yard sign

For the good of the Boro, sit out the primary

Something curious has sprung up on many front lawns here in Jenkintown. Yard signs advertising our incumbent council members, none of whom have any competition, have infested the town. I’ve lived here for 19 years, and until 2017, I never voted in a municipal election — not because I don’t vote — but because I never saw any evidence that one was going on.

When you live in a town with a voting block about 75% Democratic, why bother going through the trouble of campaigning? Indeed, why bother with outreach and town halls or, even in the era of social media, any public discussion about the issues? Council and committee meetings are open to the public, after all, so for what purpose would it serve to spend a day a month on outreach?

The yard signs I’ve seen so far support the reelections of Jay Conners, Jennifer Lugar, and David Ballard (at this writing). Let’s consider their records.

Jay Conners (Ward 4) currently serves as the Council’s Vice President, and he leads the public works committee. On his watch, George Locke turned our sidewalks into a joke thanks to the ill-advised policy of random inspection causing a contractor free-for-all where we all paid double to triple a fair price for sidewalks that are already crumbling. Mr. Locke’s public works department has become the Gang that Can’t Dig Straight as evidenced by the shoddy stormwater work on the 200 block of Runnymede that left brand new curbs and pavement severely damaged. The town is riddled with code violations, embroiled in a civil rights lawsuit, but that doesn’t stop Jay from voting in favor of a 23% pay raise.

Jennifer Lugar (Ward 4) has barely spoken a half-dozen sentences on Council during her tenure. She’s a lovely person, and someone I’ve had in my house, but she fills her Twitter feed with nothing but her gun control advocacy. I understand her very personal motivations for this, but how does gun control bring more business to the commercial district? How does gun control solve our looming sewer issues? 

David Ballard (Ward 3) occasionally posts interesting trivia on the Jenkintown Community page but advances little except voting in lock-step with Deborra Sines-Pancoe’s self-serving agenda of opacity.

And all three of them support George Locke, Sean Kilkenny, and Deborra Sines-Pancoe, one of whom really runs the show. 

This is, frankly, the most do-nothing, rubber-stamping group of party sycophants I’ve witnessed in my long-time observation of local affairs, here and elsewhere. That all said, twelve Republicans would do no better. 

Make no mistake, Jenkintonians: We are sailing into some stormy seas. We ended the last fiscal year with a half-million dollar deficit, this despite ten years of national economic expansion. Our business district, which the entire community depends upon to stay afloat, limps along. A weaker town center means higher school tax. High school tax means lower property values. 

Surrounding towns have left us in the dust. Right now, I hear no one wanting their town to be the “next Jenkintown.” 

I believe that more democracy is better than less. More debate is better, as is more transparency and more outreach. Few things damage a society more than denying its people a voice on issues that affect them directly, and few things threaten Jenkintown’s delicate viability than Council’s endemic floundering. 

What do do? It pains me to suggest this but since a trip to the polls will change nothing, I see little point in going. Please sit out this plebiscite. If you really want to make a statement, then write in “Anyone Else” or perhaps “No One”. 

Jenkintown experiencing the lowest voter turnout in its history could be the best way to send a message to the Machine, which is this: Maybe we can’t get rid you, but we will not support you. 

Runnymede storm drain fixes break sidewalk and curb work

Last week, Jenkintown Public Works under the supervision of George Locke made an attempt to address an ongoing water drainage issue on Runnymede Avenue. According to the Borough, it seems that a spring somewhere between Hillside Avenue and the 200 block of Rodman gets expecially overactive after snowmelts and rainstorms and gushes water down the hill and into the yards of properties on the 200 block of Runnymede. In the winter, this is especially problematic since the water that pours into the street tends to freeze, creating a hazardous condition.

Mr. Locke proposed expanding the capacity of the storm drains on the 200 block of Runnymede to handle the overflow. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not civil engineer, but it seems to me that it might make more sense to address the water at its source.

That said, JPW dug into the street to lay pipe and to install new drains. The work caused damage to existing and recently repaired sidewalks, aprons, and curbs — some of it severe. This section of Runnymede was repaved in 2015, and the patch applied promises to accelerate the eventual deterioration of the street.

We’ve stated this on many occasions: For a town that prides itself on its walkability, it seems to actually care little about it. This is not workmanship worthy of such a town.

For the record, George Locke earns a salary of more than $125,000/year plus benefits.

This gallery shows some of that work.

More news coverage for Jenkintown

More news coverage coming to Jenkintown

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.

GlensideLocal is part of an expanding group of hyper-local news outlets that currently include MoreThanTheCurve.com and AroundAmbler.com.

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.

See you around the Borough!

rick-bunkers-business-in-chapter-11

Rick Bunker’s Business seeks bankruptcy protection

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.”

The filing lists a total debt of $2.6 million.

Read more here.

Let's dive into the Jenkintown budget

Jenkintown Borough Budget review: Transparency takes another hit

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.