Jenkintown: Revival or Receivership?

For those of us who’ve closely followed the actions of Jenkintown’s government for the past five years or so, the revelations of its inability to fund its own police department comes as no surprise. This site overflows with reports about its ongoing mismanagement and corruption. This specter of dissolution, merger, or receivership is simply the inevitable result of twenty years of one-party government, with strings pulled by Sean Kilkenny. 

Between the years 2015 and 2019, only those required to attend have sat in on more council meetings than I did. I picked up the rock, looked underneath, and sounded the alarm that things will get worse before they ever get better. This site is testament to that. 

The Smeal Audit

When the Smeal audit of the Jenkintown Police Department was finally made available to the public, we could clearly see the iceberg in the distance — and  Council maintained a course into it. Now, council member David Ballard who serves as chair of the finance committee, has been busy on Facebook lately beating his keyboard to death attempting to evade his role in this mess. 

It is important to remember that the Borough did not want to make the Smeal audit public. Upon hearing rumors of its existence, a resident had to twice file a Right-to-Know request to get it released. 

And now Mayor Gabe promises an open process to develop yet another strategic plan to correct course. Are we really going to fall for that? This Borough’s record on transparency would be laughable if not so tragic. The Borough ignored Jenkintown 2035, when it developed the Cedar Street park. Can anyone honestly trust it to adhere to whatever plan they draft now?

I’m not entirely unsympathetic about the Borough’s plight. Small towns everywhere are having to make similar hard decisions. They are often subject to mandates imposed by federal and state governments and public service unions. This tends to leave little discretionary room in the budget for savings. There’s no quick fix to this, but like any weight loss program, it must start somewhere. It took a long time to pack on this flab. It’s going to take a while to get rid of it. 

That said, the Borough must act boldly and immediately eliminate anything unrelated to its two core functions: Public safety and maintenance of infrastructure.

Then, anyone currently serving on council who voted for any of the last four budgets must immediately step down. But before they do, they must demand George Locke’s resignation and fire Sean Kilkenny. These are all the people responsible for this mess. They have failed us. They all must go. 

The Little Things

Stop sending money to the Hiway theater and other non-profits. If we want a theater here, we should just buy tickets. 

Charge homeowners directly for leaf collection as we do special trash pickup or axe the program entirely. Taxpayers are not responsible for your yard care. Buy a mulcher

Curb the recycling program to aluminum and glass only. The only item cost-effective to recycle is aluminum. Paper and plastic just goes to the landfill or an incinerator with all the rest of the trash. 

The Big Things: 

The Borough has assets to liquidate. Cedar Street Park, the Leedom Street parking lot, the library, and Borough Hall.

No one except Deborrah Sines-Pancoe and her acolytes wanted the park. Every year it remains a park strips both the Borough and the School District of potential tax revenue. Its total cost to maintain is buried in the budget and does not include lost tax revenue.

The parking lot serves the business community, I’m often told. If so this community should buy it and turn it into a business if it provides them so much value. 

Borough Hall is an eyesore but it sits on a great location. All its functions can neatly fit into rented space elsewhere in town. Judging by the lack of activity I see there, I recommend 101 West Avenue.  

The Library also sits on a premium piece of real estate and is subsidized by the Borough. Abington and Cheltenham would serve us just as well. 

The Biggest Thing

Only a fully revived commercial district will save Jenkintown from a merger or receivership. In the past twenty years, we’ve watched Hatboro, Ambler, Phoenixville, and now Lansdale emerge as hotbeds of commercial activity and area destinations. Hatboro has recently seen millions of dollars of new development and Lansdale is not far behind for a very good reason. Both of those towns retained the services of the Barth Consulting Group as a Main Street manager. 

I met with Steve Barth in Hatboro in 2018. I suspect that he will echo the calls by this site for Jenkintown to restore parking on Old York Road. I’ve repeatedly made this case, on this site and directly to Borough Council that until this is done, Jenkintown will never, ever realize its full potential as that “special place” while its commercial district continues to wither.

The only question remaining is whether or not Jenkintown citizens will suck it up and make the hard choices. If not, then they’ll prove Thomas Jefferson right when he said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”