Walkable Jenkintown first appeared on the internet in April, 2015, a week after Louise and I received notice that we had to fix the Borough’s sidewalk. I can still provide a litany of reasons why no aspect of this policy makes any sense, but exploring this problem got me far deeper into local issues than I ever expected.
Suffice to say, I picked up the rock and looked under it, and what I found belied Jenkintown’s happy place reputation. Whether my neighbors liked it or not, Walkable Jenkintown became the only consistent source of news and commentary dedicated solely to Jenkintown.
This exploration connected me with many concerned citizens and neighbors, sustainability activists, and members of the local, regional, and national media. Early last month, one of those connections reached out and offered me a job. As of today, I am the new editor of GlensideLocal.
At GlensideLocal.com, I will join Michael Golden’s well-funded effort to fill in the void traditional media left behind by ignoring the communities outside of Philadelphia. As residents of Jenkintown know all-too-well, our own government operates safe from any media scrutiny, and because of that, they’ve gotten away with everything except maybe murder. Jenkintown’s representatives are accountable to almost no one except the political machine that has put them there.
That ends today. GlensideLocal will cover not only its original territory of Cheltenham and Abington, but now Jenkintown as well. Eventually, the name of the site will change to incorporate or acknowledge our little town in some way.
We report on pretty much everything, from lost pets to grand openings to government matters. If you have a tip, please share. Anything you think that your neighbors should know GlensideLocal wants to know as well.
What happens to WalkableJenkintown? Not sure yet, quite frankly, but I will keep its archives online to serve as a historical document of Jenkintown’s last four years. Meanwhile, we’ll see where this little adventure in journalism takes me, but I’m happy to say that I get to do more of what I’ve been doing with WJ and now I get paid for it.
My goal with WalkableJenkintown was always to help make Jenkintown a better, more accountable, and viable community. This does not change as I take on this new role.
At last week’s Borough Council meeting we learned:
More apartments for Jenkintown. Jeffrey Lustig came before council seeking approval for his plans to build apartments on the second and third floor of the Wells Fargo bank building at the corner of York and West. He got it, but not before the owner of Buckets voiced his concerns about — what else — parking. Credit goes to Council president Deborra Sines-Pancoe for pointing out to Mr. Bramen that his signs posted all around his lot warn that he will tow cars that don’t belong there.
Parking meter fees will be doubling, from twenty five cents to fifty cents per hour.
The Borough has issued a demolition permit for the Salem Baptist Church property. Look for wrecking balls soon.
Melissa Ashton Young Resigns — right on time. Council’s agenda listed its intent to accept the resignation letter of Melissa Young and then to appoint Maxine Marlowe, a former council member, to her post. These two agenda items were tabled without explanation. Ms. Young has largely been AWOL on the board in the past year and made no secret of her displeasure of serving. Her term was set to expire this year, but in a classic tactic, she will resign early to allow for an appointment and to avoid any primary fight. Democracy at work!
Mayor Dobbs is camera shy? Someone needs to explain to our elected representatives, maybe upon swearing in, that they are public officials and when in a public hearing, they have no right to privacy. So, when a reporter or a citizen comes and starts taking pictures, maybe they should just shut up and deal with it. When I pointed my camera at Mayor Allyson Dobbs (above), she launched a tirade about my rudeness. “What would David Sedaris think?” Madame Mayor, I don’t give a rat’s ass what David Sedaris thinks.
Bunker suggests selling our sewers to Aqua. Social Media Bully and Council Vice President Rick Bunker raised an obvious question not asked at this months earlier public works hearing: In the face of the huge bill faced by the borough for sewer remediation and redirection from Cheltenham to Abington, why not just sell off the sewers to Aqua? As previously reported, Aqua is expected to close a deal to take over Cheltenham’s system, which may lessen our financial burden, but perhaps we can kill two birds. Pros and cons on both sides, so expect this issue to dominate community discussion for much of this year.
Rick Bunker, the chairman of Jenkintown Borough Council’s finance committee is also an owner and the CEO of a company currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. On November 12, 2018, Prescription Advisory Systems & Technology, Inc filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to head off a lawsuit by a creditor.
According to the filing, the company “based in Jenkintown, PA, estimates its assets to be between $0 – $50,000 and its liabilities to be between $1–$10 million.”
Further the filing shows that Bunker requests self-control of the company’s cash accounts as well as no interference with payroll disbursements. Since Bunker is named as an employee he’ll presumably still receive his salary. Bunker describes himself in the filing as co-founder, starting the company in 2013.
Bunker seeks to convert the debt into equity, or in other words, turn his creditors into owners of a business he himself describes as one that “it has struggled for nearly its entire existence to attract the capital necessary for sustainable expansion and growth of its business. PAST has continually sought seed-money investment into the business, almost all of which was done by investors on an unsecured basis.”
Five percent increase still leaves Jenkintown with a $400,000 deficit
Last month, Jenkintown Borough Council voted to raise our taxes by five percent, exceeding the rate of inflation by sixty-two percent. Council Vice President and Social Media Bully Rick Bunker dismissed any concern by reminding Jenkintonians that our government spared us any increases for the past three years. In other words, be grateful that our government didn’t take more from us.
According to Bunker and Jenkintown’s nominally qualified Borough Manager George Locke (3% raise in 2019), most residents would see “only” about a $60 hike. We would ask if it’s only that much, then why raise it at all? Is there an institutional budget anywhere that couldn’t be cut 5% without the sky falling? (Answer: No. There is not.)
The only two council members to expressed anything approaching resistance were Chuck Whitney and Michael Golden. Within his brief statement about priorities, Whitney remarked, “I think though we need to understand this is not really our money. We have to be careful to distinguish between what’s nice to have and what we have to have.” Whitney acknowledged the added staffing, but continued, “Next year, I think we have to take a hard look at any additions. We can’t do everything.”
In a longer statement, Michael Golden supported Whitneys comments adding, “I’m a little concerned about how we communicate items with the borough with our constituents. I’m concerned with the communication effort and transparency above everything else. I think it’s difficult for people to see the budget and see why we make decisions and make other decisions. I think we can work harder in being transparent in how and why we act.” (Comments begin at the 35:10 mark.)
Golden also pledged to redouble efforts to communicate with the community.
In a rather specious retort, Council member Christian Soltysiak said, “All of our budget meetings are open to the public.”
If Soltysiak believes so strongly that the borough conducts itself with complete transparency, then why did most of the community, including some council members, find out about the purchase of the Cedar Street property after the fact?
Simply putting up a notice and holding the meeting may fulfill the barest minimum of legal requirements, but in a town with 12 representatives for 4400 people, a little outreach might go a long way to counter the suspicions that our government does not have our best interests in mind. Any fan of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” will see the irony.
Here’s your five percent
So far, the Cedar Street property has cost us $268,000 just in budget outlays. Add to that the lost tax revenue to both the borough and the school district — which is not accounted for in the Borough’s budget — and that number easily crests $300,000 and will only increase. Have the properties around the proposed park increased in value yet? Just asking.
From what we understand, much of the raise comes from police pension obligations. Currently, Jenkintown has eleven police officers, and one full-time police sergeant earns about $100,000 in salary plus benefits and pension — a bill we get stuck with long after that officer leaves our force.
Wouldn’t ten be enough? How about nine? We ask only because we wonder if anyone else did. For a low-crime town such as ours, do we need so many cops or is this just more homeland security theater? Just curious.
We spend over $26,000 picking up leaves. You get charged directly for trash pickup, but your neighbor pays for your yard maintenance. Does that make sense? Is it fair? Only wondering.
The library will receive $240,000 of your money. Maybe you believe that’s money well spent, but we have a lot of wealthy people in town saving hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) by sending their kids to public school rather than a private school. Their stock portfolios probably look better than ever and they’re getting a big tax cut this year. Perhaps if they believe we need a library, they could contribute more. Did you go to the library recently? If the town didn’t subsidize it, would you donate to it? If not, why not? Just asking.
Since 2015, the Hiway Theater has received $39,000 in subsidy from our tax dollars, not including the money they don’t contribute in property taxes as a non-profit. Have you been to the theater recently? If not, why not? The $6,000 the Borough will send to the theater in 2019 is the equivalent of about 120 memberships. Is there a reason why the theater couldn’t find 120 members in and around Jenkintown to get this off our budget? Kind of wondering.
These numbers admittedly make up a relatively small amount within an $8.6 million budget (with a $400,000 deficit), but five percent of that is $430,000 — or roughly the total of what we’ve outlined in possible cuts. These are only the items that stand out to us. You can bet there’s more. There always is.
Eliminate these amounts and arguably much more, and we could easily go another year without a tax increase, and we would bet our house that the sky won’t fall, houses won’t be left to burn, and your toilet will continue to flush.
Jenkintown Borough rarely sends out emails about its committee meetings. This month’s public works committee meeting was the exception, because of a particular challenge facing our town — where to send what we flush down our toilets.
Currently, Jenkintown sends all of its sewage through Cheltenham which then sends most of its sewage to Philadlephia. According to the engineers, Cheltenham has not kept up with maintenance, and now races to upgrade their system.
Since Jenkintown’s sewage accounts for just over 11% of their total flow, we’re on the hook for a little more than that percentage of the remediation costs. So far, this puts Jenkintown on the hook for $1.2 million.
Besides the cost, this impacts Jenkintown’s hopes for further redevelopment. Sewer capacity is measured in EDUs, or “equivalent dwelling units”. In Pennsylvania this amounts to about 400 gallons per day per household, and the Department of Environmental Protection allocates the number of EDUs depending on the capacity of a municipality’s (or company’s) treatment system.
Because Cheltenham receives and treats all of Jenkintown’s sewage, Cheltenham has veto power over any development proposal in Jenkintown if it exceeds our allocated number fo DPUs.
Penoni Asssociates brought a fact-finding presentation to the committee, outlining several options with projected costs ranging from $39,000 to $10.4 million. Penoni engineers and most of the council members present seemed to agree that doing nothing was not an option. No one is happy with the Cheltenham’s performance.
Much of the presentation focused on sending our sewage to Abington. This may or may not involve the construction and maintenance of expensive pumping stations.
Clouding the picture further is Aqua’s impending purchase of Cheltenham’s water system, including its sewers. A representative from the company on hand last night expects the company and the town to complete the deal before the end of this year.
No matter which option it chooses, Jenkintown is faced with a major and costly (for Jenkintown) public works project. Couple this with the exit of Glanzmann and their contribution to our tax roles, the ongoing struggles of our commercial district, and Council’s insistence on burdening this town with a park that no one wants, and taxpayers can expect to see more of its tax dollars flushed down the drain.