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It’s Friday, Apr. 14: In 2016, the Borough of West Chester ended the year more than $2 million over budget. They borrowed from the Sewer Fund to pay the debt – more than six years later they have yet to pay it back. Now, it looks like they never will. What happened? Plus, get excited. A first look at the restaurant coming to the First National Bank on N. High Street. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
But Where Did the Money Go? A Borough Budget Mystery
Last month and again last week, a question was raised: can the Borough borrow money from itself and then just “write it off” years later? Borough resident and former Financial Advisory Committee Vice Chair Eric Lorgus, argued in a letter to the editor, no, it can not.
The transactions in question begin with a 2016 budget cycle that raises a lot of questions, provides few answers, and ends with a $2 million operating shortfall. I have heard various theories for the loss, from two low-level admins who took out “too much” money from the sewer fund and used it to pay off other borough debts, to a Borough Manager who was swapping revenues between funds to create an unfavorable picture of the Sewer Plant as a way to encourage Council to sell it to private investors. However, no official explanation has ever been offered. It’s a Borough mystery with enough tiny-sized numbers to make you go cross-eyed – which may be why no one seems particularly enthused to take it on.
For many years, the West Chester Borough budget contained a large number of funding buckets that essentially mapped out the operations (and expenses) of the Borough. There was the General Fund, and the Parking Fund but also the Debt Service Fund, the Equipment & Tech Fund, the Capital Improvement Fund, and Pension Fund. By my count, in 2015 the Borough was managing 13 different funds.
These funds regularly transferred money between each other. A revenue-generating fund, such as the Sewer Fund (now Wastewater), could be used in part to pay for Debt Services or Equip & Tech. It was a complicated budgeting process that made it easy to lose payments through a maze of inter-fund transactions (See page 37 of the 2016 budget audit). The process was made more complicated by varying reporting presentations, a revolving door of leadership – aside from Ms. Lionti, no one in leadership remains from the 2016 budget cycle – and unclear accounting rules. Could any fund transfer to any other? Could money collected by the Sewer Plant be used by Public Works to repair a road on the other side of the Borough?
Starting in 2016, these lines get exceptionally blurry and the budget becomes very messy. A 2016 final budget presented and approved by Borough Council shows operating expenses and revenues, more than 35 percent higher than the previous year. However, an audit including that year’s finances shows that in reality operating expenses were 14 percent lower than in 2015 with revenues down more than 22 percent. Instead of the banner year promised, 2016 left the Borough in a $2 million hole that it never adequately addressed. To cover the loss, money was transferred from the Sewer Fund to the General Fund, the start of an accounting nightmare that continues today.
“We thought we’d have the money to cover it each year but we never did,” current Finance Director Barb Lionti told Borough Council Members at last month’s Borough Council meeting.
Now these inter-fund liabilities are hurting the Borough’s credit rating. So borough management has asked, and Borough Council agreed, to reset from an accounting perspective by allowing a write-off of the remaining money the General Fund had “due to” other funds.
That, however, does not explain why the transfer was necessary in the first place, and with these yearly accounting reminders now gone from the budget there is a real chance nothing ever will.
Have a head for tiny numbers? You can find the 2016 proposed budget here. The audit of the 2017 budget, which includes 2016, actuals here (The 2017 budget presented by the Borough, conveniently does not include actuals for the prior year), and budgets from 2017 – 2023 here.
A Day When Single Moms Come First
A little over a decade ago a group of seven local nonprofits saw an opportunity – they all worked with a lot of single moms but no one organization was dedicated to addressing the specific needs of the group. In response, they imagined a day dedicated to educating, encouraging, and empowering single moms. The Chester County Single Mothers Conference, which will hold its 11th event on Saturday, remains guided by that original vision.
“It’s true to its mission there,” said Planning Committee member Joyce Lacy who’s helped put on at least eight of these events. “The secondary benefit is networking. Mothers meet and share their own experiences, their own hopes for their families. It fosters a sense of community. They know there are people out in this world to help them.”
According to The Fund for Women and Girls’ 2022 Blueprint Report, a collection of critical data on issues affecting women and girls in Chester County, single moms comprise just over 11 percent of Chester County households. Low-paying jobs, lack of quality pre-kindergarten education, childcare costs, and stingy paid leave policies are among the top concerns for these households.
“Single parents pay 43.9% of their income for infant child care, while a married family pays 11.9%. For single parents with more than one child, a whopping 80.2% of their income goes toward paying child care costs,” the report found.
All too familiar with these facts, the conference offers sessions in work/life balance, homebuying, parenting, and money management. Legal consultations are also very popular but nothing more so than the pampering sessions.
“I don’t want to use the word burnout,” said Joyce. “But single moms have to constantly be reminded that self-care is very important.”
This year’s conference is being held at the Cornerstone Fellowship Church from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you are a single mom or know one who might benefit from a day of me-time (babysitting and lunch are provided), you can register here. Walk-ins are welcome but registration is preferred.
Your land is my land. This week the Unitarian Congregation of West Chester announced it would pay reparations to the Lenni Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania. Beginning on April 16, and once a year henceforth, the congregation will donate all the proceeds from a special collection to the Lenape people. “We often acknowledge that our building stands on land that is part of the Lenape homeland but without reparations, acknowledgments don’t mean that much,” said UC Minister Rev. Dan Schatz.
No contest does not mean no consequences. This week a West Chester daycare worker pleaded no contest to felony charges of endangering the welfare of a child, recklessly endangering another person, and simple assault stemming from a 2022 incident at the United Methodist Children’s Center. The plea, however, did not keep the judge from sentencing Susan Miller Wright as if she were guilty of the incident. Ms. Wright, who was surrounded in court by supporters, was sentenced to two years probation and submitted a DNA sample to a state database. While she appeared eager to put the incident behind her, not all were so quick to forgive and forget. “Her callousness towards the harm she did to the child and his family and the lack of a simple apology was galling,” the lawyer for the parents said after the hearing.
Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Just before 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, West Chester police responded to multiple calls describing a male attempting to enter locked vehicles along the 100 block of W. Gay Street. When they arrived they learned Michael Anderson of West Chester had been driving along Gay Street when he cut off a passing car blocking the street. He then attacked another driver, stole his vehicle, and intentionally damaged it. He exited that vehicle found another, shoved its owner out of the way, and attempted to steal it. Mr. Anderson was eventually arrested but not before he got in a swing at a WC police officer. His morning activities resulted in 14 criminal charges.
Do you know where your money is? Two former office workers were arrested this week on theft charges after stealing more than $450,000 from the West Chester doctor who employed them. It is believed Mikayla Zeigler, 22, and Danielle King, 25, stole the money over a 10-month period using the business’s bank and credit card accounts. At one point they alledgedly tried to alter his will and sell off his real estate. “Their greed is a cautionary tale to remind the community to put financial safeguards in place to prevent fraud and theft,” District Attorney Deb Ryan said in a statement.
The hoodie may not be enough. West Chester Police have a photo and are hoping to speak to the face within the hoodie. Know this young man? Give West Chester PD a call at 610-696-2700. They would like to have a little chat with him regarding an incident at the Marshalton Chase Development in East Bradford.
This week, a hearty handshake to former PA State Senator Andrew Dinniman on getting his own diversity walk. Mr. Dinniman, who represented the West Chester area in the state house for 14 years, will be recognized by West Chester University on April 22 for his community work. “Former Senator Dinniman’s relentless work to unite all people in our community is to be applauded,” said West Chester University President Chris Fiorentino.
His efforts (and presumably his $100,000 in fundraising) have earned him a walk through a popular campus corridor and the launch of the “Community Gathering for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity,” an annual discussion about race and ethnic relations.
The walk dedication is scheduled for April 22 at 9 a.m. immediately followed by the community conversation. More information about both events is available on the WCU website.
Also this week, high fives to West Goshen Township on being selected for a 2023 Governors Award for their achievements in sustainability. The honors are distributed each year to communities demonstrating excellence in local government. The implementation of a plastic bag and straw ban, the installation of several EV charging stations, and the receipt of a Tree City distinction for the township were cited as reasons for the award.
“What began as the West Goshen Sustainability Task Force, a small grassroots group of only a few volunteers, has grown into a Township Committee that is moving mountains,” said Township Supervisor Ashley Gagne.
While winter sports have wrapped for the year, the awards for outstanding performances are still coming in – so this week a round of applause to the following First Team All-Ches-Mont selections:
- From Henderson: Girls Basketball: Whitney Evans and Jackie Shea; Boys Basketball; Connor Fleet; Swimming: Vedant Bedekar, Colin Smolders; Edward Stoltz, Finn Lukens, Paige Fisher, and Shannon Gable; Diving: George Graham and Sam Gilman; Wrestling: Carmen Cortese, Liam Keevil, Alfie Overton, and Angus Whittaker
- From Rustin: Girls Basketball: Laine McGurk and Lola Flynn; Boys Basketball: Ian Schlesinger and Tyler Giunta; Swimming: George Harkins, Ellie Smith, Flynn Truskett, and Lily Turco
- From East: Boys Basketball: KJ Cochran; Swimming: Taylor Tegler, Caelan Ladd, Samantha Heiland, and Grace Herlihy; Wrestling: Max Parnis
Finally, kudos to the East Football team for making good use of the offseason.
For nearly 50 years, high school students have been sharing their artistic talents with the community at the Chester County High School Art Exhibition. This year the non-juried art show will feature works from nearly 500 Chester County students. Pieces will be simultaneously entered in the Congressional Art Competition for a chance to be displayed in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. If you would like to check out these inspiring works of art, the gallery is open now through April 22 at the Chester County Art Association. An opening reception and awards ceremony will be held on Tuesday night from 5 – 7 p.m.
Pete’s Produce may be gone but his mission of farm fresh vegetables will carry on thanks to Christa Barfield and FarmerJawn Agriculture. Christa has leased just over 120 acres of the Westtown school farm with the hopes of transitioning to organics. In addition to running the popular 926 farm stand, she plans to use a portion of the land as a “farming incubator” with the hopes of educating and building up the next generation of farmers. It’s a vision that has been in the works for a while and one she is now ready to share with the public.
“FarmerJawn is on pace to become the only Black-owned regenerative vegetable farm in the nation, and we’re ready to get this started,” said Christa.
An opening celebration is being held on April 22 starting at 11:15 a.m. with an address by Christa and a Lenape blessing of the farm. The address will be followed by food demonstrations, kids’ games, crafts, hayrides, and a make-your-own smores station. Speeches are free, activities will cost you; $7 for adults and $5 for kids 5 -12; those under 5 are free. You can learn more about the opening celebration here.
Also, say get ready to say hello to students on bikes, or at least that’s the hope. West Chester University has recently opened a brand new Bicycle Lending Library (BLL) consisting of 28 Trek bicycles available in a variety of sizes. The BLL will operate from the loading dock of the Francis Harvey Green Library and give students and employees a new green transportation option. Through the program users will receive a properly fitted bike, helmet, and combination lock. Bikes can be reserved anywhere from two weeks to a full semester.
Finally, this week the Hoopes Park Pavilion is saying hello to a new roof. Construction should be wrapping up today but if you saw the area roped off, this is why.
Say goodbye to bumpy alleyways. Earlier this year West Chester’s Public Works Department measured the borough’s alleys to find an additional 5250 ft of roadway that was eligible for paving funds under the Pennsylvania liquid fuel tax. Each year Pennsylvania provides municipalities with money to pave roads and alleyways as long as the roads meet certain criteria, one of which is being at least 16 ft wide. Thanks to this find, the Borough will now have money to repave more roads.
Also, this week Bradford Plaza announced it is saying goodbye to some of those open storefronts and adding a little fun and function to its retail lineup. According to a news release from Levin Management Corp, the plaza’s leasing agent, two new stores are expected soon. The first is NovaCare Rehabilitation, an outpatient physical therapy provider, and the other, is Bert’s Homemade Ice Cream a family-owned Italian ice and ice cream parlor.
Speaking of spaces and places being filled, add to your radar:
- 9 Prime, a steak and seafood restaurant coming to the First National Bank on N. High Street. Want to be invited to their grand opening event? Text 9Prime to 805-991-5125.
- Bobbles & Lace, a high fashion retailer promising affordable pricing, is planned for 125 N. High Street. See their spring selections here.
- Mimi’s Tea Cottage, a cozy tea room offering traditional tea service for you purists, is opening on S. High Street.
And finally, saying goodbye to his college career after just one year, Westtown basketball standout Dereck Lively II. The Duke freshman has decided to forego his remaining years of eligibility and enter the NBA draft. The 7’-1” center is currently projected to be a first-round draft pick.
Pay it forward.
Last month The Fund for Women and Girls, a Chester County advocacy group, announced its 2023 grant recipients. However, unlike other granting organizations whose boards are made up of local professionals and industry experts, the grantors here are a group of 20 high school sophomore and junior girls. In order to get a better understanding of how exactly this works, I spoke with Henderson sophomore Mia Bell. Mia has just completed her first year as a member of the Girls Advisory Board.
My real question was: how did the list of names in the press release – Maternal and Child Health Consortium, $5000 grant; Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (DVCCC), $5000 grant; The Clinic, $5000 grant, and the Women’s Resource Center, $5000 – get there?
The process begins with a discussion, Mia explained. “We get together and talk about issues. We discuss which areas are impacting the community the most,” she said. From there they select three focus areas. For 2023 they chose – Women’s health, Domestic Violence and the LGBTQ community.
With the areas of focus selected they finalize the application and open the granting process. Applicants are then reviewed against the grant criteria and site visits scheduled with the finalists.
“We were looking mainly at how they impact not just women but women in Chester County. That’s our community and that’s who we are trying to reach,” said Mia.
From there the girls must make final decisions and authorize grant amounts. Managing the whole process gives the girls insight into not only the big picture but the details that make a good application. Mia said the DVCCC impressed the committee not only with what they did for the community but by knowing exactly how they would spend the funds.
“They demonstrate bit by bit where the money goes,” said Mia. “Where the current money is going and where the new money will go. That is really amazing because we can see exactly where our grant money is going.”
Spoken like a future board member. Learn more about the chosen grant recipients here.
Ready to give back yourself?
- The West Chester Area School District is looking to start a K-12 mentoring and tutoring program that pairs the community and its talents with the district’s students and their needs. An information session is scheduled for April 16 from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. at Peirce Middle School. Complete the short Google form if you are interested in participating. Childcare and interpreters will be available.
- The Borough of West Chester currently has open positions on a number of committees including the Human Relations Commission, the Planning Commission, the West Chester Public Library Board, and the Sustainability Advisory Committee. If you are interested in being considered for a position, submit a letter of interest as well as your resume or a brief bio to Dana DiDomenico. Submissions are due April 14.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We will be camping out at courts and fields across the greater West Chester area as spring sports collide with the remnants of winter leagues. At least the weather should be nice if the rain holds off.
If you are around this weekend the West Chester Co-op community bake-off sounds like delicious fun. It’s being held on Saturday from 2 – 5 p.m. at the Masonic Lodge on S. Church St. East Goshen moved its township yard sale from Saturday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (I guess they are not as hopeful about this rain as I am.) If you are heading downtown, Turks Head has a new kiwi mint lemongrass nitro tea they are floating (it looks pretty), Greystone added flights of mimosas to its brunch menu, and patios are open far and wide.
And finally, this week a very special thank you to Mitten Systems for joining as our newest Community Sponsor! Mitten Systems is an operations consulting firm focused on helping small businesses and nonprofits find more efficient ways to work. What small business couldn’t use that? Check out their website to learn how they can help your business do more with less!
Mitten Systems is an operations consulting firm that provides solutions for non-profit organizations and small businesses. With a focus in system development, process improvement, and technology integration, we deliver digital products that result in change leadership and transformation. To learn more about process improvements for your business, visit www.amitten.com.
View a list of all our amazing Community Sponsors here. Want to get your business out in front of this wonderful community? I don’t blame you. Community Sponsorships are full but there still some limited ad space available. Send me an email if you are interested – but hurry, spaces are filling up fast.
Like knowing what’s happening in and around town? Same! Consider making a small donation to help keep these updates coming (and elected officials accountable. $2 million is a lot to miss a budget by!)
Mark your calendars:
- Apr. 14 – West Chester Public Library’s Trivia Night, Zoom, 7 -8 p.m. Registration required.
- Apr. 15 – Saint Agnes 5K, 211 W. Gay St., 9 a.m. Kids fun run begins at 8:45 a.m. $25/adults; $10/kids fun run; Long sleeve shirt for those that register by Mar. 30.
- Apr. 15 – Live at the Filmore, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. The music of the original Allman Brother Band. Tickets: $45/advance; $50/door
- Apr. 16 – West Chester Food Cooperative Bake Off, The Masonic Lodge, 10 South Church St, 2 – 5 p.m. Calling all bakers! This your chance to see just how good your signature recipe is. This event is open to everyone.
- Apr. 16 – Community Mentoring: Introductory Meeting, Pierce Middle School, 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. Meeting will provide information for those interesting in serving as a mentor as well as for parents of students who may benefit. Childcare and interpreters will be available. If you are interested, please register using this form.
- Apr. 17 – $5 Monday Movie – Easter Parade, Uptown, 7 p.m. Includes complimentary popcorn!
- Apr. 17 – WCASD Select and Senior Strings, Rustin High School, 7 p.m.
- Apr. 19 – The Path to Carbon Neutrality in Higher Education, Sykes Student Union 255 A/B or Zoom, 12 – 12:50 p.m. Presented by WCU faculty and at 50 minutes each, these seminars introduce an array of sustainability topics in easily digestible segments. Presentations are free and open to the public. For Zoom use the link above and passcode: 878376
- Apr. 19 – 3rd Wednesday Book Discussion, West Chester Public Library, 1 – 2 p.m. Bring a brown bag lunch; enjoy a lively book discussion. No registration necessary. This month’s book: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes.
- Apr. 19 – Karaoke Night, Ryan’s Pub, 10 p.m.
- Apr. 20 – Micheal O’Siadhail poetry reading, Francis Harvey Green Library, Room 615, 7 p.m. This is part of WCU’s Forenight of Festivities celebrating the 400 year anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Visit the website for a complete event list.
- Apr. 20 -22 Twelfth Night Performance, 7:30 p.m. (2 p.m. matinee Apr. 22) Main Stage Theatre, E.O. Bull Center for the Arts, 2 E. Rosedale Avenue. Tickets at https://wcupatix.com/theatreanddance. This is part of WCU’s Forenight of Festivities celebrating the 400 year anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Visit the website for a complete event list.
- Apr. 21 – Home Again – A tribute to the music of Carol King, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $40/advance; $45/door
- Apr. 22 – Everhart Park Annual Spring Cleanup, Everhart Park, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
- Apr. 22 – Marshall Square Park Cleanup, Marshall Square Park, 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- Apr. 22 – 1st ever Running Home 5K, Corner of Market and Church Streets, 9 a.m. Money raised goes to support North Star of Chester County. Registration: $30
- Apr. 22 – Earth Day Birthday Rally, Courthouse, 1 p.m. Following the rally head to the Unitarian Church for a Green Fair. Enjoy treats from the West Chester Co-op, native planting, and children’s activities.
- Apr. 22 – Cash Unchained, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m.Take a journey back in time to the life and music of “The Man in Black” Tickets: $40/advance; $45/door
- Apr. 22 – Dr. Marc Gagné “Shakespeare and the Heavens,” 7 p.m., Mather Planetarium. This is part of WCU’s Forenight of Festivities celebrating the 400 year anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Visit the website for a complete event list.
- Apr. 22 – West Chester 2023 Community Clean-up, Various locations, Kick off at Borough Hall, 8 a.m. – 9 a.m. Register to claim your clean up location.
- Apr. 23 – Renaissance Fair, 12 – 3 p.m. WCU Academic Quad. Fair to be followed by a free outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s Twelth Night. This is part of WCU’s Forenight of Festivities celebrating the 400 year anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Visit the website for a complete event list.
- Apr. 23 – Texture Tracing Earth Day activity, Everhart Park, 3 – 5 p.m. This is a free family-friendly activity being planned by Friends of Everhart Park.
Psst. Like to plan ahead? Visit the new Calendar page. I have events through July!
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week.
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