you know a band that would be perfect for the Turks Head music festival? Tell them to submit their e-press kit to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submission is Feb. 17. Bands that impress will be contacted by the Turk’s Head Music Review Committee. This will be 40 years for Turks Head; let’s show the generations 2023 knows how to rock.
Finally, got a favorite local business? Best of Main Line Today is looking for names.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We seem to be sliding into those mid-January lulls. Not much planned. Not sure if I want to. Maybe we’ll pull out the Christmas games and hold a family game night? Our oldest got Throw Throw Burrito from Santa. Have you played? It’s surprisingly fun.
Hanging around this weekend? Uptown is holding its annual Light Up the Night fundraising gala full of celebrity guests and A-list performances. Tickets are still available if you have the urge to feel fancy. Side Bar has a soup on the menu tonight that just might get me out of the house and check in with your favorite local retailer – winter clothing sales get underway. On Tuesday Greystone Oyster Bar is bringing back Betty White Day! Stop in for hot dogs and vodka martinis. And if want to learn something new – the Oscar Lasko YMCA is hosting a free pickleball clinic on Sunday. Sessions available at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
And this week a very special thank you to Miller’s Insurance for joining Hello, West Chester as our latest Community Sponsor. Miller’s is an independent agency offering a wide range of insurance options adapted to each client’s needs. They are also committed to making a positive impact in the community and have been a sponsor for over 20 different local organizations! Check out their website to learn more about what they do.
Locally owned and run for over 45 years, Miller’s Insurance offers a wide range of home, auto, business and personal insurance solutions that are tailored based on your needs. As an independent agency, Miller’s works with multiple insurance providers, giving you the power of choice.
Let them help you find the right coverage. Get started today!
View a list of all our amazing Community Sponsors here. Want to join this community? You can find out how here.
Mark your calendars:
- Jan. 13 – “Unabashed” by Theresa Groff opens at the Chester County Art Association. Show runs through Feb. 1.
- Jan. 13 – The Rainbow Fish Musical, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. Musical adaptation of the award-winning book, The Rainbow Fish, with its wonderful message of friendship and belonging. Recommended for K-4. Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for those 11 and under. Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for those 11 and under.
- Jan. 13 – The Keystone Breakers, Brickette Lounge, 9 p.m. 1 a.m.
- Jan. 14 – Light Up the Night Gala, Uptown Theater, 5:30 p.m. The evening starts at the Chester County History Center for signature cocktails, hors d’oeuvres by local native, “Big Chef” and Food Network Star Tom Pizzica, live music and a silent auction. Then at 7:30pm moves across the street to Uptown for a performance by Grammy winners Take 6. Tickets are $160 (everything included).
- Jan. 15 – Pickleball Clinic, Oscar Lasko YMCA, 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. Each introductory clinic will last three hours and feature two hours of instruction from YMCA pickleball pros and one hour of structured open play. This event is free and open to the public. Bring a photo ID.
- Jan. 15 – The Rainbow Fish Musical, Uptown Theater, 1 p.m. Musical adaptation of the award-winning book, The Rainbow Fish, with its wonderful message of friendship and belonging. Recommended for K-4. Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for those 11 and under.
- Jan. 16 – Housing as Healthcare: A Community Conversation, 9 – 10 a.m., This is a virtual event presented by the Friends Association. Register at friendsassoc.org/MLK
- Jan. 17 – Betty White Day, 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. Greystone Oyster Bar. Stop in for hot dogs and vodka martinis in honor of what would have been Betty’s 101 birthday.
- Jan. 18 – 3rd Wednesday Book Discussion, West Chester Public Library, 1 – 2 p.m. January’s book is Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. No registration required. Bring a brown bag lunch.
- Jan. 19 – Hybrid Book Discussion – A History of Ukraine, 10 – 11 a.m. This is a virtual “pay as you wish” event from by the Chester County History Center.
- Jan. 19 – The Sweet and Savory Sides of Chocolate, 7 – 8 p.m. This is a virtual event presented by the West Chester Public Library and Vanessa Yound of the Thirsty Radish. Registration is required.
- Jan. 20 – Expungement Clinic, Melton Center, 12-3 p.m. Legal Aid of Southeastern PA will be onsite to answer questions and help you get started on your second chance.
- Jan. 20 – Better Than Bacon, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Chester County’s wonderful improv group. Tickets $25 in advance; $30 at the door.
- Jan. 21 – Drone Workshop, American Helicopter Museum, 1 – 4 p.m. In this 3-hour workshop, you will learn about the different parts of a drone. You will learn the science behind drone flight, and even get to fly a drone on several missions. Tickets: $80, includes a micro drone.
- Jan. 23 – First Day of WCU spring semester
- Jan. 23 – $5 Movie Night: ET, Uptown Theater, 7 p.m. Includes free popcorn!
- Jan. 28 – Annelies presented by the Brandywine singers, Kesher Isreal Congregation, 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, and are available on The Brandywine Singers website (thebrandywinesingers.org), or at the door.
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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