west and runnymede

If at first you screw up…

Around 2008 or so, Jenkintown Borough embarked on a round of construction to make its sidewalk corners compliant with ADA regulations.

We remember when the corners at West and Walnut and several in the commercial district were rebuilt. And then, the Borough did them again. We wish we had inquired earlier why the Borough found it necessary to spend even more tax dollars to redo the work. Perhaps someone forgot to read the actual regulations?

Looks like it’s deja vu all over again here at West and Runnymede. Could someone from the Borough let us know why they didn’t do this right the first time? Why the do-over?

Also, it looks like when the Borough repaved Runnymede, they forgot to include the traffic light sensors at the intersection with Walnut. Yesterday, they repaved about thirty feet of road on both sides of that intersection. Oops.

Bunker’s Mentality on Better Sidewalks

I attended the Council’s Administration and Finance Committee hearing meeting last Monday to discuss the budget, PennDOT’s Multi-Modal Fund, and to present this blog’s $25 Sidewalk proposal.

First, the committee’s explanation as to why the projected 2014 $2.2 million budget carryover didn’t necessarily constitute a “surplus” did not clarify things much. As it was explained  to me, Council budgets money so that they need to buy stuff for the next year.

“So the money is earmarked?”

Well, no, but we may need to buy a fire engine.

“So, the money is discretionary?”

Not exactly.

I will leave this issue for a discussion with an accountant with no ties to the Borough and plenty of patience. And I will take the Council up on their invitation to attend the budget planning meetings.

Second, I asked whether or not the Borough applied for — or at least considered applying for — the state’s Multi-Modal fund as  a possible source of money to pay for repairs to our sidewalks. The committee and Borough Manager George Locke expressed awareness of the fund, but didn’t seem to think that it applied to Jenkintown’s needs.

Mostly, my sense was that no one even considered the fund for this project. George Locke asserted that with regards to sidewalks, the state intends  the fund to go to commercial districts that feed to transit. Given that the Jenkintown train station sits in a mostly residential section of town, one might reasonably assume that PennDOT would make an exception if indeed one needed to be made. Besides, I have a list of applicants from the PennDOT website that would belie this assertion.

rick bunker
Councilor Rick Bunker says, “No better sidewalks for you!”

Finally, after presenting my $25 Sidewalk plan to the committee, Councilor Rick Bunker showed that he continues to labor under the false assumption that the Borough does not own the sidewalks. I pointed out to him that in fact, according to my property markers and the county’s website, the sidewalks are indeed part of the public right-of-way.

Then, he flat out told me, with hand pounding on the desk, that he didn’t see any reason why Jenkintown should break with the rest of the state and take on the maintenance of sidewalks, despite the fact that it’ll be cheaper and produce better sidewalks. In his own words, “This is the we’ve always done it, and it’s the way the rest of the state does it. I see no reason to support this change. No one is complaining about the way we’re doing this.”

In the words of Admiral Grace Hopper, “The most dangerous words in the language are ‘It’s always been done that way.'”

Much to her credit, Councilor Laurie Durkin interrupted Bunker’s tirade, saying, “I do think this is worth considering. I think we should look into it further.”

After all, this is all I’m asking.

13th heaviest property tax burden and no trash pickup (or sidewalks)

This is the average amount of residential property tax actually paid, expressed as a percentage of home value. Some states with high property taxes, like New Hampshire and Texas, rely heavily on property taxes in lieu of other major tax categories; others, like New Jersey and Illinois, impose high property taxes alongside high rates in the other major tax categories.

Source: How High Are Property Taxes in Your State? | Tax Foundation

Goals for Jenkintown’s pedestrian infrastructure

Anyone who thinks that this blog is devoted to the mere rantings of a disgruntled resident is wrong. This blog represents only the first step in getting this policy changed, because I believe that not only can we change it with minimal impact to our already-high property taxes, but that we must change it for the sake of our property values and for public safety.

We recognize that the current system is not only arbitrary, onerous, and inefficient, but that it produces unsatisfactory results. In light of that, plus the inevitable hardships current policy imposes upon people still struggling to recover from the worst recession in a generation, we believe that the Borough must find a better way.

Our goals:

  1. To prove to the Borough residents and to Borough Council that a better and more efficient way to improve our pedestrian infrastructure exists.
  2. That we can pay for this better way with a minimal impact to our existing property tax burdens, and to strike the current ordinance that puts the full burden and liability upon abutting property owners.
  3. To prove the inefficiency of the current system by comparing the money spent by individual homeowners for patchwork repairs to our sidewalks using a variety of “favored” and fly-by-night contractors, with a single, lowest-bidding contractor system for work on a wholesale, block-by-block basis.
  4. To prove that a single-contractor system would not only cost less, but that it would also produce sidewalks and curbs built to a higher aesthetic and engineering standard.
  5. To explore all possible funding sources, including the state’s new Multi-Modal fund, not just property taxes.
  6. To lobby our representatives in Harrisburg to help fund the spread of more walkable communities.
  7. To reimburse residents for all work already done this year and/or to provide relief to proven hardship cases. People should not live under the threat of court action, fines, and jail just because they cannot afford to comply.

As always, I welcome your comments and concerns. If you largely agree with what you read here, please forward to your Councilor with your comments.

The Heavy Jenkintown Tax Burden: Cost vs. Value

Jenkintown High School

Most people who live in Jenkintown will tell you they love living here, but they won’t tell you that taxes are reasonable. Most I’ve spoken with will express a sentiment along the lines of “they’re already too high”, especially when we start talking about paying for sidewalks.

The question then becomes, do we get good value for our money? The heavy Jenkintown tax burden might not pay for sidewalks, but it does fund one of the highest rated school systems in Pennsylvania. We have a right to be proud of that achievement, but a quick look at the raw numbers might have you wonder if the cost of that ranking exceeds the value it returns.