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It’s Friday, Aug. 18, 2023: This week we look at the rising cost of fire protection services in the Borough. What’s behind the increase and why is West Chester bearing the bulk of it? Plus, Marshall Square Park addresses parent concerns, how to best prepare for back-to-school, and two new outdoor dining options expected this fall (or early next year).
Who’s ready? Let’s catch up!
The Rising Price of Safety
Nearly 40 years ago, the Borough of West Chester banded together with East Bradford, West Goshen, Westtown, Birmingham, and Thornbury to form one of the area’s first “regionalized” fire departments. It’s a process that makes sense, one could even argue is necessary, considering the vast overhead of a fire company, even an all-volunteer fire company like West Chester’s. Since then, the participating municipality managers and West Chester Fire Company leadership have come together to create and present a collaborative budget for the department that protects 57,000 residents annually.
Typically a rather routine affair, this week’s presentation left Borough Council members with what looks like another budgetary challenge for the new year.Under the new proposed five-year budget, costs of fire services in the Borough will increase nearly 25 percent next year – although some of that increase may be paid in in-kind services.
That’s high. Are costs going up everywhere? No. For half the participating municipalities costs are actually going down for 2024. Costs are also rising in West Goshen and Westtown Townships but by a much smaller margin than seen in West Chester. West Goshen will see a 2.63 percent increase under the proposed budget. Westtown a 6.77 percent increase.
So, why is West Chester seeing such a large increase? That isn’t entirely clear. In 1984 when the alliance was created a formula for cost sharing was established. That formula takes into consideration the municipality’s assessed property value and its call volume.
“The method for calculating the price shares is unchanged from the previous contract but we got much different results this time around,” Borough Manager Sean Metrick told council members during his presentation on Tuesday evening.
In 2019, the first (and last) time a five-year fire budget plan was presented West Chester paid 35.7 percent of all departmental costs. This time around the calculations dictate the Borough pay over 40 percent of costs. The shift is due to a significant increase in the Borough’s assessed property values in relation to the other municipalities.
Interestingly, despite all this “new development” the Borough’s percentage of call volume has not changed. The 2019 budget estimated West Chester accounted for 51.8 percent of the call volume based on previous years’ volume. In this budget, West Chester is allocated 51.76 percent of the calls.
Do we know why the Borough’s assessed value went up so significantly? No. There has been, of course, some new development over the last five years but nothing that seems to provide an obvious answer for the increase – or at least not that Borough officials are saying at this time. “I can’t tell you why it’s so much higher,” Mr. Metrick told Council. “We have some ideas but nothing has been verified yet.”Resident Darrell Cook had an idea. “How much has West Chester University contributed for fire services over the last 5, 10, 20 years?” he asked.
Bottom line – what kind of increase are we looking at? Ok, well here’s the good news. It doesn’t look like the increase will have to be paid entirely in dollars. As it turns out each year the Borough administration does a lot of work in support of the Fire Department. Things like filing disability claims, accounting support, and grant writing. These services which are estimated at roughly $57,000/year were not previously being paid back to the Borough. Under the new contract, they will be. With these services factored in, the bottom line increase drops to $43,277, or just over 10 percent.
That sounds a little more reasonable. Anything else I should know? Yeah, that only covers the operating budget, not capital expenses, or equipment costs, and – “Major equipment is the biggest expense of volunteer fire companies,” the report reminds us.
Knowing that smaller vehicles typically need to be replaced every 10 years and the larger vehicles, “the heavies,” every 20 years, the leadership took the wise step and mapped out all planned capital expenses for the next twenty years. With everything from Boat 53-1 to Ladder 53 assigned a replacement date, the department now has a pretty good idea of upcoming expenses. Looking at that replacement schedule the next five years should be light in terms of capital expenses.
This is a potential lifesaver for next year’s budget, except the leadership got another bright idea – pay now against future capital expenses. “It’s a low capital expense cycle but we have three big contract cycles staring us in the face down the road,” said Mr. Metrick. Thus the joint leadership is suggesting the municipalities all pony up and pay an additional $82,440/year as a down payment on future expenses. While they wait to be used, the extra funds can be kept in a prime yield account earning interest currently around 5.46 percent annually.
Makes sense for those municipalities facing a decreased payment. So, what’s next for us? First, this is just a draft budget so there is still time for adjustments to be made. It was suggested the formula be adjusted so fixed costs are assessed equally across municipalities while variable costs fluctuate by usage. Although, it is not likely this approach would be supported by the smaller municipalities. It was also suggested the amount that is paid down on capital expenses could be lowered at least until the Borough gets adjusted to its new increased fire budget.
“You have a hard decision to find out where the dollars should go,” Mr. Metrick told Council on Tuesday.
Is there a silver lining here? Sure. Remember, it is an all-volunteer fire company. Otherwise, these numbers would all be much higher. Discussions will continue next month as Borough Council begins to review 2024 department budgets.
Just for curiousity’s sake: Fires recorded at West Chester University residential facilities from 2019 – 2022 and their causes.
Safety First: New Park Entryway to Add Beauty and a Barricade
It’s a warm Wednesday morning and the northwest entrance of Marshall Square Park is dotted with little patrons mostly of the 0 to 5-year-old variety and their (mostly) moms. The morning I am there, the swings and both playgrounds are popular destinations. I watch as a mom guides in three young patrons, cars whizzing down E. Marshall Street in the background, and it is not hard to imagine the feedback the members of Friends of Marshall Square Park, a group of concerned neighbors that help support the park, receive.
“The impetus of the plan came from concerned parents,” said registered landscape architect and founding member of FOMSP Anne Walters at last week’s Public Works Committee meeting.
Anne and group President Jeff Beitel were there to present their plans for a new northwest entrance to the park. Their vision will add roughly 300’ of fencing to the corner split between Matlack and Marshall Streets. That will be followed by a landscape border and then the trees. The fence will reach 30” in height – a deterrent more than a literal barrier – and will mimic the look of the fencing used around the fountain on the northeast corner. The plants will be native and, in some cases, pollinator-friendly.
“The selected plants will remain low in height and will offer seasonal color and interest as well as providing slope protection to eliminate erosion,” said Anne. “All of the proposed plants have ‘tough constitutions’ which is a necessary component for plants in public spaces,” she added.
This week the plan received the full support of Borough Council. The group – which will be coordinating and funding the upgrade – will now put the project out to bid with the goal of having the fence installed by mid-October and planting completed soon after.
“Then hopefully next spring it will all come up and look beautiful and we’ll have a nice entrance to the park,” said Anne.
Warning, procession coming through. Last weekend Saint Agnes Parish held their 105th Annual Lady of Assumption procession through the Borough. West Chester police helped secure the route and document it for posterity (or at least Facebook).
There’s nothing to see here. Last week Property Manager Amy McCall shared an update on the incident at Sharples Works apartments and it seems, after much investigation, the only explanation that could be found was a sensor malfunction. “There were no hazardous chemicals or gas found in the areas where the detector went off,” said Amy. “Final result from the environmental testing firm was that they feel high humidity is what set off the carbon monoxide detectors.” The incident was reported on the morning of July 26 after a heavy period of rain.
You can run, but you can’t hide. West Chester Police have identified four of the nine suspects wanted on charges of vandalism after they smashed multiple train windows at the West Chester Historic Railroad on Market Street late last month. No names have been released but the delinquents are being described as 15-year-old boys. It is estimated the teens caused $16,000 worth of damage during their evening escapade.
WEGO PD is NOT hiring. “The Westtown-East Goshen Regional Police Department is NOT looking to fill an Administrative position. Unfortunately, our original ad continues to be re-posted,” the department shared on Facebook this week. The position was filled in April.
See something, say something. Bigfoot spotted in Everhart Park?
Congratulations this week to the Good Fellowship Ambulance Company and EMS Training Institute. Last month, our top-notch local paramedic team was recognized by the American Heart Association for providing exceptional heart and stroke care. The ambulance company was awarded the top distinction level of gold based on its patient care track record.“
Good Fellowship Ambulance is honored to be recognized by the American Heart Association for our dedication in providing optimal care for heart attack and stroke patients,” said Colin Bauer, Good Fellowship’s Assistant Director for Clinical Care. This marks the sixth year in a row Good Fellowship has received the AMA’s top distinction.
Also a round of applause this week to Varday Jacobs. The West Chester Public Works Supervisor was presented with a Citizen Award by West Chester Police Chief James Morehead at Wednesday night’s Borough Council meeting. The award recognized, the chief read, “an act of valuable victim and police service by going above and beyond during a strong-arm robbery.”
On the morning of July 7 around 7 a.m., Varday was working downtown in the area of High and Gay Streets when he observed a woman in distress. She told him a man had punched her in the face and had stolen her cell phone. Mr. Jacobs helped the woman to his Borough vehicle, called 9-1-1, and together they began pursuing the assailant from a safe distance. While reporting the suspect’s movements to police dispatch, they witnessed a second assault. Thanks to Varday’s quick thinking and resourcefulness, the assailant was apprehended and a solid case is being built against him.
“I hope Mr. Jacobs shows up at the new hire test in January. I think he has shown he has an aptitude for this profession,’ said Chief Morehead.
He’s also an excellent gardener.
Speaking of the new hire test, congratulations to Kyle Drew Livesay. The Rustin and WCU graduate is West Chester’s newest police officer.
High fives this week to more WCASD graduates including Saanvi Bhatia from East, Sequoia Drake from Henderson, and Andrew Saadic from Rustin, all of whom won this year’s Grawthrop Law Prize. According to a release put out by the West Chester-based law firm, “Gawthrop Greenwood has been encouraging, recognizing, and honoring academic excellence since the law firm’s founding in 1904.” This particular $1000 scholarship was started in 1991.
Finally, a golf clap to Chris Merce. Chris is joining West Chester University as its next head men’s and women’s golf coach. The standout college golfer spent the last seven years coaching at Arcadia University where his teams set new team and individual records in all categories. Good luck, Coach!
Hey, southeast neighbors, it’s beginning. Say hello, to work crews at the Wyeth property on E. Nields St. While final land development plans for the site have not yet been approved, it was reported last week that preliminary work will begin on an underground stormwater infiltration system that will help divert rain waters from the low-lying property. Stormwater remediation efforts must be completed before construction can start on the proposed warehouses. Therefore, to keep the project moving forward, developers will begin work despite not yet having their final land development approvals. According to Building & Housing Director Kevin Gore, site work can begin after preliminary land development approval but is done at the builder’s risk. Final site plans are expected to be in for review in the next 60 days.
Also, say, hello to dining under the stars. This week both 9 Prime and Serum Kitchen and Tap House got approvals on their plans to add outdoor or simulated outdoor dining. 9 Prime will add a glass-topped terrace to their N. High Street bank building while Serum is building a rooftop bar that will extend over G Spot Thrift on Market Street.
Finally, say, hello to decisions. The West Chester Area School Board has set a time and a place to vote on whether or not to open a new Valley Forge Classical Academy charter school. Board Members will weigh in on the school’s proposal at a special board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. in the Fugett Middle School auditorium.
This week members of the West Chester Methodist Church on S. High Street faced the end of its long-term lease on 18 parking spots in Borough Lot #5. The spots, the church argues, are vital to conducting church business and essential to running its in-house daycare, one of the largest in the Borough.
For their part, Parking Director Ramsey Reiner and some members of Borough Council are hoping to usher in a new era of “equality” in Borough parking and would like to see the spots as part of a lottery system, awarded each year to any interested resident willing to pay the monthly fee. They cited a Parking study completed in January 2018 as the impetus for the change. [Full disclosure, I just got a copy of the study myself and have not yet had a chance to dig in.]
The church members, who flooded Borough Hall on Tuesday night, countered that the Borough did not fully understand how the lot was used, and chided leadership for a lack of communication and cooperation.
“We are so deeply confused, hurt, and angry. How could you consider a recommendation like this without talking to us?” Pastor Truman Brooks said during his remarks to Council.
To which Councilwoman Sheila Vaccaro decried the prevalence of the Borough’s backroom deals – not that there was any indication that this agreement was the result of side negotiations – and said she’d prefer all discussions happen in a public forum. A statement, none the less, on which I am sure we can all agree.
Needless to say, things got a little heated. In the end the whole issue was tabled – for now – as the two sides were asked to resume (start?) discussions and work through some potential future scenarios like moving to a morning and afternoon drop-off line for the school.
I know a lot of people have things to say about the proposed parking changes, especially regarding this idea of a lottery system but I just haven’t had time to pull it all together. So for this week, a quick recap will have to suffice. The Daily Local published a much more detailed recount of the meeting if you are interested.
My idea is to revisit parking next week from the perspective of the resident. I have already heard from several of you but if you have thoughts – for or against these proposed changes – please send them over – firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I have been on Council for six years,” said Borough Council President Michael Stefano on Wednesday. “We’ve raised taxes. We canceled Outfest and I got more emails about parking spaces this week than anything else.”
Pay it forward.
In one week, two days, and a dozen and a half hours or so, the kids will be back in school. (But, who’s counting.) While I am clearly ready, not everyone may be. Lax summer routines, spontaneous adventures, and uninterrupted friend hang-out time certainly have their appeal. The return of a routine and responsibilities can be a stresser – for some kids.
“Every child will internalize the first day of school differently,” said Joe Rodia, Head of School at West Chester’s Chesterbrook Academy and a 20-year back-to-school veteran. His advice? “Customize the experience for your student.”
If they are excited, talk about all they are going to learn this year, the teacher they have, and the projects they will do. If they are more reluctant, “Cater more to the fun things,” he suggests. Planned field trips, seeing friends again, and after-school activities.
He also suggests parents take to time to prepare themselves. “We talk a lot about the child piece,” he said. “We need to make sure we are ready as well because that stress will be felt by the children.”
Familiarize yourself with the school website. Figure out the plan for school lunches, learn the bus schedules, complete any paperwork, and take time to map out important dates. “As a family, we need to make sure we are organized and ready,” he said.
But no matter where they are on the excitement meter, make the return to school a celebration, Joe said. At Chesterbrook Academy, they host a “Best Day Ever” celebration on the first day of school. The mascot comes, and there are ice cream trucks and activities. “It’s fun,” he said.
You can do the same at home. Plan something for the night or weekend before as well as on the first day. “We are going to go out to dinner the night before,” Joe said of his family which is celebrating a son entering high school.
“If you do just do one thing, make it a celebration,” he said. Read the full interview here.
- Chesterbrook Academy returns Tuesday, Aug. 29
- West Chester Area School District returns Monday, Aug. 28.
Finally, congratulations this week to the West Chester Food Cupboard on their expansion and all the good work that they do.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We plan on soaking up all these last bits of summer. We have a beach day planned, tubing on the Brandywine, and Westtown is showing “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at Oakbourne Park on Thursday evening which sounds fun.
Also, don’t forget Sunday is CommUnity Day at the Melton Center. Slow Hand has live music Friday and Satuday nights – and for those of you on the fence about switching seasons, Wrong Crowd has your fall, while Pine and Quill is handing out summer at a discount – $25 outdoor pillows, 50 percent off everything else!
Finally, a special thank you to this week’s Community Sponsor Lulu’s Casita. Located in the heart of downtown West Chester, Lulu’s Casita is an Indoor Playroom for children ages 0-6 years. Join them for daily open play, award-winning birthday parties, character events, and more. Visit their website to learn more.
Fall is almost here and Lulu’s is ready to celebrate! Join everyone’s favorite playroom for a series of indoor and outdoor events, including a Royal Tea Party at the park, Fiestas with Elmo, the return of our annual Halloween Boo at the Park and more! Follow Lulus Casita on Facebook and Instagram for the latest events and all the fun details!
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. Fall ad spaces are now open! It’s a great – and cost effective way – to get your name in front of a highly engaged West Chester audience. Send me an email if you are interested – but hurry, spaces are filling up fast!
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Mark your calendars:
- Aug. 18 -19 – Stuffed Animal Sleepover, West Chester History Center, stuffed animal drop off 2 – 5 p.m. Friday; pick up 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday. Drop off your stuffed animal or favorite toy at the front desk of the Chester County History Center for an adventure through the museum.
- Aug. 18 – Trivia Night, West Chester Public Library, 7-8 p.m. Registration is required.
- Aug. 19 – West Chester Grower’s Market, 201 N. Church St. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Local seasonal produce and craft goodies. Open sun or rain! Just don’t forget to bring your bags!
- Aug. 19- Yoga in the Street, Gay Street (near the Post Office), 9 – 10 a.m. No registration required. Just bring a mat and $5 entrance fee (cash only!)
- Aug. 19 – Swing Dance Lessons, West Chester Public Library courtyard, 2 -4 p.m. Lessons are followed by a free dance period. This is a free event presented by the library and Rittenhop Dance.
- Aug. 20 – CommUnity Day, Melton Center, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Check out the summer league championships while enjoying games, a bouncy castle, live performances and more. Food trucks will be available.
- Aug. 21 – $5 Movie Night: Hotel Transylvania 3, Uptown Theater, 7:00 p.m. Free popcorn included with the price of admission!
- Aug. 23 – West Chester University freshman move it begins!
- Aug. 24 – East Bradford Summer Concert Series, East Bradford Park, 7 p.m. Music: One Alternative
- Aug. 24 – Big Green Egg BBQ Bootcamp, Brandywine Ace Pet and Farm, 5 – 7 p.m. Grilling basics begins at 5 p.m. followed by paella and a cheesecake cooking demo. Registration requested.
- Aug. 24 – Westtown Movie Night – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Oakbourne Park, 8 – 10 p.m.
- Aug. 25 -27 – Nunsense, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. There is also a 2 p.m. performance on Saturday and a 3 p.m. performance on Sunday. Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center and Revival Productions present this zany and wholesome musical comedy about a convent of nuns staging a fundraiser to help them bury the last four nuns of their order. Tickets $37 – 45. There is price tiered seating for this event. Prices increase at the door.
- Aug. 26 – West Chester Grower’s Market, 201 N. Church St. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Local seasonal produce and craft goodies. Open sun or rain! Just don’t forget to bring your bags!
- Aug. 26 – Look Around Music & Arts Festival, Moose Lodge – 401 W. Washington St, 12 p.m. – 3 a.m. Enjoy a full day of music, vendors, food trucks, art, culture and a cash prize costume contest.
- Aug. 26 – East Goshen Community Day (RESCHEDULED), East Goshen Park, 4:30- 8 p.m. Enjoy live music, food trucks, children activities and the best fireworks in Chester County. (Their words).
Psst. Like to plan ahead? Soaks up the last bits of summer with the Summer Event Guide full of photos and videos from West Chester’s favorite summer events or visit the Calendar page for events through October!
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week!
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