UPT Board Meeting Notes 6/18/18 Episode 10: Wreck Creation

The June 18 meeting is another marathon session of 2 hours and 15 minutes, however, I’m beginning to see the benefit for Pearson to doggedly continue with these self-indulgent morality tales at the beginning of each meeting:  First, it allows him to believe he is a wise, but benevolent, leader of the community, imparting wisdom from his lofty heights on to his guileless, but nevertheless worthy, subjects.  Second, it buys him time, however short, to wallow in his illusion of competent leadership before reality comes crashing down on his head.  This week it comes during public comment at 4:30 seconds in.

Cell-abrasion

Tom Grasso, Providence Corners HOA President, approaches to remark upon the Cellco decision by the Zoning Hearing Board earlier in the week (for background on this issue, see HERE and HERE).

I’ll let his comments speak for themselves:

I’d like to take this time to remind the Board of Supervisors of the responsibility they have to all the members and residents of Upper Providence Township.  That responsibility is to do what is in the best interests of all residents, not just to benefit those that maybe are a handful of their friends.  There was recently a use variance application brought forth for the installation of 100’ cell tower on a property zoned residential.  The Township Code clearly states, “Communication towers are prohibited in a residential zone.”  The Code also references a 75’ height restriction for structures in a residential area as well.

As is customarily the case, the Township Planning Commission reviewed the application.  I think it’s important that we refresh ourselves with the duties and purpose of the Planning Commission.  Quote:  “The Planning Commission’s members review the development proposals for the Township, work in conjunction with Planning & Zoning to determine a project’s feasibility, impact on the surrounding area, and traffic in compliance with Township codes.  The Planning Commission submits development plans with their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors for approval.” End quote.  That’s directly from the Township’s website.

In this case, the Planning Commission did their work, reviewed the application and voted unanimously to recommend that this Board oppose the application that I am speaking of.  And on 10/16/2017, this Board did exactly that and voted unanimously to authorize the Township Solicitor to oppose the relief sought by the applicant in the Zoning Hearing Board case 2017-07, Cellco d/b/a Verizon Wireless, on behalf of the residents.  The applicant sought, and was granted, several continuances to delay their hearing, hoping to avoid the protests of residents.  They later approached this Board again, on 11/20/2017, with changes to their application, hoping that the Board would remove its opposition.  The Board sent them back to the Planning Commission to make their case.  In that meeting, Mr. Barker stated, that this Board rarely, almost never, goes against the recommendation of the Planning Commission for as long as he’s been on the Board.

The applicant again went before the Planning Commission, they reviewed the application, changes and all, and again, unanimously voted to recommend that the Board oppose the application.  However, on 2/5 of this year, surprisingly, in an unprecedented manner, this Board voted and decided to withdraw the Township’s opposition and go against the recommendation of their own Planning Commission.

Why would three brand new members only one month into their new roles, reverse a decision made only a few months prior and countermand the recommendation of their own Planning Commission without really knowing the facts of the situation?

It makes no sense to me.

Mr. Pearson said that he wanted to remain neutral, and was apt to let the hearing board do its job.  In this same Board of Supervisors meeting, Mr. Pearson said to me, and other residents of the community, that we were free to make our case to the Zoning Hearing Board.  However, on multiple occasions, the Zoning Hearing Board solicitor, Mr. Khoury, prevented residents from asking follow up questions of new information presented by witnesses, stating, we already had a chance to ask a question.  He even prevented one of the Board members, who eventually voted against the application, from asking questions during the hearing when the member’s questions started to get into the proof of hardship.

Mr. Pearson, other Board members, you ran for your seats in 2017 on a platform of transparency. At the time, I believe you cited an inappropriate relationship between having a Director of Parks and Recreation be employed by the Township when that person was married to a Township Supervisor.  However, members of the Board have failed to disclose to the residents their own conflicts of interest.  For example, Mr. Pearson voted to remove opposition, but failed to inform anyone that his long-time companion, with whom he shares a residence with, is a member of the Zoning Hearing Board, and voted in favor of the application.

Mr. Bresnan stated in the 2/5 meeting, that the applicant had the burden of proof to prove a hardship.  I sat through every part of that meeting and searched for evidence of a hardship for either the property owner nor the cell phone company, but none existed.  It’s shocking that our neighbors in Lower Providence Township came upon the exact same situation, the exact same lawyer, the exact same issues, providing the exact same evidence, and yet their residents were protected by voting unanimously against, and denying the application.

However, our Township, and our Zoning Hearing Board, in spite of the applicant not proving that any hardship existed, voted to approve this application.

It’s puzzling to me why the applicant was not instructed to research other sites that within the search criteria that were not zoned residential.  For example, one of the members of the Zoning Hearing Board, who also sits on the Spring-Ford Area School Board, said that if they had contacted the School District, the School District would be open to discussions of a possible additional source of revenue.  If the applicant must prove that all avenues were exhausted, that was not proven during this period.

I’m not against progress, I’m not against cellular technology.  I recognize the advances that are being made, the infrastructure that is needed to meet these growing demands.  However, cell towers do not belong in the residential area, period.  And I know you all agree with me, because you wrote it into our Township Code.  There are plenty of other areas that could accommodate such requests. By your same logic, I should be able to get relief from the Township code for just about anything, including a 100’ cell tower on my own property, simply because I want the rental income, because one day, I’m going to retire as well.  Everyone’s actions have consequences, and I’d like to remind you of that.  I only urge you to do the right thing for all the residents of this community, rather than just for a small group of well-connected cronies.

Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan then attempts to do a little damage control on behalf of the majority of the Board, stating that the Planning Commission’s recommendation is not absolute and that essentially, the Board wants to remain independent from the Zoning Hearing Board, but he refuses to wade into the admittedly deep waters of Grasso’s cronyism accusation.

Barker disagrees with Bresnan, states that the Board sent the Solicitor to oppose this application to defend our ordinance, and that the Planning Commission recommended opposing the application on those grounds.  He also notes that at one time, this Board was following the Planning Commission recommendations and now they are not.

Pearson does not address any of this.

Conflit of interestAs an aside, I would note that the member of the Zoning Hearing Board of which Mr. Grasso spoke is Gail Latch, who is not only John Pearson’s long-time companion, but was elevated to the status of “fiancé” back in 2010 upon his election that year, in order for her to qualify for Township health care benefits.

Another resident comes up (his name is not picked up by the microphones) and asks a few follow up questions about the Zoning Hearing Board decision, and says, “Well it seems that the building goes against the Code.  So who is defending the Code?”

Bresnan attempts to make a case that with this action, the Zoning Hearing Board is actually defending the Code by deciding which applications will be getting relief.

Pillow TalkIn answer to that, there is some discussion as to whether the decision will be appealed and who can be a party to the appeal process.   I hope the residents decide to appeal.

Exit question:  If the entire purpose of withdrawing the Township Solicitor from opposing this application was to maintain the independence of the Zoning Hearing Board, how exactly, is that independence accomplished when John Pearson, the Chairman of the Board, is living with, and “engaged” to Gail Latch, a member of the Zoning Hearing Board?

Spares Lane

Following the discussion regarding this development at the previous meeting, (see HERE) Attorney Mike Clement presents the applicant’s proposal to the Board:  the Developer will pay fees in lieu of development in the amount of $55,000, with $15,000 being used to widen Spares Lane for approximately 215 feet.  The Developer will place the remaining $40,000 in escrow, which they will give to the Township for Spares Lane improvements at the Township’s discretion.  But if the Township decides that Spares Lane needs a mill and overlay (which it does), the Developer can do it cheaper than the Township due to prevailing wage, and they will use money from the established $40,000 escrow for that.

Vagnozzi has talked to the residents and wants to be sure that any paving and or widening will blend with the existing lawns, and that the Township will be able to direct placement of trees.  Vagnozzi wants a commitment from the Board to look at widening the intersection of Spares and 29.

Wreck-creation

There have been some decisions made by (at least three members of) the Board with regard to the future of programming at the Township Recreation Center.  Those changes have apparently been communicated to current members of the Rec Center, but not the Township population at large (not even in the recently mailed Township Newsletter, but more on that later).

Once again, a “staff-prepared” power point is used in service to distance the Board from their own decisions, and, once again, Township Manager Tim Tieperman is tasked with presentation.

I would guess that for most residents of Upper Providence, this meeting is the first time they are hearing anything about “programming changes” at the Rec Center.  Tieperman begins by dispelling rumors that the Rec Center is closing, the proceeds to lay out a “vision” for the Rec Center going forward.

Articulating a “vision” for an entire department in the Township is a pretty bold move when two of the five Supervisors have obviously been shut out of any of these discussions.  But lets put that thought on hold for a moment and see what “staff” has come up with.

The format and approach is similar to that of the special Fire and EMS presentation last April:

  • Department Re-Org
  • Challenges/Barriers
  • Establishment of Goals
  • Reviewing Staff Recommendations
  • Proposed Roadmap and Milestones

A selection of slides from the presentation follows:

1 Rec

2 Rec

Tieperman talked about the Center’s focus on fitness oriented in a fitness saturated market and the limitation of the facility’s size and scope as compared to other fitness center choices in the private sector.  He also talked about the proliferation of private sector competition and the Township’s desire not to compete with private businesses.

Tieperman acknowledged that the Township needs to improve its marketing but this would have minimal impact on the competitive dynamic.  A feasibility study for the Rec Center was completed 11 years ago targeting 4% resident participation in the Rec Center.  The ultimate goal is to reallocate the $417,000 Rec Center budget to touch on more people–the goal being 15% to 20% of the population.

3 Rec

4 Rec

There was much discussion on the existing private businesses located both within the Township (those facilities highlighted in yellow in the slide above) and within two miles of the Township’s border.  A visual of local fitness centers via Google Earth is illustrated in the graphic below:

5 Rec

6 Rec

Remember that $360,740 expense number in the slide above.  It comes up several times in the ensuing discussion.

The 10 Step Goals of the Restructuring are as follows:

8 Rec9 Rec10 Rec11 Rec12 Rec13 Rec14 Rec15 Rec16 Rec17 Rec

 

Township Reccomendations follow:

18 Rec19 Rec20 Rec21 Rec

22 RecAt the close of the presentation, Pearson reiterates that the Rec Center is not closing, they are merely re-purposing the space to serve a broader demographic (my word, not his) of residents.  It is not, Pearson repeats, about the money.

This is an interesting sentiment coming from Pearson, who spent the better part of 2012, my first year on the Board of Supervisors, trying to convince me that the Rec Center, which had just opened in June of 2011, needed to be run like a business and that not only was then-Rec Director Sue Barker running it inefficiently, but it was losing money hand over fist.  Pearson had the finance director produce reports backing up his assertion, which included expenses like heating, cooling, air conditioning, maintenance and internet.  As I examined these reports, I asked him to explain how the accounting for these facilities expenses was handled for the Administration Building and the Public Works Building.  Those expenses, it turns out, were dumped into a “building fund” and not counted against the budgetary operating costs of the Township’s other departments.

Apparently Pearson believed that Park and Rec was the only department in the Township that needed to show a profit and the Rec Center (a building approved and constructed during his term on the Board of Supervisors) the only building that had to cover its operating costs.  This could either be a strongly held conviction of Pearson’s, or just another facet of his long-standing personal feud with Sue Barker.  Since his grudging resentment of Sue Barker’s township employment, and not the profitability of the Rec Center, was one of the centerpieces of Pearson’s 2007, 2009, and 2017 campaigns, I will let readers draw their own conclusions.

Pearson then continues with, “Recreation will always be an expense, and we want to spend it wisely.”

Well, yes.  Every service that the Township provides is an expense, from road maintenance to fire and police protection, to sewer, to planning, zoning and codes enforcement.  Park and Rec is no exception, though it does have the most ability to offset those expenses with funds other than taxes.  And the expenditure of tax dollars should always be done wisely.

reccntPearson then opens up the floor for questions, and the first resident (whose name I cannot discern on the video) asks about which programs are going to replace the ones they are getting rid of?  When Pearson says he doesn’t know, it sounds like a laugh track from a 1980’s sitcom.  As he stammers through a typical Pearson non-explanation explanation (“It’s like….you know….ehhhm”) he eventually sputters out that it’s a timing issue based upon the expiration of the leases for the fitness equipment.  Our resident then follows up wanting to know that since the Township identified Marketing as a problem, what will they now be doing different?  As a five year member of the Rec Center, she points out that there are a bunch of people who regularly hang out in the playground area and there is not even a Community Bulletin Board announcing what programs are available.

Tieperman goes through a list of potential programming, (book clubs, trail days, mother-daughter tea parties, park clean-up days, photography, nature study etc.) and by my count, less than half of these will utilize the space at the Rec Center currently being occupied by the fitness area and even fewer will be able to generate any revenue to offset the costs of this programming.  I’m not sure why the fitness center has to be shuttered to accomplish this expanded programming, and this question is never really addressed.

The resident then says, so really the whole purpose of this is to say that the fitness area is being discontinued.

Before the next resident approaches, Barker notes that Public Works is scheduled to come in and do “some kind of work” on the facility, so obviously there is some kind of plan, but he hasn’t been told what that plan is. He also notes that some of the equipment is owned by the township, not all of it is rented and has there been any consideration given to just purchasing rather than renting equipment?

Tieperman answers that the decision has been made to get out of the fitness business and shouting begins from the audience.

In a surprise move, Pearson actually picks up his gavel and brings the meeting to order.

Resident Fred Schell then prompts some discussion on profitability, admonishing the Board to remember the Pottstown YMCA, whose mission was to provide health for the community and they shut down when it became all about money.

Resident Karen Vogel is amazed that the Township is unconcerned with the health of Township residents.  Vogel’s suggestions center on how the Township could save money or raise fees for membership.  She thinks it is a terrible mistake to get rid of the quality facility that the Township has.  If it’s not being marketed correctly, then correct it!

torchesWhen Pearson says, “It’s not about marketing,” the audience shouts him down in unison, “Yes it is!”

Claudia Chieffo wants to know if any of the Board members have seen any of the two petitions that have been going around, to which some of the Board members respond that they have seen one.  She then asks the question that has been burning in my mind: what is the breakdown of the $360,740 expense noted in the slide presentation.  She says, “I can break it down for you.  Its staff members.”  She says: Its people sitting around, talking on their phones, eating their dinner, not doing their jobs.  When she says that she has seen 5 staff members on duty when she is the only one in the building, Pearson responds that this is why they are switching gears.  And Chieffo says, “But why should we pay for your mismanagement?”

An answer to the budget question is not given at this time.

Pearson then states that the reason they are looking to shut this down is because nobody uses the facility, and the reason that the equipment is in good shape is because nobody uses it.  This is met with a chorus of boos from the audience and more shouting.

At this point, Bresnan jumps in and, doing the job Pearson doesn’t want to do, brings the meeting to order, admonishing Chieffo that she cannot resort to “grilling” the Board over the habits of individual employees.

When Chieffo asks why there has been no marketing done to date, specifically directing this question at Barker (Barker wants to know, “Why are you asking me?” since he is clearly not a party to this plan), Chieffo makes a statement (that the microphone does not fully pick up) about unrealistically expecting to turn the rec center around in three months after hiring new director, and Tieperman, then Bresnan, jump in and tells her that she can make comments, but not ask questions or expect answers.

Even though this exchange got overly heated, in fairness, the residents were just invited by John Pearson only minutes before to come up to the microphone with their questions, and the Board would try to answer them.

Chieffo then states that the new director started with the Township, went into her office, closed the door and never solicited opinions from any of the Rec Center members.  Chieffo takes her seat to applause from the audience.

reccntr2The next resident then approaches (microphone cuts out during her remarks and her name cannot be heard) and makes the case for the Silver Sneakers program.  When she states, “I know questions are not allowed….” Bresnan clarifies that what they are trying to avoid is the cross examination attacks against the Board.  She says again that none of them were asked their opinion, and that all of this was just sprung on them.  Tieperman states that they will continue the Silver Sneakers program in some form.

Next resident says “This facility is the best kept secret in the whole Township.”  Again: No marketing.  No warning. No input from current users.

Next resident Jeff (unintelligible due to mic cutout) asks, “Is this a final done deal, and is anything we say here tonight going to have any impact on the outcome?”  When he is met with a beat of silence, he implores the Board, “It’s ok!  Be honest!”

boo2Pearson says, “Yeah, I’ll be honest.  We need to go in a different direction here.  It’s not working.”  Which is met with another chorus of boos.

Pearson then says that even though there is a roomful of people here, there are 23,000 people in this township and that the small amount who have showed up to express upset about the Board’s decision just says to him that they are on the right path.

Resident Jeff says he’s not interested in any of the other programs they mentioned, he’s interested in the fitness center and he’s not going to waste any time talking because their decision is already made.

Resident Steve Taggart mentions that one of the first slides talks about ROI, but that Mr. Pearson said this is not about the money.  Pearson corrects him and says he said it wasn’t MAINLY about the money.  Taggart says that Townships are not about the ROI but about service to the residents.  Pearson says it’s not about the money but “being fiscally responsible is, okay?  We understand that Recreation is always going to be a loss; it’s always going to be an expense to the Township but we have to determine what’s best, how much money is best for the Township.”

Reccntr3Taggart notes that the facility wasn’t built to service 20% of the residents and if 20% of the residents came, they would be out of room. Pearson responds that that is why they are not going to spend marketing dollars on a facility that is lacking.

Barker jumps in and says that the feasibility study they had talked about servicing 4.4% of the residents and that they are currently servicing around 3%, which is not really bad for a facility of this size.  He states that he has been a resident of the Township for 38 years, and a member of the fitness center.  He then says that this is all moving way faster than he originally thought; his impression was that they were going to try to re-negotiate the leases on the equipment, not shut the fitness center down, and he’d like to see this come up for a vote on the next agenda.

This suggestion is met with hearty applause.

Barker clarifies for the audience, “This is the first public discussion we’ve had of this issue.” And Pearson responds, “Well, we’re not putting it up for a vote this evening.”

Calci, clearly unnerved because this is her project, says how good it is that we are having this open discussion.  If it’s so great, why is his the first time it’s being discussed in public?

Taggart then notes that all of the residents were not notified by letter, they were, in fact notified via email and he wonders how many just skipped over the email or didn’t read it.

I can tell Mr. Taggart that I personally did not receive an email, or a letter, and I would guess that only active members of the Rec Center even got notified of this change.  An easy way of doing this would perhaps have been by including it in the Township Newsletter, which seemed to have more than enough space to devote to marketing the Rec Center or communicating with residents.  But more on that later.

The next resident, Jerry, comes up (and curse these awful microphones because this guy brings up a lot of great points and I’d like to give him credit!) and once again asks the burning question:  Is the $360,740 of expense noted on the earlier slide attributed to the fitness center portion of the Rec Center, or the entire Rec Center?  How much of that expense is directly attributable to the fitness center?

That is an answer that nobody knows and the resident is told that they will get back to him on that.

The $87,000 in revenues however, is all membership fees.  Jerry’s point is that it is premature to close the only revenue generating component of the facility before they have even figured out what they are going to replace it with, or taken a survey of the residents.  What is your plan to offset the costs of running this building? He wants to know.

boo1When Pearson once again states that it’s not all about the money (a point that, no matter how often it has been repeated, has not been effectively delivered during this meeting) Jerry says, “I get that your number one metric is utilization.  I just don’t understand how closing down the fitness center is going to increase utilization.  You are almost at 3% now, it’s going to drop, because I know I’m not going to use this facility anymore.”

The next resident says it would be irresponsible to close the fitness center without doing a cost benefit analysis and I agree:  the fact that no one at the township could ascertain which portion of the $360,740 expense is attributable to the fitness center and which is attributable to the operation of the building in general suggests that, at best, this analysis is incomplete. 

But this, as previously mentioned, is typical of Pearson’s grasp of financial analysis and the costs of operating a facility.  Regardless of the programming going on at the Rec Center, there will always be a cost associated with heating, cooling, maintenance, power, internet and staffing this building.  Are all of those expenses solely attributable to the fitness center?  Or does it cost $360,740 just to run the fitness center portion of the building?  The ultimate question really is, how much of this cost disappears when the fitness center is shut down?  This seems a very basic and critical bit of financial analysis for which staff should have had an answer readily available, but did not.

Pearson’s final thought on the subject after insisting that the decision has already been made numerous times this evening, is to let everyone know that they will “take it all under advisement.  Who knows what can happen?”

What?? “Who knows what can happen?”  I will tell you who knows what can happen:  the Board of Supervisors.  It’s their decision and these residents have been told at least twice in this meeting that this decision has already been made.  Now Pearson is saying, that they will “take it under advisement” and “who knows what can happen?”

Has the decision to close the fitness center been made or not?

What we have here is a failure to communicate

So amid all of this head scratching and handwringing over marketing, and how to raise awareness of the Rec Center, coincidentally, the Township Newsletter hit my mailbox on the same day as this meeting.  higginsI note with interest that there is a quarter of page 2 devoted to Laurie Higgins’ self-promotion highlighting her participation in the Perkiomen Stream cleanup.  As I stated previously, Higgins’ hobbies are not township business and belong on her own personal pages, or more appropriately, her campaign site.

Far more disturbing, however, is page six of the Township newsletter, seen below:

 

Farm

On June 19, I sent the following email to the Board of Supervisors and the Township Manager:

email to township

I have not yet received a response to this email as of the date of this post.

Point of full disclosure:  The Township Newsletter historically included upcoming programming for the Park and Rec department, including classes, bus trips and events.  In the last year of my tenure on the Board, the Board made a decision to remove the Rec programming from the Township Newsletter and make that a separate communication piece.  That being said, the goal of the Board was to focus the Township newsletter on how township tax dollars were being spent and what business was before the Board of Supervisors.

I am not sure how supporting local farms qualifies as Township Business.  Especially since one of those farm stands, Fran and Ann’s Produce Stand, is owned by the Duhovis’s who have already benefitted from a significant infusion of Township taxpayer dollars earlier this year with the preservation of their farm (see HERE and HERE for more information).

Make no mistake, I’m all for supporting local farms and this is not a commentary on the owners of these establishments.  I just don’t think the Government should be in the business of picking and choosing winners and losers with regard to local, privately owned businesses.

Didn’t we just get through a huge discussion where one of the major points for discontinuing the fitness center was that the Township does not want to be competing with our local businesses? Yet here they are, promoting three privately-owned farm stands when there are not only several supermarkets in our township, but Produce Junction and several other smaller farms stands as well.  And while I’m sure that these three privately owned farms and their businesses can benefit from the added visibility that in-home advertising can deliver, there are numerous other businesses in the Township that could also benefit from this kind of free marketing. (What’s next, Support your local Township Dive Bar?)

Our Rec Center membership program could have benefitted from this type of marketing.  For that matter, the closing of the fitness center and an outline of the township’s Park and Rec roadmap could have been disclosed through this communication with residents, rather than the ham-handed email that was delivered to only a fraction of our residents and caused so much upset.

This information occupied a full page in our thrice-annual, taxpayer-funded, Township newsletter.  That space could have been used to communicate to taxpayers about Township business or how their tax dollars are being used on township projects.  Instead, it is being used to highlight pet projects and promote friends of the Board.

Not Drawn, but Quartered

On a recommendation from the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night, the Board is asked to grant the Black Rock Fire Company a fee waiver for minor electrical and mechanical alterations to the Black Rock Station.  Assistant Manager Bortnichak has been in contact with BRVFC’s president Joe LoCasale and says the fee waiver is consistent with the Board’s resolution with moving some of the career staff down to the Black Rock Station in Oaks.

If this issue sounds familiar to regular readers, that’s because it has come up before (see HERE).  In fact, it came up a just a month ago at the 5/21/18 Board of Supervisors meeting when apparently Barker was alerted to this development via a forwarded email immediately prior to stepping into the BOS meeting.  In that email, it was apparent that BRVFC was moving forward with work to accommodate Township employees at the BRVFC’s Oaks station.  Barker questioned why work to accomodate the Township’s agenda was moving forward when it had not been discussed by the Board and had not seen any plans for the improvements.

In the intervening four weeks, you’d think that someone could have informed Barker of the status of this project, or given him a drawing indicating the scope of this Township-dictated work, but once again, it appears that the decisions of this new five member board are being confined to just three members.

CaptureApparently, Barker is still not privy to any designs or drawings on the modifications to the Oaks Fire Station, as it is unclear what work is being performed down there.  When Barker remarks, “So, they are moving ahead with quarters?  I guess I just thought that we would get a report to tell us what’s going on down there.  So they’re just moving forward, is that it?”  Bortnichak states that the Board can be updated every two weeks when Tieperman communicates with the Board (so the question remains:  why hasn’t that happened yet?) but that staff is just moving ahead with the milestones as approved by the Board, the most urgent of which appears to be getting those career staff moved from their central location at the Township Building and re-quartered down there in the Oaks corner of the Township asap.

Other Board Business

  • Authorizing design proposal for the Aschenfelter Bridge and amendment to capital budget due to significant erosion down near that bridge.  It was identified as a deficient bridge in the 2016 budget. The cost is $119,000 and change just to do the design and the all in cost will be around $300,000 to $400,000.  Vagnozzi inquires about the traffic counts on this and wants to know if that can be two cul-de-sacs rather than a through road.  The Township’s traffic engineer states that the roads are too long for cul-de-sacs per the Township’s code. Pearson can’t get over the cost for this “little bridge” and actually suggests throwing steel plates over it, while Barker suggests that the Board should at least move forward with a design for budgetary reasons.  Unsurprisingly, Pearson opts to kick the can down the road and do nothing.
  • The demolition of structures at the Taylor Farm property needs to be discussed at a future meeting.
  • Linfield Trappe Road and Township Line intersection:  Township is partnering with Limerick Township and Rousch Chamberlain has asked that McMahon and Associates design the intersection, which creates a conflict because McMahaon would also review that plan for the Township.  The Board approves this because they will get more “bang for their buck” in having McMahon do the design and the review.  Tom Grasso approaches and asks whether the builder who built Providence Corner was supposed to be part of that intersection improvement.  Bortnichak confirms that they were, but they opted instead to escrow $352,000 with the bank towards that project.  Bortnichak also mentions that the Township is currently in negotiations with the Bank, who has apparently misplaced this money.  Later, Bresnan remarks that the litigation on this matter is proceeding and he is going to add the builder as a party to the lawsuit.
  • Black Rock trail has been approved by PennDOT and the Board approves authorization to advertising the bid package.

Final Thoughts

Several times during the meeting, Pearson complains about not being able to hear residents.  Not that it matters. He’s not listening to them anyway.  But the malfunctioning microphones were a needless distraction and my apologies if I have garbled any remarks here due to poor audio.

It’s interesting to watch Pearson’s interactions with residents when he’s not the one entreating them to grab their torches and pitchforks to storm the Board meeting.  He’s dismissive, hostile and defensive.  Additionally, I’m not sure I get the logic that allows him to draw a conclusion that a room full of people indicates that there is not much interest in an issue, something he did twice this year with the cell tower issue and now with the Rec Center.

It’s also interesting that now, after what has been a six months of irresponsible spending benefitting friends and pet projects, Pearson is trying to come across as some kind of fiscally responsible Supervisor by nickel and diming on things like the fitness center and the Aschenfelter Road bridge, but thinking nothing on blowing a quarter of a million dollars on a limited use Medic Responder or almost $90,000 on preserving a private farm.

CaptureFinally, I’d note that a pattern of non-communication has been firmly established in the inaugural six months of the five member board.  It is regularly observable that decisions have not only been made outside of the public eye, but acted upon, without the full knowledge of the entire Board of Supervisors (specifically, Barker and Vagnozzi), let alone their approval.  If the Township voted to expand the Board from three to five members under the premise that more points of view on the Board of Supervisors are better, why are two of those voices routinely being shut out of the decision making process by the very man who was a leader of this initiative?  Aren’t we just back to having a three member Board of Supervisors again?

Just a rhetorical question for contemplation.  I already know the answer.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 6/4/18 Episode 9: Arrested Development

When a meeting clocks in at a grueling 2 hours and 27 minutes, the sanctimonious dime store philosophizing from the likes of John Pearson becomes that much more insufferable. Pity the poor staff members, who, in spite of being compensated for this waste of their time with your tax dollars, are forced to stick around until the end of this meeting to essentially read their written reports to the Board.

But I don’t know. Maybe it is worth it to get the life-affirming message of “You are special” from the Chairman.

Incredibly, it’s not a hugely full agenda, but as with all things since this new Board took office, everything just seems to take a bit longer to get through.  Early on, we get fair warning that Pearson is even less competent than usual this evening, when he “forgets” that the Board held an executive session on personnel matters and announces that he is “a little off” and “a little hazy” this evening because only one hearing aid is working.  What this has to do with his memory of an executive session is anyone’s guess, but perhaps Pearson is just so used to holding meetings out of the public eye, he’s smply having trouble keeping track of which ones he has to report and which ones he can continue to keep secret.

Peanut Gallery You may approach
Members of the Peanut Gallery, you may approach.

Before jumping into the regular agenda, Pearson asks if there are any questions or comments from the “Peanut Gallery,” which is a rather arrogant and disrespectful way of asking for public comment from someone wearing a Three Stooges tie.

Stick around till the end of the post (which takes a lot less time to read than watching this interminable meeting) for an interesting update on the Cellco cell tower at 248 Rittenhouse Road an application that went in front of the Zoning Hearing Board on June 7.

Spares Lane Development: Five Lot Subdivision

The Spares Lane development is in for preliminary approval and it quickly becomes apparent that, not only are there are many Spares Lane neighbors in attendance at this meeting, but Pearson has already talked to these neighbors and, further, that he clearly has an agenda regarding this development.  The first order of business is the approval of the following waivers by the Board of Supervisors.  Attorney for the applicant, Mike Clement, outlines the eight waivers, which he states are being requested to conform with the existing topography of the site:

  1. The Township requires a 26’ vertical curve and the applicant is requesting to reduce that to 15’ vertical curve due to site grade
  2. Township requires a minimum cartway of 32’ and applicant is requesting to reduce that to 24’ to conform with the surrounding area.
  3. Existing Spares Lane may be required to be widened at the Township’s discretion, and the applicant is requesting that the road not be widened due to the possible disturbance of environmentally sensitive areas in the right of way.
  4. The Township requires sidewalks along all roads except where not necessary for public safety and the applicant is requesting a waiver of the sidewalk requirement in the cul-de-sac.
  5. The Township requires concrete curbs to be installed and the applicant is requesting that the cartways remain at the width stated above.
  6. Township requires that the grade not exceed 3%; applicant is requesting steeper slopes to conform with the surrounding area.
  7. Driveway grades are required to be 4%; the applicant is requesting a partial waiver for one of the five driveways to exceed that grade.
  8. Applicant requests a waiver for the installation of ADA ramps since no sidewalks will be constructed.
SparesLane Project
Spares Lane Project

Township solicitor Joe Bresnan notes that the Planning Commission has reviewed the waivers and recommends in favor of granting them, however, some discussion was necessary regarding fees in lieu of development requirements, specifically with regard to the widening of roads.  The township’s ordinance requires that the roads be widened, but because of the unique features of Spares Lane (which will be discussed in detail) it is impossible for the developer to comply with this requirement.  Clement agrees to this, and suggests that the discussion of these fees and amounts to be settled amongst the attorneys and the township’s engineer.

Please note:  This is a pretty standard practice for waiver granting, which Clement himself has been through numerous times in Upper Providence.  Typically, the Township engineer and the Solicitor will apply a formula to determine the dollar worth of the waivers being requested which the developer will then pay to the Township.  Clement’s request that the Supervisors grant conditional approval while the fees are negotiated is wholly reasonable and usual (as we will see later during the SEI discussion).

Clement agrees that whatever fees the Township wants, the applicant will put into Township coffers.  Vagnozzi states he wants to see this money earmarked for re-investment in the Spares Lane community.

Barker then jumps in, clarifying that the curb and sidewalk waivers are not for the new road going in, but the existing Spares Lane.  He also notes that since the road is very narrow, the developer would not be able to widen it simply because there is no space in which to do so.  Calci then confirms that she understands this concept correctly.

SparesLane
Spares Lane via Google Earth

Additionally, Spares Lane has structures directly next to it in some places.  Any widening would have to be with the cooperation from the residents for the obtainment of easements and possible demolition of those structures.

Apparently oblivious to the previous 15 minutes of discussion, Pearson asks what the developer is going to do to Spares Lane, to which Clement responds, “Nothing.”

Barker then asks the Township Engineer, Bill Dingman, what could be done if Spares Lane became a Township project, since most of these issues are off-site from the proposed development.  Dingman states that the right of way varies between 20’ and 40’ and at some parts the road is a mere 13’ wide and at others, there are actual structures in the way.  There are many property surveys and deeds that would need to researched in order to widen the road.

Vagnozzi asks about the general condition of the road, and Dingman responds that it could use a mill and overlay as it was last paved 16 years ago, so it is about due, though it is certainly not amongst the Township’s troubled roads.

So maybe we pave the roads? Vagnozzi proposes, but for some reason, (it is unintelligible on the video) it is determined that is not what the neighborhood wants.

Bresnan then says that the Planning Commission recommended that the fee in lieu be used to widen the intersection of Spares at 29.

Pearson then jumps in, and wants to know “how much money we are talking about,” and then says he wants to go back to the residents and ask them how they want the money spent.

Ok, time-out here.  The residents are at this meeting.  Why not ask them now?

Second of all, Pearson has already been talking to these folks.  Two weeks ago, he asked the Township’s Traffic Engineer for a status on his request to evaluate a one way in, one way out configuration for Spares Lane.  Why doesn’t he already know what they want?

And once again, Bresnan steps in and explains this process of negotiation between township consultants and applicants, a process that has not changed, at least since the last time Pearson was on the Board.

How much we talkinbout
How much are we getting?

But Pearson is indignant.  He wants to know how much money they are shaking down the developer for getting and wants to know how is he supposed to make a decision without knowing that?

Bresnan states that the resolution was drafted with the intention that there would be some additional discussion.

Clement reminds the Board that some of the things that are required by the Township’s ordinance are virtually impossible to perform, and while the applicant acknowledges that, he has no intention of walking away from their responsibility to the neighborhood.

What comes next is classic Pearson:

“I…I…I …I get that.  I’ve been there many many times.  And I understand.  And that’s why…that’s why it creates angst in me that I have to do something here that’s going to upset those people that have been there for generations.  And….ummmm…you know, I want to, I want to do what’s, I want to do what’s best for them.  And…and…and it always bothers me sometimes that we are charged with the health, safety and welfare of…uuhhh, the residents of this township and…and…why can’t we do it for the welfare of those residents down there?  Errr, you know, it’s like, uhhh, that kinda bothers me.  Everybody shoots, everybody, you know, aahhhh, comes to us about the health and safety, the welfare of the residents are important, too.  So…ummm, I’m, you know, aaahhh…I’m…I’m inclined to ehhhh to ask aahhh the rest of the Board here that maybe we table this, we find out what kind of money we are talking about, have another conversation with the residents and tell them what we, what we’re physically dealing with, what we actually know we’re going to get and go back to them and say, ‘This is what we have to deal with, what do you want to do with it?’”

Full stop.

What is Pearson even talking about here?  How is this land development project affecting the “welfare” of these residents?  And why does he keep insisting that he needs to “find out what kind of money we are talking about?”  First of all, it’s a formula—or it’s supposed to be a formula—based on the cost of waivers requested, as has been explained by two separate consultants in this conversation alone.  Second of all, it’s money that will be given to the township, to spend how they see fit–which this Board has indicated will go back into the Spares Lane neighborhood.  There really is no pressing need to hold up approval pending the resolution of the costs of the waivers.  That money will be used for improvements that will be completed by the Township, off-site from the actual proposed development.

In my six years on the Board, I do not ever recall holding up an approval over the dollar amount for waivers; this was a figure that consultants negotiated based on the formula; in other words, the dollar figure is going to be whatever the dollar figure is going to be based upon the work the developer is requesting to have waived.

What Pearson is doing here is skirting dangerously close to talking about pay to play.

Clement just wants to get as much approved at this meeting as he possibly can, since this development has been before the Board since November of last year and they already have their tentative approval.  He is tired of going around and around on this and wants to stop wasting everyone’s time.

So they start going through the tedious process of the consultant review letters, and Pearson grasps the “Fire Marshall’s” review letter (whose expertise is apparently sufficient when Pearson can use that expertise to suit Pearson’s purpose, but not when it comes to, you know, actual Fire and Emergency services) and asks the applicant’s engineer to read it to him, because, in addition to his hearing aid being out tonight, his glasses “aren’t too good” either.

Barker agrees with not taking any action on the plan, but he would like to engage with the community to see if they could get their cooperation in expanding the road as these improvements are “off site” and the Township cannot require the developer to complete improvements on property that is not contiguous to the development itself.

So it seems that there is some consensus from the Board as to how to move forward, and Vagnozzi, recognizing that there are residents in the audience, would like to hear comments from the residents themselves.

And Pearson says, “Would you like to do that here….or somewhere else?”

Wut????

Full Stop again.

The whole point of having public meetings is to have meetings in PUBLIC.  Where else are these issues going to be hashed out?  And why is Pearson suggesting that this discussion takes place outside of the public eye?

Here or some other place
Vagnozzi thought bubble: “Are you kidding me?”

Vagnozzi pauses a full beat before answering, perhaps because he simply cannot believe he just heard this from the guy who accused the last Board of a lack of transparency.  Vagnozzi then says he thinks it should be on the record.

The residents do come up and start voicing concerns, the primary one of which is the narrowness of Spares Lane, which is an existing issue.  They are concerned about the two year construction timeframe which would possibly exacerbate the fact that two cars cannot currently pass each other on this road.

Clement then outlines the plans for construction worker parking, keeping the roads open, and assures the Board that they will handle this issue like they have on every other development that they have done in Upper Providence.

At this point, Vagnozzi summarizes what they’ve just heard, which are construction issues and existing narrow road issues.  But none of these issues is a permanent hardship that will be caused by the development and the developer has addressed those issues that will be caused during the construction period.  Vagnozzi tells the audience, quite appropriately, that this applicant has a right to develop this land.  The Board can work with the developer to mitigate any potential impacts, but they cannot stop the development.  It’s interesting that Vagnozzi feels the need to state this; as if someone has told these neighbors that this development can just be blocked simply because they don’t want it. Vagnozzi says, “There must be more [issues] than that.  Unless there is someone we haven’t heard from yet.”

So another resident comes up, and she elaborates on another existing issue of the Spares Lane and 29 intersection.  She advocates for the aforementioned one way in, one way out of Spares Lanes, which is the issue that was brought up by Pearson at the end of the last meeting. In response, Pearson asks Township Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien to explain to “this lady” why PennDOT would not allow this configuration.

It’s at this point that Pearson completely loses control of the meeting and he allows multiple members of the audience to simply shout questions at O’Brien without allowing O’Brien to answer.  Pearson, instead of gaveling for order, starts stammering about the criteria for PennDOT, then he announces,

“I’ll take one more question, and then, Gail, you have my cellphone number, if anyone has any questions or comments about this thing, they want to add to whatever’s happening, you can have them call me, personally, not a problem, and…and…ummm, ma’am, you, we’ll have one more question and then we’ll…that’s it.”

Full Stop.

All of these residents showed up at this meeting, and now they are not only being told they are not going to be able to speak, but that they have to deal directly with Pearson and only Pearson?

Torches
We are angry!

The classic Pearson move is to go into a neighborhood, rile them all up, and then tell them to gather their torches and pitchforks and show up at a Board meeting to shout their complaints at the Board while he sits back on his hands doing nothing except avoiding responsibility.

But he no longer has to recuit a whole bunch of actors to take part in another episode of Township Meeting Kabuki Theater to put pressure on the Board (like he did as a minority supervisor–unnecessarily—three years ago with the Mont Clare neighborhood’s Produce Junction issues).  He’s the Chairman of the Board, with the majority, and in “his girls,” he has what have so far been two utterly reliable “yes” votes this year.

So this is a bit of a different take on Pearson’s usual modus operandi.  It is obvious he’s been in communication with these neighbors, but he clearly doesn’t want them speaking at the meeting, nor does he want them speaking directly to the developer, staff, or other members of the Board.  By all appearances, it seems as if John Pearson wants to be the singular point of communication between all parties.

Look, no one likes new development in their neighborhood, and that is understandable.  New development in anyone’s neighborhood is a source of fear, anger and angst.  People tend to think that municipalities simply roll over for developers, because they think that the municipality can just “stop” development.  But as Vagnozzi states, the developer has a right to develop this land, as long as it is developed within the Township’s zoning and building codes.

It has been my experience that most of the developers who worked with Upper Providence (including Mr. Clement) were willing to accomodate the neighbors’ wishes, at least to a certain extent.  Sometimes the Board would act as an intermediary between residents and developer, sometimes an HOA or neighborhood group would deal directly with the developer, sometimes it would be a combination of both (we will see that in the SEI project, immediately following.)  What’s interesting here is that instead of facilitating communications between the residents and the developer, Pearson is trying to completely control the process, and botching it badly, and in so doing, he’s creating more fear, anger, and angst on all sides.

It was abundantly clear that Pearson, and only Pearson, had been privvy to the concerns of these residents prior to this meeting.  He could have brokered a meeting between the neighborhood and the developer; he could have come into this meeting with a list of realistic asks from the residents and presented that to the developer.  He could have educated the residents on the development process and what they would be likely to achieve as far as improvements to their neighbohood.  Of course, that would mean Pearson would have to have a basic understanding of the Subdivision and Land Development process; an understanding that he has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not have.

So the one last comment is, again, about blocking the road during construction.  Again, there is shouting from the audience unchallenged by Pearson, and Clement, who has been remarkably patient through this interminable 50 minutes of discussion, sighs, shakes his head, and says, “Ma’am, there will be a space to get your car past.”

Vagnozzi interrupts and tells her that not only will they not block the road, but it is the Township’s job to make sure that they are not blocking the road.

Clement then asks for a vote, which Pearson tells him he’s not going to get.  Barker says based on Clement’s history with the township, and always doing what he says he’s going to do, he feels comfortable saying that once the fees are negotiated and they determine what the residents want, the Board is willing to move forward.

So what happened here?  Instead of actually helping these residents by guiding them through this process and setting realistic expectations, Pearson met with them and never properly facilitated communication between all parties.  His suggestion to listen to the residents’ comments “somewhere else” and his admonistion at his unilaterally imposed end of the discussion to have residents call his personal cellphone confirms this.  My guess is that he hung his hat on the idea of making Spares Lane a one way road, with one way in and one way out on to route 29, a proposal he sold to the residents without fully exploring that option with the township’s traffic engineer.  When that solution was deemed impossible due to PennDOT restrictions, rather than deliver the bad news, the Yes Man fumbled through this meeting, muddying the process for everyone.

It almost seems like Pearson is more interested in scoring points off of the developer to notch something in the win column for himself, than he is in actually solving problems for the residents.  Several months ago, this blog discussed the campaign mode/governing mode of this Board.  At this point, it would appear that Pearson is still in campaign mode, even at this late date.

 

SEI North Campus: Phase 1

Phase 1 of the project consists of a 120,000 sf building, an access drive through South Campus of SEI, two on grade parking lots for 630 parking space and a trail connection of sidewalk from Cider Mill in front of Hunt Club, through SEI Campus and connect to the Montco trail.

SEIPhase1
SEI Phase 1

SEI’s traffic engineer outlined multiple major traffic improvements to accommodate the influx of additional employees, including:

  • SEI will finally upgrade the signal at BlackRock and Upper Indian Head Road and they will also do some significant widening to that intersection.
  • Right turn lane on Black Rock Road heading away from Egypt Road to facilitate right turns into SEI.
  • Left turn lane on Upper Indian Head Road.
  • Cider Mill and Upper Indian Head Road.  Left turn lane on every approach and signalized. Plus right turn lanes.  Driveways will be right in, right out.
  • SEI is also proposing to work with the DVRPA to do a regional improvements.

At 1:17:44, Ed Mullin, the attorney for SEI, mentions that the Planning Commission has recommended approval of all of the waivers.

Michelle Strannon speaks on behalf of the Hunt Club Homeowners’ Association.  Association has two specific concerns:

  1. Potential lighting pollution because the residential area elevation is looking down on the North Campus parking garage, and because there is no way to know what that light pollution is going to be until it is installed, that the Board impose a condition on the developer that they can address this issue in the future.
  2. The HOA would also like a condition placed on the applicant on traffic issues. Hunt Club residents live that traffic every day, and they recognize SEI’s completed traffic studies but would like the Township to require an additional traffic study to be completed as employees are added to the campus.

Mullin quickly agrees to those conditions on behalf of SEI.

1:33:50 more discussion of waivers of steep slopes.

At 1:37:00, Bresnan announces that the fees in lieu will be negotiated prior to final approval.  As is normally the case.  Some further detailed discussion occurs.

Pearson, however, does not ask to table this particular resolution until he knows “what kind of money we are talking about.”

He calls for a vote and approval of SEI’s preliminary land development plan is unanimous.

239 Grace Street: Five Lot Subdivision

Grace Street
239 Grace Street

Ed Mullin again for the applicant for tentative sketch approval.  This is a five lot subdivision, including one existing house which will remain.  The primary source of concern is the access to the development is too close to the intersection with the access to the Meadows condominium.  They will have to get a special exception for steep slopes from the zoning hearing board.

The developer will probably ask for a partial waiver for sidewalks on one side of the new street.

Pearson asks if Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien has seen the access driveway and if he is ok with it, which Pearson would know if he read the review letters included in his packet.  O’Brien says it’s not ideal, but it’s low volume, so not concerning.

Approved unanimously, with no discussion of waivers by the Board.

Follow your passion!

Vagnozzi notes that the manager’s report makes mention of another Board member doing “due diligence” on the structures at the Taylor Farm park.  It turns out that this was Laurie Higgins, who “personally” would like to see some restoration, including the creation of an historical society.

Vagnozzi does not like that Higgins has taken it upon herself “scratch the surface” of this.  He says that things like this must be done as a Board.  He further notes that this has already been looked at by structural engineers.

Pearson of course says he doesn’t think that Higgins has stepped out of line because she hasn’t done anything official.

Calci notes that it is Higgins’ passion and she should pursue it.

While I agree that Higgins should be able to look into this, and any other side projects she finds interesting, I would note that none of what she has pursued so far requires her official capacity as a township supervisor to do it.  If she wants to start an Historical Society and preserve buildings, any private citizen can do that (and I’m sure Pearson already has his sights set on a certain privately-owned building at Cider Mill and Arcola that would make a great water ice stand on the bike trail, if only someone would put some money into restoring it).

Follow your dreamsI would further note that none of these ‘passions” should be pursued at the expense of her actual responsibilities as a Township supervisor.  But I have yet to hear her offer a relevant or independently informed comment on any of the land development projects before the board or on any of the various safety issues the Board has contemplated this year.  I find it hard to believe she knocked on all of those doors last year simply to be a “yes” vote for John Pearson’s agenda of petty score settling and personal favors for friends, though she’s certainly caught on to that latter bit earlier in the year when she voted to give taxpayer money to her neighbors.

There were three developments up for approval at this meeting, and she offered one question in the course of over two hours of discussion, and that question had already been answered at the beginning of that project’s presentation. The only question she posed at the last land development approval two meetings ago had to do with another “passion” of hers, whether or not the developer would consider adding green roof (they would not).

Development in the Township is permanent and lasting and needs to be approved thoughtfully and according to the Township’s code.  It is irresponsible to approach these issues ill-prepared and there are courses in land development that the county offers if she need help.  I daresay it’s a better use of time than borrowing the keys to Township properties and asking her friends to second guess the decisions of the prior Board.

Other Business before the Board

  • The Board awarded a bid for a new digital LED sign at the Black Rock Campus to Upper Darby Sign Company for $96,257.
  • The Board awarded the Kline Road reconstruction project to Road Con Inc. for $398,888.  There was some hearing aid/glasses related confusion as Pearson tried to award the digital sign contract to Road Con and had to slowly and patiently be walked through the error by Calci until he got it right.
  • The Board approved a capital budget amendment in the amount of $115,000 to repair the sinkhole on Cider Mill Road.  The sinkhole problem is due mostly to failing corrugated pipe.  MJ Contractors will do the work.
  • The Board approved the Solicitor to authorize a tax assessment appeal for a commercial property on Longford Road.

In which the Zoning Hearing Board “does their thing.”

On June 7, the Zoning Hearing Board granted a use variance for a cell tower at 248 Rittenhouse Road, which is a residentially zoned area.

As you may recall (see here), the prior Board had originally sent the Township Solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board oppose this application.  This action was quickly undone at one of the new Board’s first meetings this year.  Pearson, whose long time fiancé, Gail Latch, is a member of the (supposedly independent) Zoning Hearing Board, instructed that the Township Solicitor would NOT be attending the ZHB meeting to oppose the application on behalf of the Township, an action that was quickly agreed to by “Pearson’s girls” and opposed by Vagnozzi (Barker was absent).

but youll get great reception
But you’ll get great reception.

As I noted at the time, during that meeting, the residents from the three surrounding developments had approached the Board to express dismay at the applicant’s repeated scheduling and then cancellation of the hearings, creating a hardship for the residents who wished to go on record against this application.  They begged the Township to continue to oppose this application.  At that meeting, Pearson brushed off these concerns and told the residents that he was inclined to let the Zoning Hearing Board “do its thing” without opposition from the Board.

I had several spotters at Thursday’s meeting, and all of them tell the same story:  At the conclusion of the meeting, words were exchanged between one of the residents and John Pearson, and at one point during the altercation, Pearson called the resident an “a**hole.”

Friendship, particularly with Pearson, has its privileges and clearly, none of these residents are in his inner circle.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 5/21/18 Episode 8: Dance into the Fire

I’m somewhat late putting this episode of meeting notes up because the meetings themselves were not posted on the website.  My understanding is that there was a technical difficulty with the hosting site.  The good news is that the fix created a brand new site, with videos that are also posted to YouTube, which makes them easily “embeddable.”  Do yourself a favor and watch the the discussion on the Steering Committee membership, beginning at 13:38.

But let’s skip right to it.  This is where this meeting really gets interesting, and of course, it’s all about the new Fire and Emergency Services Policy.

Ladies and Gentlemen:  A Tap Dance

As we noted in the previous episode of UPT Meeting Notes, there is an item on the agenda to amend the membership level of the previously discussed Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night from three members to four members.  Your humble Blogress engaged in a bit of unsanctioned speculation as to why the membership in this committee was being increased while offering unsolicited recommendations as to who should fulfill this new role:  The Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Josh Overholt, or perhaps a Supervisor.

The fun begins when Pearson tries to slick his way this through without any discussion and states, “I assume everyone understands what this is about, if not…”

Clearly everyone does not understand what this is about and some discussion is about to happen.

I assume everyone knows what this is about
Barker to Vagnozzi:  “Do you want to say something, or should I?”

Vagnozzi jumps in first and he wants to know who the other member is going to be and why the Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Josh Overholt, is not engaged in this and he is concerned that by excluding him, the Board is not showing him the respect due his position.

John Pearson’s First Tap Dance:

“Well…I…I… think that we…we look at like putting our hierarchy in charge, people like…well, if you want to know who the people are, it will definitely be [Assistant Township Manager] Bryan [Bortnichak] and [Township Manager] Tim [Tieperman] and of course [Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company President] Joe LoCasale and, and [BRVFC Chief] Jimmy eehhhhm Daywalt, ok?  So they’re, they requested to have that extra person on there.  But I get that, you know, because they want to be two on two, it’s like, Ohh! We’re outnumbered here again or whatever else. Uhhm, as far as, as far as the Fire Marshall’s concerned, I…I… eehh it is my opinion that we should keep it at the level as high as possible with, with Tim and Bryan and like you said Al, everything, no matter what is proposed at these particular meetings, will end up coming back before us, so we’ll be the ones ehhhm making the decisions, not the ones that actually represent us at these meetings but we will actually be making these decisions, we’ll be approving whatever it is they decide to come back to us with, so I have no problem with that.  Uhhh…I…I… appreciate your concern with that uhhmmm….”

Vagnozzi has a bit of mercy on Pearson at this point and says he’s generally in favor of that.  Barker, however, isn’t quite satisfied.

Barker states that he has similar concerns as Vagnozzi and corrects Pearson on Josh Overholt’s title, stating he is not just a Fire Marshall, that he’s the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services and the Township has recognized his elevated status with his credentials.

And then it gets very interesting.

Barker begins reading from an email on his computer, an email it is later revealed was forwarded by Tieperman from someone from Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company.  Pointing to his computer screen, Barker states, “It’s saying here that they are finalizing the drawing of the career staff offices tomorrow….and bringing them…There’s things going on here that I wasn’t aware of until I got a copy of this email.  They are moving on  things that we haven’t approved and have no knowledge of, we don’t know who’s paying for this, who designed it…”

John Pearson’s Tap Dance #2

“They’re not moving…you know…first of all…it hasn’t costed us…first of all…we don’t…we don’t have to approve anything that they decide to do to their facility down there.  We have to approve any monies that we expend, absolutely, uhmmm…but they’re not doing anything at this point in the game until this Steering Committee meets…these are all recommendations that uhhhh, that they’ve been making all along.  Uhhhmmm, so it’s not, it’s not stuff that’s in the works, its stuff that’s been recommended at this point in the game.  And uh, and again and I will remind everybody at this Board no matter what happens with this Steering Committee, they will be bringing it back to us, we will be making decisions on this, it will be, it will be in front of this Board, uhhhmm.  Everything that goes on down there will be in front of this Board.  Uhhhmm.  I don’t see, I…I personally don’t see a need to throw another person in there.”

We can apparently add BRVFC members all day long to this committee, but putting the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services on this committee?  That’s simply a bridge too far.  Why “throw” another person in there?  And if BRVFC is simply working on things on their own, why send an email update to the Township?

Regular readers and those familiar with the Fire and Emergency Services issues that have been front and center in this Board’s agenda this year (see here, here, here and here) are probably already asking themselves the next question that Barker poses to Pearson:

Barker, again referring to the email on his computer says, “So John, I’m just looking right here and it says, ‘to be built to facilitate the reallocation of space for the bunk rooms we need at the Oaks Station.’ Well, isn’t that part of the per diem firefighters [proposal]? Isn’t that part of our paid staff?”

John Pearson Tap Dance #3

“The whole object is to set the, set the whole thing up there, and then, when we build the facility, we move what’s happening there up to the new facility so that everybody has a chance to integrate with each other, they’re uhhhm, all, all the career guys, the Black Rock, and, and the Public Works guys, they get a chance to integrate with each other, to work with each other and everything else in a real firehouse, uhhhhh setting, and then when this is, when the new facility is done, they will be moving the the, the whole concept up to the uhhhh new facility and that’s what, that’s what, basically, this is all about.”

To which Barker responds, “It just seems like you know a lot more about this than I do.”

Indeed. It seems like Pearson is the only one who knows anything at all about what is going on with this.

on my own personal time
My own personal time.

Incredibly, Pearson acknowledges this:  “I…I…I do.  And that’s because I chose to sit in on…on a lot of these things, uhhhh, on my own personal time.”

Would that be in between Quizzo matches, perhaps?

Barker’s next comment mirrors my own as I sat and watched this:  “But we don’t know about it.  I had no idea these meetings were taking place.”

So let’s take a short break here and consider this:  John Pearson just admitted in a public meeting that he is meeting with BRVFC members on his “own personal time” (whatever THAT means when you are an elected official) and, on his “own personal time,” he, and he alone, is apparently discussing and giving direction on the implementation of the Township’s fire policy with an outside agency.

CaptureAs a reminder, the John Pearson who is objecting to adding the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services to his dinky Steering Committee is the very same John Pearson who insisted that a three member Township Board of Supervisors was not enough “representation” for the residents of Upper Providence Township.  The John Pearson who insinuated that three Board members were “too cozy” and not quite transparent enough for his liking, is the same John Pearson who now thinks nothing of having secret policy meetings with BRVFC without the knowledge of the rest of the Board.  The same guy who championed the idea that “more representation is better” and worked tirelessly with his Upper Providence Worst First/Quizzo pals to add two more members to the Board of Supervisors, is absolutely panicked at the idea of adding Josh Overholt to the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night.

In response to Barker’s assertion Pearson stammers, “Well…well…well there’s …there’s nothing been decided at this point in the game, uhhhmmm….”

To which Barker responds, “Well, they’re building a bunkhouse.”

John Pearson Tap Dance #4

“They’re proposing to build this bunkhouse.  They’re not…they’re not spending any money, they’re not doing anything that they haven’t, you know, uhhhmmm….ahhh….”

It’s at this point that resident Joe Peters raises his hand and like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver, Pearson gasps, “Yeah, Joe?”

life prresPeters says, “I just presumed it would be the fire chief since he is our senior fire services individual who runs the fire services in this Township.  If we were to investigate the police department in some respect, would you exclude Chief Toomey from being a part of the process?”

Oh.  Maybe this was not the relief Pearson was hoping for.

Pearson tries to brush this off by saying it’s a different scenario, but Peters is having none of it.  He states, quite correctly, that Josh Overholt “is the most knowledgeable person in our Township qualified to advise you on fire services for the Township.  I think that without the fire chief on this committee, it’s a real injustice as to what has to happen.”

Having survived Joe Peters’ first cross examination, Pearson sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

here comes that motion
Lookout! Oncoming Motion!

Which turns out to be an oncoming freight train.

Vagnozzi makes a motion to amend the Steering Committee to be five members, with Josh Overholt as a member of the Committee.  Barker immediately seconds.

So now there is an unplanned motion on the floor that isn’t actually written out for him by Tim Tieperman and, with as much trouble as Pearson has had just forming words and getting them out of his mouth this evening, it’s nothing short of a miracle that he is able to call for the vote. Vagnozzi and Barker vote for it, then Pearson calls for those opposed, who, in a little known codicil that may or may not be contained in Roberts Rules of Order, can apparently say either “Aye” or “No” to indicate opposition.

Surprisingly, Calci puts the brakes on the whole proceeding, asking if she can think about this for a moment.  Perhaps in surprise that one his “his girls” is showing signs of independence, Pearson chuckles in disbelief, “You want to think about that for a minute?”

Calci has correctly figured out that the membership of this committee could just keep growing, perhaps without ever actually accomplishing anything.  Joe Peters, who has brought more wisdom to the discussion than the Chairman of the Board, takes the floor again and outlines to Calci the membership he would like to see.  Peters, like just about everyone except the Chairman/ Quizzo host, doesn’t understand why Black Rock needs two members representing them on this committee.

John Pearson Tap Dance #5

“I…I…I’m looking at it in a different light.  I’m looking at like, I would prefer to put two people on that board who are decision makers, ok?  Uhhhmm for the Township. And those people would be Mr. Tieperman and Mr. Bortnichak.  We are…we are trying to stay off and it was suggested that we, that we put somebody from this Board on there but I thought that’s not a good idea, because….”

So after all of that huffing and puffing in the beginning of the discussion about how this Board will be making all the decisions, now Pearson’s excuse for not including Overholt on the Steering Committee is that he wants “decision makers” on the committee.  Pearson’s desperation to keep the Chief of Fire and Emergency Services off of this committee is becoming harder and harder for him to legitimately defend.

Peters wants to know, where is the Fire Chief?  If he is the expert, why isn’t he on?  Why doesn’t he have a say?  And if he doesn’t have a say, why does the Township need him?

When Pearson acknowledges that Overholt is the most knowledgeable person in the Township on fire and emergency service in the Township, Peters demands, “Well why isn’t he on the committee?”

Pearson’s comprehensive response is, “Because….well, it’s up to this Board to put him on this committee.”

Calci, the evening’s voice of reason, then suggests that they just go back to the original three members and says, “The more people you add, the harder it is to come to a conclusion, I think.”  Calci argues that the three members worked, they have a good dynamic going, and they are a good team.  “Don’t mess with it,” she suggests.

I agree wholeheartedly and the first five months of this newly expanded five member board are a testament to the sentiment that three members are way better than five.

Pearson notes that there is a vote on the floor and that they need to decide whether to include Overholt or not.  Vagnozzi amends his original motion to make the Board three members but replacing Tieperman with Overholt, since they all answer to Tieperman anyway.

Pearson, sensing that he is about to break an unbreakable Quizzo night promise by including Overholt on this Steering Committee, quickly stammers through a clarification that what Calci actually means is that they should just go back to the original Steering Committee membership of Tieperman, Bortnichak and LoCasale.

hot
Does it seem hot in here?

Vagnozzi says fine.  I’ll withdraw the motion and we don’t have to take any action.

After all of that sweating, Pearson seems at a loss to believe that he now doesn’t have to take any action at all.  He breathes a sigh of relief having escaped providing an explanation as to why he was so desperate to keep the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, the person most knowledgeable about these matters in our Township, off of a committee that has ostensibly been formed to merge his department with the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company.

Other Business

  • Marchetti resolution from the prior meeting was cleaned up and approved.
  • The Board implemented a new policy/procedure for approving capacity rights agreements. The only Capacity Rights Agreements coming before the Board will now exceed 25 EDUs.  All smaller capacity rights agreements will be approved administratively.
  • The Board waived a special event fee for an event benefitting the Brian Lukens family.
  • Planning and Zoning report mentioned that the PTC 106, which is the proposed apartment development behind Wegmans, will be coming in to the Planning Commission in June.
  • Barker recommended that zoning applicants should be coming before the Board so that the Board can decide whether or not to send the Township Solicitor to represent the Township on certain matters.  This process was curtailed in order to streamline things, but the Board has asked for this process to be reinstated, at least on a limited basis.
  • There was discussion, but no resolution, on the Spares Lane one way in, one way out proposal.  Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien says that this proposal has not been submitted to PennDOT yet.
  • The Phoenixville Intermodal Study is almost complete
  • There was a discussion about working on an ultimate resolution to the property in the Mingo section of the Township, that was discussed at the prior meeting. The property was supposed to be dedicated as open space, but the Township did not want the liability of the pond on the property.  The Township engineer was instructed to try to come up with a resolution.
  • The Board noted that they will adopt a summer schedule for Board meetings of one a month for July and August.
  • The Board held an Executive Session for personnel matters following adjournment.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 5/7/18 Episode 7: The Peter Principle

If someone else were Chairman of the Board in Upper Providence, I would suspect that the reason for the length of the Board of Supervisors’ meetings is to deliberately cause residents to lose interest in the proceedings.  As readers are probably aware, there is little to no independent press coverage of these local municipal Board meetings, and therefore, what goes on at these Board meetings—that is to say, the decisions that affect the everyday quality of life in your neighborhood—goes largely unremarked upon.  The lack of press coverage has been alarming trend for many reasons, which I intend to explore in a future blog post, but for now, keep that idea in the back of your head.  For meandering meetings that regularly exceed an hour, consisting of rather dry subject matter and enhanced with a generous helping of self aggrandizement from Chairman Pearson, it’s really a miracle that anyone can stay engaged.

Suffice to say, I do not think that the length of these meetings is part of a nefarious plot by John Pearson to bore his audience to death so that he can hatch some elaborate scheme outside of the public eye.  I think he’s just an incompetent Chairman, a thesis he proves anew twice a month.  This week, less than ten minutes in, he was struggling just to read the agenda, saying he was “not following this thing too well.”

Bored-AudienceThis meeting clocks in at a brutally exhausting 89 minutes, which includes Pearson’s insufferable little morality tale at the beginning of the meeting and the staff reports at the end.  It should be noted that the requirement for Staff to attend Board meetings was discontinued two years ago and their reports were included in the Supervisors’ weekly packets.  This not only saved time at the Township meetings, but it saved money as well, since Staff is compensated to attend these meetings.  Making them stick around until the end of an hour and a half long meeting so that they can read a prepared report into the record seems wasteful of both their time and ours.

Saving the Day

Craig Moyer from the Mingo development asked the Board if the Township could buy a plot of land behind the Mingo development due to “safety concerns.”  Mr. Moyer stated that the trees on this wooded property are beginning to fall down and he is concerned that the dying trees will fall on a child.  His calls to the owner to request that he cut down the trees were ignored.  Moyer asked if the Township would purchase the property.

This particular piece of land was actually supposed to have been deeded over to the Township as part of the original completed development decades ago, but it never was.  Several years ago, Staff approached the Board about pursuing ownership of this parcel as a fulfillment of the development agreement; after much discussion, the Board decided not to pursue title to this land, as it was landlocked, with no easy access for Township maintenance, and no trail or open space connectivity.

Elected officials should always want to help their residents solve problems, but not every situation has a government solution.  Sometimes there are situations that the government simply cannot and should not get involved.  In these situations, an honest elected official will tell their constituent a hard truth in a diplomatic manner.

Needless to say, that is not what happens in this situation.

After a bit of discussion over what, if anything, the Township could do about this issue, including citing the owner to maintain his property, the Township Solicitor advised that if the Township gets involved in this dispute, which is currently between two private property owners,  it could create a liability for the Township.  Blatantly ignoring the advice of the Solicitor, Pearson states he wants to put the propery owner “on notice” and bravely asserts, “I’ll take that risk!” He never considers that by doing so, he has completely disregarded the advice of the Solicitor and that it’s not him, personally, taking on this liability risk, but the taxpayers of Upper Providence.

Image result for here i come to save the day gif

In all likelihood, there will be nothing that the Township can do to settle this dispute between two private landowners, however, the mere involvement in the affair by the Township exposes the Township to liability.

Skate Away

The Upper Providence Skate Park, on the Black Rock campus, has been degrading for the past couple of years.  In the 2018 budget, the Supervisors decided to expend capital funds to refurbish the aging park.  The cost for this refurbishment is a not inconsequential $383,600.  Before the vote was called, Vagnozzi asked if there was some way the Township could determine if it was mostly residents or non-residents using the park.   Vagnozzi asked for an informal survey to be conducted over the next couple weeks to tabulate park users and their home municipalities before $383,600 was spent.  It soon became apparent that the vote on this spend was merely a formality, as the new equipment was already ordered and was slated to arrive on May 21.  The skate park build itself, it was later announced, will not occur until September.

This seems to be happening more and more often this year, where only certain Board members are aware of the details of an agenda item up for vote, or worse, that the decision has already been enacted and the vote is an after-the-fact formality.

In fairness, this spend was already approved as part of the 2018 budget; but why even put it up for a vote if the spend has already happened?

Who’s Steering this thing?

As was covered in previous posts (here, here and here), much was made of the assertion that the Fire and Emergency Services plan adopted at the April 16 meeting was a pure-d objective product of staff.  The new FEMS Steering Committee is ostensibly being created to guide the merging of the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company and the Township paid crews.

As a refresher, here are the main points of the Fire Ordinance (originally appearing in this post).

A. Phase 1 Milestones: – (0 – 6 months):

  1. Form a joint Township – Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company steering committee to address the integration of career and volunteer firefighters who shall operate as one combination fire department.
  2. Identify space at the Oaks Station and relocate daytime career staff to the Oaks station.
  3. Consider supporting a volunteer stipend program or volunteer live-in program to bolster the volunteer response.

B. Phase 2 Milestones: – (6 – 36 months) 

  1. On or before October 1, 2018 finalize the design, bid specifications and cost scope for a new emergency services facility.
  2. Transition career firefighter/EMTs to twelve-hour shifts (6:00am to 6:00pm) seven days per week beginning January 1, 2019
  3. Fund the hiring of two full-time career firefighter/EMTs and the transition of existing career firefighters to 12-hour shifts as part of the 2019 budget.
  4. On or before January 1, 2019 advertise and award bids for a new emergency services facility. April 16, 2018 BOS Meeting Page 148 of 162
  5. Relocate career firefighters to the new emergency services facility upon completion of the facility which shall act as the main hub of fire service delivery to Upper Providence Township.
  6. Develop a plan for the disposition of the Mont Clare Fire Station and support Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company in evaluating and making needed upgrades to the Oaks Fire Station.

C. Phase 3 Milestones: – (3 – 5 years)

  1. Consider forming a committee of elected and appointed officials from Upper Providence Township, Trappe, Collegeville and Royersford Boroughs to explore ways to improve cost efficiencies and to develop a regional solution for providing fire services.
  2. Seek regional grant support and professional consulting assistance from Harrisburg to help forge a realistic, regional fire services blueprint by 2025.
  3. Explore the formation of a Council of Governments to maintain a regular dialogue among area elected officials, not only on fire-related issues but all areas of municipal service.

Compare and contrast with the slides from Staff’s original recommendations regarding the Fire Ordinance.

Slide1Slide2Slide3

The most striking differences are the lack of qualification goals in the final adopted ordinance, and the relocation of the Township’s Engine 93 to the Oaks Firestation instead of bringing the volunteers up to the centralized location once the new facility is built.  For a detailed discussion of the differences between the adopted ordinance and the staff proposed ordinance, see HERE.

The Steering Committee is to consist of the Township Manager, Tim Tieperman, Assistant Township Manager, Bryan Bortnichak and a representative chosen by Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company.  During the Board’s discussion of this resolution, it was presumed that this representative would be BRVFC President Joe LoCasale, but, it was later determined that since this is to be the choice of BRVFC, the Township must wait until they put someone forward.  Vagnozzi asked if the Township can veto a representative if the Board does not agree with that representative.

Conspicuously absent from this Steering Committee is the Township’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Services.

And what’s interesting is that the Agenda for the May 21 meeting contains the following item:

Agenda Item 6This is a proposal to add one more member to the Steering Committee.  Is this to add the Township’s Chief of Fire and EMS, who, by virtue of his expertise alone, should be on this committee?  After all, it’s his department merging with the volunteers and the volunteers are getting a voice; why isn’t he? And since the ultimate responsibility for the provision of fire services to township residents resides with the Board of Supervisors, shouldn’t a BOS member be on this Steering Committee as well?

Resident Joe Peters asked perhaps the most pertinent question of the evening and I paraphrase here:  Who will be steering the steering committee?

It’s a great question.

Other Business

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Board tabled a minor subdivision for Marchetti at Caroline and Blackrock Roads.  This resolution will approve splitting the original lot into two lots.  This rather simple subdivision required some minor cleanup and it was proposed that the applicant come back in two weeks so the Board could pass a clean resolution.  When the applicant was asked if this would be acceptable, the applicant’s representative said they would prefer to get their approval now.  Since Pearson does not know how to deliver anything but a “Yes” to any potential voter, this suggestion threw the Chairman into a tailspin, and he desperately looks to staff saying, “I am at a loss as to how to proceed.”  Eventually, staff took the heat and tabled the resolution for the May 21 meeting.
  • The Board approved a development plan for Global Packaging.  During this discussion, Supervisor Higgins asked Global Packaging’s counsel, Ed Mullin, if they had looked into the feasibility of putting a green roof on their proposed building.  Mullin responded that the applicant, had, in fact explored that option, and it would add some $7.3 million to their proposed construction project so they would not be proceding with a green roof.
  • The Board approved the replacement of the Summit Ave Culvert for $100,000, which will require a capital budget amendment.  This prompted Pearson to assure the audience, “Just so that everyone knows, we do not have a slush fund here.”  I’m not sure why Pearson felt the need to make this point.
  • The Board approved a waiver of a special event permit fee of $75 for an event that had already occurred.
  • The Board announced a combination electronic recycling and shredder event to be held on October 6.
  • Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien announced work in Lower Providence for signaling of the intersection of Station and Pawlings Road and the widening of Station Ave, which will affect traffic patterns for the Expo Center.
  • Township Civil Engineer Bill Dingman discussed issues with the SEI parking deck and three items not addressed on the plans.  There were three waivers that were granted in 1995 regarding curb and sidewalk for the “temporary” parking lot that is still in use by SEI.  SEI is arguing that the waivers are still in effect.  Mr. Fresh Perspective, John Pearson, commented that he felt a little bit guilty about the rather permanent nature of the temporary lot because he was on the Board in 1995 when that Temporary lot was approved.
  • The Board approved a bid advertisement for a new digital sign for the Blackrock campus.  Anticipated spend is $65,000.
  • Township Manager Tim Tieperman announced the impending rollout of the Township’s mobile ap.
  • Police Chief Mark Toomey noted progress in dealing with motorists stopping for school buses.  Higgins inquired if the Police knew the demographics of the people who break the law. She further elaborated that when she lived in California, they did not have the law that motorists must stop for stopped school buses.  Are they familiar with our laws? Higgins wanted to know.  After Toomey had already explained in detail how difficult is it to even catch offenders, even if the bus driver gets the license plate of the offending vehicle, to his credit, Chief Toomey explained this facet of police work once again for Higgins edification.
  • peter principleDuring Supervisor Comments, Vagnozzi discussed the EMS situation in Springfield (noted HERE) and mentioned that the Board made a tough decision that they knew was going to impact the EMS company, but they did it for the good of the Township.  Pearson responded by telling the audience, “Just so you know, it’s not that we don’t have an interest in putting in an ambulance, just not right now.”  This is a bold statement from someone who, with regard to the ambulance issue, has accused the prior board of “kicking the can down the road.”
  • In the course of thanking Assistant Manager Bortnichak and the County Corrections Department in getting the roads cleaned up, Pearson also took the opportunity to toot his own horn once again reminding residents that he, too, cleaned up trash on Hollow Road.

UPDATE: Emergency!

Our story so far:  The Ambulance issue in Upper Providence has been going on for well over two years at this point.  For recaps of the discussion points see here, here and here.  The issue sparked some fireworks each time, most recently at the last Board meeting when the Board voted in favor of what was billed as “Objective Staff Recommendations” for Fire and EMS policies.

The ultimate source of contention was whether these policy recommendations are, in fact, objective and those of Staff.

As mentioned in a previous post, I filed a “Right to Know” request for the information that went into the calculation of the Ambulance vs. Medic Responder score card (below) presented at the 4/4 special meeting of Upper Providence Township.

8h AltScoring

For those unfamiliar with the RTK law, Ballotopedia has a pretty good synopsis on their website:

The Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Law, is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

Prior to 2008, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act was widely regarded as one of the worst in the country, partly because the pre-2008 law presumed that government records were not public, unless someone who wanted the record could establish otherwise. A law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell “flipped the presumption.” This new law went into full effect on January 1, 2009 and it states, in sharp distinction to the previous law, that all documents will be presumed to be open to the public unless the agency holding them can prove otherwise.

Since the current meeting hall was proven inadequate to serving the public during the last two meetings of the Board of Supervisors, and since whining against the construction of the larger meeting hall is one of the Upper Providence Democrats’ favorite hobby horses, this particular page may be of interest as it also outlines the “Open Meetings” provision of PA’s sunshine laws, a provision with which the Democrats may also want to acquaint themselves:

The General Assembly finds that the right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision-making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.

As for the coordinated messaging and tactics amongst the newly elected Democrats?  I’ll let Sunshine laws speak for themselves. Close observers of the last several meetings will note that Vagnozzi and Barker approach each issue before the Board with completely different perspectives.  Barker’s critique of the medic responder unit centered on the outdated model and his personal experience with it running calls.  Vagnozzi’s critique came from experience as well, but a different kind of experience backed up by well researched facts.  The Democrats, on the other hand, have been lockstep in their reasons for rejecting the Ambulance, right down to the coordinated, unprecedented move of “Pearson’s Girls” each composing “signing statements” to read aloud at a public meeting.

For those of you that thought you were voting for a five member Board in November 2016, I’m here to tell you: this Board is still three members. And their perspective on things is anything but fresh.

The RTK

At the 4/4 meeting, Supervisor Al Vagnozzi accused the Democrats of “bullying” Township staff into presenting a policy direction that showed favoritism towards the Democrats preferred option of doing as little as possible putting in a medic responder as opposed to an ambulance.  Vagnozzi reiterated that accusation in a letter to the Times Herald and at the 4/16 meeting of the BOS.  Having spent the better part of the last two years of my term hashing out EMS and Fire issues, I found myself in agreement with Vagnozzi in his evaluation of the presentation.

I submitted the following RTK request to the Township on April 19:

I am requesting all information (records) related to the following specific data points on the “Scoring of EMS Options” slide included in the Upper Providence Fire and EMS slide presentation and the special public meeting of the Board of Supervisors held on April 4, 2018:

  1. All information (records) used to calculate the data point entitled “Impact on Regional Providers,” and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic Responder.
  2. All information (records) used to calculate the data points entitled “Response Times” and “Crew Uptime Availability” and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic responder on these data points
  3. The differences between the “Response Time” criteria and the “Crew Uptime Availability” criteria used to arrive at the scoring. 

Along with several documents, I received the following response from Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan:

I am attaching various documents that were a part of the overall decision-making process.  In the end, however, the point that was emphasized to me by Tim and Bryan was that no document exists which directly caused or led to the assignment of a particular number in the scoring columns (1, 2 or 3).  These end scores are based on subjective experience even though a lot of what was considered involved actual calculations.  For example, you will see various calculations and estimates of costs provided by Josh, price quotes for equipment, etc., but when it comes down to saying whether all of those numbers drive a cost score of a “1” or a “3”, they do not directly compel a particular number but are the basis for deciding what number to assign.  Strictly speaking, there is no document that is responsive to the request in that no document includes a formula that ends in a result of “1”, “2”, or “3”.  The attached documents, along with countless meetings and phone calls, experience working in the Township, experience working elsewhere, and even common sense, all combined to drive the ultimate assignment of a single digit number to the relevant column.

This, by the way, is not really typical of how these objective scoring matrices are settled upon.  In my experience, each member of whatever committee was evaluating a particular decision was given a scoring sheet on which they scored various options.  The scores are then objectively tallied to a final scorecard.  When I was a part of the Township, we did quite a few of these exercises, for example, when we hired the Chief of Police and the Township Manager (and it should be noted that John Pearson took part in both of these evaluations).

That all being said, color me completely unsurprised that this particular scoring matrix did not use that same methodology.

I received the following documents as part of my request:

As mentioned above, the 2017 EMS White Paper I referenced in a previous post was part of the decision making process.

really
I don’t think we’re getting the whole picture, Dixie.

My RTK request also yielded an undated slides from a prior strategic planning session (entitled “DRAFT UPFES Future Presentation”) that were notably different from the slides presented at the 4/4 meeting.  For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the DRAFT UPFES Future Presentation as the “March Slideshow” and the slideshow presented at the 4/4 meeting as the “Official Slideshow.”

Also included was an email dated 3/21/18 with the subject, “Slide Comments” from Assistant Manager Bortnichak to Township Manager Tieperman and copying only Supervisors Calci and Pearson.  This email contains a list of suggested edits to the March Slide Show.  You may recall that Calci volunteered to work with Vagnozzi on the ambulance subcommittee at the February 5 meeting, so this raises an interesting question:

Why was Pearson copied on these slide edits but Vagnozzi was not?

EMS Ordinance

Budget Discrepancies

The first thing I noticed right off was the striking differences between the comparative budget presented at the April 4 meeting, here:

8i AltBudget
Year 1 Budget Analysis from the April 4 public presentation
8j AltBudgetyrs2
Year 2+ Budget Analysis from the April 4 public presentation

And the Budget that I received as part of the RTK, here:

Original budget
Budget analysis from RTK

These numbers are remarkable in that not only is the Ambulance option less expensive—much less expensive—in subsequent years, but it’s less expensive in the initial year as well!  This is quite shocking and lends considerable weight to Vagnozzi’s assertions of doctored numbers and bullied staff.

Which Agencies are Impacted?

“Impact on other agencies” was probably the most oft-cited reason for choosing a Medic Responder over an Ambulance, especially after the “Exclusively serves UPT” line item was eviscerated as unrealistic.

skeptical
Seems sketchy

Recall that Higgins went all Hippocratic Oath in her prepared remarks with her lecture on “first doing no harm” and Calci responded to specific questions with a statement about not “wanting to upset the applecart.”  Pearson, of course, has been vocal about this from the beginning.  In fact, the impact to other regional providers was pretty much the only decision point left to the Democrats by the time the vote came around (especially since even the rudimentary first year cost advantage disappears with the information provided above.)

Trappe Ambulance is only EMS that submitted revised forecast numbers.  There was a set of forecast numbers submitted in August to the previous Board and a new set of numbers submitted to the new Board

medicrespondes
Like New. $80,000 OBO

in November 2017.  I’m not sure why this is, as no explanation was given by Trappe Ambulance.  I was not privy to these numbers until after I left office and I have tried several times to reconcile them with the orignal numbers we recieved to no avail.  I sent a follow-up email to Tieperman for clarification as to why a second set of numbers was provided, but he was unable to offer an explanation either.

Since neither Friendship nor Lower Providence submitted “revised numbers” and my RTK called for “All information (records) used to calculate the data point entitled ‘Impact on Regional Providers,’ and used to justify the scoring of ALS Ambulance versus ALS Medic Responder,” I can only assume that the revised Trappe numbers were the only numbers that were considered in arriving at the scoring on this data point.  But this raises the following questions:

  1. What necessitated Trappe’s submission of revised numbers after they presented different numbers in August to the previous Board?
  2. Were Friendship and Lower Providence asked if they wished to submit revised numbers as well?
  3. Were Trappe’s revised numbers the only factor behind finding an alternative to the Ambulance?

Finally, it’s been stated multiple times by staff, Republicans and Democrats on the Board of Supervisors that EMS call volume will probably be able to 100% support an ambulance in Upper Providence in two years, but so what?  If Upper Providence institutes a Township ambulance in two years, this issue is still relevant.  The real question is not whether or not UPT impacts regional providers, but WHEN they are going to impact these providers.

What does Springfield EMS have to do with any of this?

Another data point discussed in the “Slide Comments” email was the impending folding of another Montgomery County Ambulance Squad.  This event hit the news the same day as the last Board meeting.  Montgomery News:

The Community Ambulance Association of Ambler will be taking over Springfield Township’s ambulance responsibilities as of April 28.

During April 11’s board of commissioners business meeting, a 6-1 board vote terminated the Springfield Ambulance Association, and a 7-0 board vote hired the Community Ambulance Association of Ambler in its stead.

The email was rather vague about what the closing of Springfield Township Ambulance had to do with the overall presentation of Fire and EMS policy in Upper Providence and in what context that information was to be presented.  It appears that Springfield Ambulance owed Springfield Township over $300,000.

A difficult business environment driven by low insurance reimbursements has made the smaller ambulance associations a dying breed, officials said.

Commissioners worked very hard to find a path forward for Springfield Ambulance including public support. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach agreement where we would have sufficient control to turn around the operation. Moving forward with Ambler will put us at far less financial risk in the future while ensuring the highest level of service,” Harbison said.

Officials said a modest amount of money will come through two more payrolls, but without a source of revenue after April 28, Springfield Ambulance will likely be unable to finance the debt owed to the township.

The township’s agreement with Ambler is for five years and will include a new ambulance [emphasis mine], as well as annual support from the township “in the high five figures depending on a few variables,” Harbison said.

Yes, you read that correctly:  Springfield Township is buying an Ambulance for Ambler.

An earlier article offers a little more insight into the problems in Springfield Township.  Montgomery News again (emphasis mine):

As the ambulance has teetered on the brink of insolvency, township board members have offered fiscal and administrative support to the ambulance directors, contingent on a change in leadership. The township’s preconditions called for the replacement of half of the ambulance’s eight board members, as well as the replacement of the ambulance’s current chief of operations.

According to officials, the ambulance’s board of directors has decided to reject the offer.

“We want to take over the board — those were our terms,” Springfield Township Board of Commissioners President Jeff Harbison said. “Change the board, change the chief. They don’t want us to replace the chief.

“We have the ability as a township to designate what they do but not how they do it. We have the ability to fire them, but we don’t have the ability to run them. All we can do is turn off the switch,” he said.

Officials said the insolvency of the ambulance can only be rectified by monetary support from the township, though the ambulance’s debt has been accruing for the better part of a decade.

[…]

“The issue is quite concerning,” Maxwell said. “We’ve been supporting them for several years through their payroll. They haven’t been timely in keeping up with their payments. There should be enough money coming in to sustain them, but because they’re unwilling to share any financial information, we’re basically blind as to where their problems are and how we can help fix them.

If I haven’t made this point in the past, let me make it now:  In Pennsylvania, the local governing body is charged with providing for the health and safety of its residents.  Most municipalities do this in a variety of ways:  through contracts with service providers or volunteer agencies and in the case of police, either a township –employed police department, or through the Pennsylvania State Police.  The point being, the provision of these services is arguably the number one duty of local elected officials and if there are problems with how these services are provided, it is incumbent upon that elected body to work through those issues for the good of their residents; not the good of the service provider.

Kudos to Springfield Township for making what I am sure was a very difficult decision in the best interests of their residents.

Fire Ordinance

Lest you think a shortage of Volunteer firefighters is a problem unique to Upper Providence Township, think again.  The issue of dwindling Fire Company Volunteers was in the news this week. TribLive:

Township officials from across the state passed a resolution Wednesday demanding that Gov. Tom Wolf call a special legislative session to address the volunteer crisis affecting local fire and emergency management services.

The resolution was unanimously adopted during the 96th annual educational conference of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) in Hershey.

PSATS President Shirl Barnhart called attention to the problems township supervisors face in keeping their residents safe and protected at a time when volunteers are dwindling and costs are soaring.

In recent decades, he said, the ranks of fire company volunteers have dropped from 300,000 strong in the 1960s and ’70s to below 50,000 today, a sobering statistic.

“If state and local governments don’t find a way to recruit and retain these very necessary volunteers, communities will be forced to pay nearly $10 billion a year for fire service, according to figures cited by the state fire commissioner,” said Barnhart, a supervisor and volunteer firefighter in Morgan Township, Greene County.

 

In fact, five fire companies are holding open houses this weekend to boost volunteer numbers.  Mercury:

Each of the five fire companies — Black Rock Volunteer Fire Co., Centre Square Fire Co., Linfield Fire Co., Limerick Fire Co. and the Royersford Fire Department — will independently hold open houses this Saturday, May 5, to promote the importance of volunteer participation.

In recent years, volunteer fire companies everywhere have been experiencing an on-going shrinkage of the manpower pool. “Volunteer fire fighters within the commonwealth are a dying breed,” said Joseph LoCasale, president of Black Rock Volunteer FC. “The primary purpose of this Saturday’s multiple open houses is to let residents of our service areas know that their fire companies are staffed by volunteers and that there is always a need for additional manpower. It is our hope that more residents will step forward and give it a try.”

He stressed that being a volunteer with a fire company doesn’t mean that you have to be a firefighter. “If fire fighting is not for you, there are other opportunities to help out, such as fire police, administration, fire prevention education, vehicle and station maintenance and public relations.”

If you are concerned about the rising costs of fire protection–and you should be–volunteering at the local fire company is a way you can not only make a difference in your community, but it can help keep your taxes down as well.

Regarding the Township’s plan to move forward, the RTK revealed some interesting findings on this subject as well, mostly in comparing the March Slide Show presentation and the Official Presentation.  Let’s discuss:

Black Rock’s Mont Clare Station

There is some in-depth discussion over the disposition of the Mont Clare fire station in the March presentation, but this entire discussion is missing from the Official Slide Show and indeed, the only mention is the rather vague:

5 FirePolicy1
Official Slide Show

The following slide, which was included in the March Slide Show, tells the story of the Mont Clare station:

MC Station
March Slide Show

In my personal experience on the Board of Supervisors, the Township was often put in the position of reacting to conflicting messages from within the BRVFC leadership structure.  A good example of this dynamic is the Mont Clare Station situation mentioned above, wherein leadership told the Township on multiple occasions in private meetings that they needed help phasing out the Station, only to have other members of leadership publicly call the Mont Clare Station “100% viable.”

Moving Engine 93

One of the biggest challenges presented in the Official Slide show for both Fire and EMS was the geography of our oddly shaped township.

Definingthechallenges
Slide from the Official Slide Show

The Coverage maps below were included in the March presentation but were missing from the Official Presentation.  I am very familiar with these maps as I am pretty sure they came directly from the Township’s 2014 Fire and EMS study completed by Fire Planning Associates and were prepared at a time when there was still a significant response out of the Mont Clare station.  Keep in mind that the “response zones” around the Mont Clare station should not be coded green (this is the meaning of the yellow notation on “needing better maps” on the slide below.)

Coverage maps
Slide from the March Slide Show

The map on the left is actually the current coverage map during weekday daytime hours, with the Township’s Engine 93 responding out of the Township’s central Black Rock campus.  The map on the right shows coverage with no unit responding from the centralized location.

Recall that one of the policies that the Township is proposing is relocating Engine 93 to the Oaks station until the new centralized building is complete, which realistically won’t be until mid 2019/early 2020, even on an aggressive timeline.  If, according to Higgins, these policy decisions are being driven entirely by response times, why would the Township propose moving our centrally located Township engine 93 to house it in the southeast corner of the Township at the Oaks fire station? This does not improve response times and it flies in the face of the geographical challenge laid out in the slide above from the Official Slide Show.  In fact, this very point was made was in the March Slide Show:

two orgs independent
Slide from March Slideshow

This policy decision has the potential to make response times worse as it removes the centralized coverage area currently covered by Engine 93, effectively undoing the coverage the Township is currently providing for the recently populated center of the township .  With the important stipulation that I wholeheartedly agree that a hybrid Township/Volunteer organization is the best model to pursue, I am unclear about the impetus for the directive to move Engine 93 to the Oaks firehouse at all, even if it is “temporary,” especially since Engine 93’s response times have thus far been proven to be superior to the Volunteers.

2c Response times
Slide from Official Slideshow

Why not wait until the centrally located Fire and EMS building is complete to implement this program, and in the meantime, simply allow the volunteers to respond with Engine 93 out of the Township campus?

Stipend

Let me first remind my readers that Upper Providence Township currently has a “stipend” program.  This program, called the “Volunteer Incentive Program” or VIP, pays an annual amount to each responding volunteer firefighter based on the number of calls and number of firefighters that responded within the Township on an annual basis.

roy
You’re gonna pay me to do what?

The Township awards an annual lump sum to each of our first responding fire companies, and it is up to each of the individual companies to determine how that money gets distributed to their members.  To my knowledge, Upper Providence is the only Township in the area that has this program.

So what is this new “stipend” program?”  Good question.  When Barker sought clarification on this question at the last meeting, he was quickly shut down by Calci with the admonition to not get “too deep in the weeds” on this policy point.  There is no mention of a stipend in the March Slideshow.  For details, please stick around after Quizzo.

Qualifications of Fire Fighters

The Requirement for Blackrock firefighters to meet township standards was included in the March Slideshow but is missing from the Official Slideshow.

FF quals
Slide from March Slide Show

This issue was also addressed in the March 23 email discussing the slide edits, where it was suggested that Firefighter qualifications be defined.  Why was this discussion omitted?  I can think of several reasons, all plausible, but none of them transparent.

  1. Has the Township decided to forgo requiring BRVFC members to meet certain Township standards?
  2. Was the slide omitted to avoid questions as to what constitutes a qualified fire fighter and how many qualified fire fighters BRVFC has?

Bortnichak’s email discusses including standards and a definition of what a “qualified fire fighter is,” but these discussion points never made it into the Official Slide Presentation.

By the way…

When the BRVFC chief told me that it no longer seemed as if BRVFC had an equal seat at the table in the fall of 2016, I was honest with him:  they did not.  The Township needed to take the lead.  This may be the source of their animosity towards me; I’m not sure and I will probably never know.

But speaking of animosity:  as an aside, I noted that the latest BRVFC Fundraiser Flyer mailed into homes this week makes reference to “recent blog posts by certain individuals mistakenly stated that Black Rock has significant cash and does not need additional UPT funding.”  Setting aside the rather unprofessional nature of this statement, if there is another blogger that is covering Upper Providence Township, please contact me, as I am happy to pool resources.

Please note:  This blog has never made any representations about BRVFC’s reserves.  If BRVFC’s reserves are mentioned at all on this blog, it is only through linking statements by BRVFC’s members themselves, either via their newsletter or through Facebook.  It has also never been stated on this blog that BRVFC does not need additional UPT funding; on the contrary, if you have received a fund drive mailer from BRVFC, I encourage you to donate.

This blog has, however, on numerous occasions, wondered aloud why the Democrats campaigned against and misrepresented the Township’s new fire funding formula, but then, once elected, did not restore the funding during the 30-day period in which they could re-open the budget.  This blog has further pondered why members of BRVFC have thus far neglected to hold the Democrats accountable for this slight. Indeed, the funding formula change is glossed over as “forecasting a reduction in 2018 income” on the BRVFC fundraising flyer.  I can only assume that it is far more politically expedient (and less awkward on Quizzo night) to blame “recent blog posts by certain individuals” than to bite the hand that puts you back on equal footing in determining Township fire policy.  I get it.

1MailersideA
100% drop in interest in this issue since taking office

“Objective Recommendation of Staff…?” 

As Vagnozzi has repeatedly and validly noted with regard to the Township’s provision of EMS services, the safety of the residents must take precedence over the interests of the organizations providing these services.  It would seem, based on the results of the RTK, that not only was the EMS portion of the April 4 public presentation altered from Staff’s original presentation, but the fire services portion was altered by the Democrats as well.

adam12
We’re investigating a complaint on improper use of the word “objective.”

Chairman John Pearson and “his girls” want to avoid responsibility for the new Fire and EMS policy by calling it an “objective recommendation of Staff.”  I think it is safe to say that the public presentation of April 4 was changed significantly enough that it cannot be legitimately be called objective or be attributed to Staff.  This plan is the Democrats’ plan for providing Fire and EMS services to the Township.  Staff’s fingerprints on that April 4 presentation are barely visible.

Parting thoughts:

Should the Township be able to determine the needs of their residents and therefore be permitted to dictate the best way to provide for the safety of its residents?

Or should elected officials defer to their bar buddies to hammer out FEMS policy over beers after Quizzo the service providers to tell the Township the level of service they are willing to provide?

Which option do you think will keep us safer?

 

UPT Board Meeting Notes 4/16/18 Episode 6: EMERGENCY!

I arrived at the 4/16 Township meeting a couple minutes late on purpose: I specifically wanted to avoid John Pearson’s tedious recitation of his handpicked passage from Chicken Soup for the SoulCrowd outside Meeting 1While I thankfully missed Pearson’s pocket sermon, unfortunately, the meeting room and the reception area outside the meeting room were absolutely packed.  I couldn’t get into the meeting room, so I missed the promotion and awards ceremonies. I was finally able to find a seat in the room after those ceremonies were over and some of the people cleared out.

It should be noted that PA Municipal Code states that the Board of Supervisors cannot hold a meeting if all those wishing to attend are denied access to the meeting.  It is a sunshine law violation.  I can only assume that everyone who wanted to attend the 4/16 meeting stuck around till the hall cleared out and did eventually attend.

Crowd inside meetingAnd, just to note, this is the second time in their first four months in office that the current meeting facilities were proven inadequate to serving the public.

As usual, no embedding is permitted, so the meeting can be found HERE.

We’re going to take things a little out of order and get to the heart of the meeting, which was the passage of two resolutions regarding the future of Fire and Emergency Services in Upper Providence Township.  The rest of the meeting’s business is summarized at the end of the post.  This meeting clocks in at 1:45, so it was yet another marathon session for your humble blogress at the keyboard.

Fire Ordinance

coveryourbuttThe Agenda only contained line items approving two Ordinances, one for Fire and one for EMS, but no elaboration of what those ordinances actually contained, which were a rather lengthy outline of various milestones the Township intends to meet for the provision of Fire and EMS services.  Pearson seemed to want to gloss over these ordinances (“You’ve all seen this…”) and get them passed with no discussion, which Vagnozzi thwarted, insisting on presenting a summary on the reasons the Township was proposing to implement more full-time staff, build on a combined volunteer/career fire service and construct a centralized fire and EMS facility.

Evan Brandt, of the Pottstown Mercury, does a great job on his own blog with the recitation of these milestones.  The Fire Ordinance Milestones are as follows:

A. Phase 1 Milestones: – (0 – 6 months):

  1. Form a joint Township – Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company steering committee to address the integration of career and volunteer firefighters who shall operate as one combination fire department.
  2. Identify space at the Oaks Station and relocate daytime career staff to the Oaks station.
  3. Consider supporting a volunteer stipend program or volunteer live-in program to bolster the volunteer response.

B. Phase 2 Milestones: – (6 – 36 months) 

  1. On or before October 1, 2018 finalize the design, bid specifications and cost scope for a new emergency services facility.
  2. Transition career firefighter/EMTs to twelve-hour shifts (6:00am to 6:00pm) seven days per week beginning January 1, 2019
  3. Fund the hiring of two full-time career firefighter/EMTs and the transition of existing career firefighters to 12-hour shifts as part of the 2019 budget.
  4. On or before January 1, 2019 advertise and award bids for a new emergency services facility. April 16, 2018 BOS Meeting Page 148 of 162
  5. Relocate career firefighters to the new emergency services facility upon completion of the facility which shall act as the main hub of fire service delivery to Upper Providence Township.
  6. Develop a plan for the disposition of the Mont Clare Fire Station and support Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company in evaluating and making needed upgrades to the Oaks Fire Station.

C. Phase 3 Milestones: – (3 – 5 years)

  1. Consider forming a committee of elected and appointed officials from Upper Providence Township, Trappe, Collegeville and Royersford Boroughs to explore ways to improve cost efficiencies and to develop a regional solution for providing fire services.
  2. Seek regional grant support and professional consulting assistance from Harrisburg to help forge a realistic, regional fire services blueprint by 2025.
  3. Explore the formation of a Council of Governments to maintain a regular dialogue among area elected officials, not only on fire-related issues but all areas of municipal service.

Though the ordinance passed unanimously, there was some discussion over costs and the particulars of the prescribed milestones.

Most of this discussion centered around the re-location of the Township’s engine 93 and the daytime township staff from their centralized location at the BlackRock campus to the Oaks Firehouse on Greentree Road and the implementation of a stipend plan.

Heartburn
Don’t worry.  You are going to get paid, Johnny.

What’s interesting about this discussion is that there does not seem to have been any thought regarding the mechanics of how all this will work, except amongst the Democrats on the Board.  Barker questioned how the stipend program will be controlled, with specifics on how volunteers will get paid, and how many volunteers will get paid.  Calci interrupted with the admonishment not to get “too deep in the weeds” right now, while Pearson assured everyone that the volunteers who get paid the stipend will be “qualified.”

And while no specifics were offered, the Democrats’ collective reaction indicates that plan, at least in concept, was dictated by them.  Perhaps details on how the volunteers will be paid will be hashed out in the coming weeks after Quizzo at the Fitz.  Or maybe at that private meeting in the side office, that took place immediately after the Board meeting, between Pearson and the Kaspers.

So is this the right place to mention that the difference in funding for Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company is $138, 676 between the old fire funding formula and the new one passed last May that the Democrats politicized with this mailer? 1MailersideA

I think it is, especially since there has been nothing but silence from the Democrats regarding restoring that funding.  As detailed below, the difference between the ambulance option and the medic responder option—conservatively—is $87,000.  Yet surprisingly, this Board, who made such a business of the change in fire funding, has made no attempt to restore that funding. Indeed, they are proposing to spend over ONE AND A HALF TIMES MORE THAN THE DIFFERENCE on their preferred, vastly more expensive medic responder option for EMS alone.  Of course, they are also now proposing to actually pay the volunteers a stipend, so maybe the fire funding formula wasn’t the critical public safety issue we were led to believe it was last fall.

The Township has already proposed (but not approved) an approximate $207,000 increase in fire funding to take the township career staff to 12 hour shifts, seven days a week, a plan which will be implemented with the 2019 budget.

EMS Ordinance

I’ll defer to Evan Brandt’s blog once again to outline the particulars of the ordinance since Pearson didn’t want to go over it in the meeting.

A. Phase 1 Milestones: 

  1. On or before June 1, 2018 prepare and circulate a competitive request for proposal (RFP) for staffing an ALS medic responder twenty-four (24) hours per day, seven (7) days per week.
  2. On or before August 1, 2018, present for the Board of Supervisors’ consideration a written agreement with the contracted agency.
  3. On or before August 15, 2018, and in compliance with Commonwealth bidding laws, procure and upfit a vehicle to provide an ALS medic responder capability for use by the contracted agency utilizing proceeds from the DOW grant.
  4. On or before September 15, 2018 formally deploy the ALS medic responder at an interim, centralized location within the Township.
B. Phase 2 Milestones: 
  1. On or before October 1, 2018 finalize the design, bid specifications and cost scope for a new emergency services facility, which will include a dual design for a future full-service ALS ambulance.
  2. In preparing the 2019 operating and capital budget, increase the EMS portion of the public safety levy to fund the ALS medic responder.
  3. On or before January 1, 2019 advertise and award bids for a new emergency services facility.
  4. Maintain current QRS capability through January 1, 2019 and expand QRS capability after January 1, 2019 to coincide with expanded firefighter/EMT shifts.
  5. Relocate the ALS medic responder to the new emergency services facility upon its completion.
  6. Annually evaluate EMS call volume and response statistics beginning in February of 2019 for the prior year to determine when it may be appropriate to deploy an ALS ambulance.
C. Phase 3 Milestones: – Over the next 3-5 years and before deploying an ALS ambulance:
  1. Consider forming a committee of elected and appointed officials from Upper Providence Township, Trappe, Collegeville and Royersford Boroughs to explore ways to improve cost efficiencies and to develop a regional solution for providing emergency medical services.
  2. Seek regional grant support and professional consulting assistance from Harrisburg to help forge a realistic, regional EMS blueprint by 2025.
  3. Explore the formation of a Council of Governments to maintain a regular dialogue among area elected officials, not only on EMS-related issues but all areas of municipal service.

Predictably, there was quite a bit more discussion on this ordinance, as the Ambulance/Medic Responder decision is the most contentious issue in front of the Board—at least this week.

johnnyandroy
State of the Art

Barker led off the discussion, noting that the Medic Responder option seems to be an old process that was popular in the 1980’s.  Barker states that he made some calls to Montgomery County and that there is no one in the County that uses this old format anymore.  This model was abandoned because so many people became paramedics.

Pearson jumps in, insisting that they didn’t do away with the Medic Responder model and that there are other facilities that use it, but he doesn’t know which ones they are.  Floundering in deep water, he then throws it immediately to Josh Overholt, Director of Upper Providence Fire and EMS, to rescue him.

Overholt responds with a bit of background on the Medic Responder model, stating that they were originally provided by hospitals.  Overholt then elaborates:

There were some concerns that putting an ambulance here may actually take calls from some of the agencies and we could ultimately hurt those agencies.  So where it is an older model, it kind of fits what we’re looking to do if that’s still a concern.

Bad idea
Trying to remember where there are existing medic responder units….

Overholt, notably, does not offer the names of any municipalities within Montgomery County where this model is in use, but his answer is instructive in identifying the majority of the Board’s motivation for the Medic Responder.  Overholt further notes that the Medic Responder would address response times but it is not transport capable.  Who will actually be staffing this unit, be it EMTs or Paramedics, will be determined when the responses to the RFP are returned.

Barker then asks, if the transport capable ambulance is the only one capable of billing for services, what would be the incentive for an EMS provider to bid to staff the Medic Responder in Upper Providence, since the medic responder will not be able to bill?

The answer is that the taxpayers of Upper Providence will pay.  It will be a Township expense, to the tune of $250,000 per year.

At 108:15, Vagnozzi has “a couple of comments:”

My largest concern is cost—and just to make sure nobody tosses it back in my face that human life should not have a cost, my point is, I agree with that, but when there is a cheaper alternative that is every bit or more effective, then the proposal cost does come into play.

Vagnozzi reiterates that the Medic Responder will cost the township $250,000 per year and he sole source of revenue for that operation will be from Upper Providence Township taxpayers. Citing the PA State ALS equipment checklist, Vagnozzi notes that the estimate for the vehicle is, by his calculation, probably in excess of $100,000 and that the proposed Medic Responder unit is, equipment-wise, essentially “an ambulance without a stretcher.”  He notes the dichotomy of the Democrats’ resistance to purchasing the ambulance, but their willingness to purchase a Medical Responder unit.

These numbers don't add up
These numbers don’t add up, Dixie.

Vagnozzi also says he disagrees with the figures presented at the April 4 meeting and that the budgeted numbers are short about $100,000 in donations and subscriptions. Additionally, the quote for the operating costs of the ambulance are overestimated by about $65,000 per year.

Vagnozzi states that there seems to be agreement on the Board that in a few years the Township will be going with an ambulance, so why wait?  Why purchase a vehicle we will need to replace before it outlives its useful life?

Pearson then insists that he’s not going to jeopardize the outside services to Trappe, Royersford “or wherever else these guys go,” and “that’s the reason we’re doing it this way.  One of the reasons we’re doing it this way.”  Mr. Transparency, clearly wanting to get out of this discussion of life and death matters in the Township, says:

And Al, we’ve beat this thing up to death, some of the same people are in the audience here.  You’ve gone over this a million bazillion times, I understand your angst about all of this…uhhhh, can you kinda wrap it up a little bit?

chips
This is a pretty groovy piece of equipment, Jon.

This lays the groundwork for the heart of the disagreement.  While Vagnozzi continues to insist he agrees with everything on the resolution but the medic response unit, he acknowledges the Democrats’ concerns about a new Upper Providence ambulance service affecting the existing squads.

Vagnozzi says each squad must operate their business efficiently and that,

There is no doubt in my mind that Upper Providence is subsidizing EMS delivery to Phoenixville and some other towns around here.

If the squads aren’t making money, they need to go to the municipalities they serve and ask for money.  Vagnozzi states baldly that the Democrats are putting the health and well being of the squads over and above that of our residents.

idontthinkso
I’m not sure you understand your responsibilities here.

Pearson counters with his argument that if we jeopardize the soundness of the other squads we are jeopardizing the well-being of the community and he’s not going to tell any of the squads how to run their businesses.

Pausing here for a time out, but excuse me, Mr. Pearson:  Then why are the squads dictating to you how you do Township business?  The mandate of the Board is to provide health and safety to our residents.  If the squads’ manner of doing business is the only thing that prevents the Board from doing that in the best, most cost-efficient manner, then the squads need to adjust to the changing times, not lobby the Board to maintain the status quo.

It’s at this point at 1:17:00 in that Calci interrupts with, “I have something to say,” and Calci Prepared Notesproceeds to read from prepared notes.  Higgins reads a prepared statement immediately thereafter, but before I quote these statements in their entirety (and offer my thoughts on each) it should be noted that once again, there was no executive session to report, yet both Higgins and Calci (or Pearson’s “girls,” as he likes to call them) take the unprecedented step of preparing what are essentially “signing statements” to justify their votes.  This is just one of many moments that looks like a choreographed performance by this board.  Sunshine laws prohibit a quorum of the board meeting in a non-public session, and there are too many of these moments of complete synchronicity amongst the Democrats to ignore.

Calci’s prepared statement:

After an exhaustive 360 degree look at fire and EMS, the staff including Tim Tieperman, Bryan Bortnichak, and Josh Overholt, came up with a comprehensive presentation for the residents and supervisors of Upper Providence Township.  They spoke with subject matter experts from within out Township, such as Oaks Fire Station President Joe LoCasale and the various EMS agencies that serve the area.  They collaborated with experts outside of our township, such as Cheltenham Township and Montgomery County, even reaching up to the state level to make sure what they were representing and bringing to us was on track and made sense for our situation.  These discussions helped formulate forward thinking solutions for the increasing emergency services needs for our residents.  A matrix was created scoring the various solutions.  The dashboard scoring points us to the best recommendation for the Township, which I am voting in favor of.  As conditions change, such as an increase in call volume, enough to support an additional ambulance, we will re-evaluate the fire and EMS situation.  I want to take this moment and thank the many people who worked hard in order to provide me with the information to vote on this resolution.  We are fortunate to have such competent staff.

A few thoughts on Calci’s statement.

First, the appeal to authority, while a nice try, isn’t going to work.  Neither Cheltenham, Montgomery County nor Harrisburg knows how best to run Fire and EMS in Upper Providence Township.  That is what YOU were elected to do.

Second, the laying off of responsibility for this plan on to staff is also lame, especially in light of Vagnozzi’s viable claim that staff was bullied into this recommendation.  Backing up Vagnozzi’s assertion is the fact that the Medic Responder option is an option that was never explored, or considered, until literally 12 days prior to this meeting when it was rolled out as part of the special Fire and EMS meeting.  In January, the Democrats were crying that they needed more time to study this issue because they had only been in office for 35 days, then at the April 4 meeting, they had ZERO questions about this brand new, never-before-proposed option.  While they all continue to insist that this is “staff’s” presentation, in the face of the facts on the ground, this statement simply defies credibility.  This is the Democrats’ option.  Why won’t they own it?

Third, let’s talk about that scoring matrix.

8h AltScoring

Cost:  I am not sure why the ambulance is getting only a 2 score here, since the Township has to choose between two options; it does not get to choose “none of the above,” which presumably would be the option that would earn a 3. Therefore, the comparison between cost options is only between the two options and one is clearly much better than the other.  The medic responder, by ALL accounts, is the more expensive option; the costs never go down, and they are not offset by Ambulance company billing or subscriptions.  Why isn’t the Ambulance getting a 3, since it is actually much more cost effective?

we aren't buying it
Ready to respond with uptime availability

Response Times and Crew Uptime Availability:  Why are these two separate line items on the matrix?  I am not sure what metrics went into these two line items or for that matter, what differentiates them, so I filed a Right to Know request with the Township last week to get that information.  To my mind, they should be one line item, but hopefully the results of the RTK will clarify these line items on the matrix.

Impact on Regional Providers:  This line item is the primary reason the Democrats have cited for being against the implementation of an ambulance, but the actual data to back up this impact has been anecdotal at best.  I also filed a Right to Know request for the information that went into scoring this particular data point.

Exclusively Serves UPT:  I think we settled this one during the last meeting and, interestingly, this point wasn’t even brought up at all in the discussion on 4/16—almost as if the Democrats were told, yes, a medic responder WILL indeed leave the Township boundaries, if necessary.  As an aside, it’s awfully ironic that for all of this concern for the community at large, the Democrats don’t seem all that anxious to share this newly-established resource with our neighbors.

Higgins prepared notesQuality of Service to Residents:  Isn’t this really the only metric that should matter?  Doesn’t this one line item factor in all of the other data points?  It’s almost as if the matrix was specifically designed to give them cover.

At 1:18:51, Higgins reads her “signing statement:”

My comment is, I am voting for the ALS responder unit for all of the reasons I’ve stated in the past.  We’re not an island unto ourselves; we have to work together with our neighbors.  We have to work regionally, such as a council of governments of C.O.G.  We are highly dependent on the other agencies whether or not we get our own ambulance or have an ALS.  When our unit is busy or needs more help, we need the other agencies to back us up.  All units get called out to other calls all the time and there’s no guaranty that any specific unit will be at any specific spot at any specific time.  Because we’re dependent upon the other agencies, we don’t need to negatively impact them financially.  The Hippocratic Oath says, ‘First do no harm.’ Response times was given as the single most important issue. The ALS Medic Responder answers this problem while providing advanced life support just like an ambulance would while not offering transports which means it does not impact the other agencies in a negative way.  Finally, my guiding principle is to do what’s best for the Township as a whole, not just for one person, or one neighborhood or one business or one agency.  I look at the whole picture and try to pick the solution that helps the most people, hurts the fewest people while benefitting the community as a whole.

Oh, serving everyone and not individuals or neighbors.  Kind of like that Farm Preservation a few weeks back.

Vagnozzi’s response to this was,

I am shocked and dismayed. I didn’t need anything pre-written to read to the audience.  There is no doubt in my mind….that our staff was bullied by some members on this Board to produce a matrix that was favorable to the Medic Response Unit.

It’s at this point in the video that Calci can be heard whispering something unintelligible to Pearson, to which Pearson responds, “Not yet.”

To answer the earlier appeal to Cheltenham’s expertise, Barker asks if Cheltenham Township uses a medic responder.  When staff answers no, Barker continues:

Nowhere in Montgomery County is a medic responder unit used.  It is used in rural areas where there are not enough paramedics to man an ambulance and they use a medic responder to cover two or three different townships, maybe even a whole county.  There’s nobody that uses this model anymore.

By now, Pearson is visibly shaking his head and working up a self-righteous anger, kind of like Hulk Hogan when he was coming out of an Andre the Giant sleeper hold.  But instead of providing his own “signing statement” or some sort of rationale for his vote, Pearson instead launches into this:

The Times Herald on Friday, April 13, there was an egregious attack on this Board and our Township staff by one of our own Board members in regards to this fire and emergency services issue.  I spent my weekend contemplating just how to respond to this attack about the lies and accusations by this individual.  I chose to take the high road and not respond.  I’ll let the actions of this Board speak loud and clear to everybody up here.  It is our intention to serve the residents of this township with fidelity.  If you don’t know what that word means, look it up.  Fidelity.

While I nearly burst out laughing at John Pearson’s moralizing on the meaning of “fidelity” (a word I’m sure he looked up himself when he got the script for the promotion of Det. Sgt. Pat Haines earlier in the evening), I was also vividly reminded of Mike Vereb’s bout of righteous indignation in front of the Board several years ago, after I wrote a letter to the paper calling him out on his shenanigans. The Township was witness to similar huffing and puffing and all the attendant political theater that’s baked into the cake of a Mike Vereb visit.  It’s clear that Pearson has learned from his master well.  The only thing that was missing were the  “Hear! Hear’s!” of political sock puppets Chris Czop, Jim White and Pearson himself.

The letter in question is here:

VagnozziLTE

Now just a moment to address Pearson’s little diatribe: By reacting in such a way, he has chosen to react; this is not “taking the high road,” nor is it “not reacting.”  The fact that he spent the weekend chewing over how to respond to this letter, rather than contemplating the impact of the vote he was about to make, speaks volumes about his priorities and decision making process.

facepalmPearson’s style is to have everyone go along to get along up on the dias, after hashing things out in the backroom.  On more than one occasion, he has whined about Vagnozzi arguing points in a meeting that he insisted were settled before the meeting.  “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to do this,” is a now familiar Pearson trope.

Pearson and “his girls” are desperately trying to distance themselves as the architects of the Medic Responder reccommendation and attempting to shift the responsibility for this decision on staff.  They are trying, unsuccessfully, I think, to promote an appeal-to-authority narrative that they are doing this because staff said to do this.   Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog?

Is this the transparency you voted for?

Anyway, unsurprisingly, the vote came down 3-2 in favor along party lines. The Democrats now own this.

Promotions and Life Saving Awards

As mentioned earlier, the room was packed because many folks came to see the Township recognize some extraordinary individuals.

First, Detective Pay Haines was promoted to Detective Sergeant in the police department.  Sgt Haines has served Upper Providence since 1998 and, I can say from first hand experience, that his promotion is well deserved.  Congratulations Detective Sergeant Haines!

Lifesaving1Josh Overholt then took the floor and recognized the life-saving efforts of bystanders and first responders in saving the lives of two people who were stricken by sudden cardiac arrest.  Maeve Quinn is fifteen years old and was stricken while playing softball at Pope John Paull II High School.  The quick work of her coaches in the use of an AED and CPR saved her life while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance.

livesaving2Joe Gold was stricken on the job and was saved by a co-worker and a 911 operator who gave him instructions on CPR while awaiting the arrival of the ambulance.

Planning and Zoning Report

Since the Board doesn’t bother attending Planning and Zoning meetings any more (though I am pretty sure Barker still goes pretty regularly) Township Planner Geoff Grace is tasked with staying until the end of the meeting to give the Board a report.

  • Marchetti at 229 Blackrock Road is looking for a minor subdivision
  • Pulte at 1701 West Main Street is looking to change zoning from NC to R3 and put in Townhouses.
  • Future of Lidl site is undetermined at this point
  • DiVini Equities are coming in with a plan for a daycare and dental office at Route 29 in front of Patient First.
  • The Board approved the publishing of a preliminary opinion by the Township planner on the use a for the Institutional overlay parcel behind the Meadows for Providence Business Park III.  The Township Solicitor Joe Bresnan, explained that this is a safeguard for developers, which has the Township issue an opinion stating that the proposed development is generally compliant with the zoning.  It forces any challenges to the development up front, as opposed to after much time and effort has been expended by the developer.  The use proposed is for a private re-hab center.
  • On the next Planning Commission agenda May 3:
    • SEI variances
    • Wawa trash enclosure
    • Temporary signage at 429 Lewis Road.

Other business

  • The Board approved an application for a $20,000 matching grant with Greater Valley Forge Transportation Management to conduct multi-phased a transportation demand Management study.
  • The Board adopted the Montgomery County Hazard Mitigation Plan which will enable the Township to receive federal funds to address properties impacted by hazards.
  • The Board approved a stormwater conveyance and construction easement for the Founder’s Reserve development project on Valley View Drive
  • The Board approved a $31,585.63 change order to mill and overlay the Pavillion parking lot at the Black Rock campus.paving
  • The Board awarded paving contracts for six roads in the Township.
  • The Board announced Drug Takeback Day between 10 am and 2pm on April 28, 2018.  Unwanted prescription drugs can be dropped off at the police administration building during that time,

UPT Board Meeting Notes Episode 5: Special Fire & Emergency Services Meeting

I attended the April 4 special meeting in person, but even so, there were things I missed, or comments I did not note at the beginning of the meeting that had special relevance to the overall presentation and the conclusions about that presentation, so rewatching it online was instructive.  If you haven’t watched, and you live in Upper Providence and you want to keep on living, I highly recommend you educate yourself on this topic as decisions are going to be made on this issue on Monday.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been pretty vocal in my assertions that the newly elected Democrats shamelessly lied and politicized Fire and Emergency services during their campaign to get elected and in doing so, did a great disservice to the residents of this Township.  For those of you who may be wondering if this meeting has changed my mind on the competency or integrity of the Democrats decision making process on providing public safety services to the Township, it has not.  In fact, this meeting only solidified my opinion of these Board members as short-sighted, lacking in vision, and timid in their committment to do what is best for the residents of this Township.

During my term as Township Supervisor, I spent countless hours devoted to the issue of providing Fire and Emergency services to the Township, and as such, I have definite opinions on how such services should be provided.  As detailed in an earlier post, the previous Board had adopted a way forward on the provision of Fire and EMS services in March of 2017 via an objective, Township staff-prepared confidential fifteen-page white paper that included findings of fact and recommendations.  Based on the information presented in that memo, the previous Board decided to order an ambulance and conducted interviews with the three township EMS service providers to determine which company would staff the ambulance.  The contract was not awarded because of the election results.

At the 2/5/18 meeting, the newly elected Democrats refused to move forward with this plan, cancelling the purchase of the ambulance and whining that they had only been in office for 35 days and therefore needed another 60 days to “study” this issue.

Apparently, “study” does not mean read the 15 page staff white paper or any of the body of work produced under the previous Board or watch any of the meetings on this issue.

One of the presentation’s first slides asks the question, “Why are we here?”  I have a slightly different answer to that question than the one provided by Township Manager Tim Tieperman and it comes later on in this post.  Be warned, this post is a long one, to give this important topic the attention it deserves.

As usual, embedding is not permitted, so the video can be found HERE.

The Challenges

What follows is an abbreviated version of the publicly presented slide show at the 4/4/18 meeting.  This is a summary only, and again, if you live in Upper Providence Township and you care about your life and your property, you really should watch the meeting in it’s entirety.

1 BuckStopsHere

Tieperman started off the presentation by reminding everyone in the room whose responsibility this is.

2 Fire Challenges

Because of the odd shape of the Township, the geographical challenges are the same for Fire and EMS services.  The following map (which is not from the slide presentation) illustrates how a centrally located Fire and EMS facility will provide better coverage to the interior of the Township, an area which has experienced the most recent growth in population.

2b Centralized EMS

Demographics and geography are factors affecting Fire response times.

2c Response times

Moving on to EMS challenges:

3 EMS Challenges

Geography and call zones impact response times for EMS service, which, it should be noted, are within acceptable parameters according to the State:

3a EMS Response TImes

The Goals

The Township Staff recommended measurable goals for the provision of Fire and EMS responses.

4 Goals

Staff’s policy recommendations for achieving these goals:

5 FirePolicy1

6 FirePolicy2

The addition of personnel and hours that the paid crew will operate the Township’s Engine 93 was further analyzed on the following slides.

6a FirePolicy2aStaffing

6b FirePolicy2bStaffingBudgetA little elaboration is called for at this point.  I agree wholeheartedly with this recommendation, and I presume that the Board does as well, but it should be noted that this proposal is calling for a $206,841 increase in the township’s fire protection budget and the hiring of two additional staff members to accomodate the additional hours.

The four volunteer fire companies (Black Rock, Trappe, Royersford and Collegeville) and the three EMS squads (Friendship, Trappe and Lower Providence) who provide first due service to Upper Providence are funded collectively in the amount of $290,000 per year.  Up until two years ago, none of that funding pool was being distributed to our EMS squads.  And only last year, the Board adopted a new fire funding formula, which reallocated that funding to more fairly compensate the service providers according to their level of service.  The details of that funding formula can be found HERE.

Point being, the level of service that we have been receiving from the volunteers has been declining (as evidenced by the need to provide 12 hour/7day a week paid fire staffing), but the township funding level of those services has remained constant for decades.  This is not an indictment of any of the volunteer fire companies, simply a fact, and one that is not unique to Upper Providence. As Tieperman notes in detail at the beginning of the presentation, volunteerism is way down all across the Commonwealth and municipalities are struggling with the fiscal ramifications of providing fire protection without volunteers.

At the 58:27 mark in the question and answer section at the end of the presentation, resident, (and Montgomery Township firefighter) Frank Colleli raises an excellent point about how the future plans for the centralized fire station will affect the Township’s funding levels for the volunteer companies.  Currently, Upper Providence supports four first due companies which are funded by the Township because of their first due status; Colleli’s question notes that the centralized station would make the Township first due at many locations throughout the Township and our volunteer companies would go from first due status to mutual aid.  As Colleli correctly notes, we spend a lot of money on the volunteer companies, and other Townships, like neighboring Limerick, do not financially support companies like Trappe, a company who is often responding to calls within that Township under mutual aid.

For now, the Board has no plans to adjust the current funding formula, a point Assistant Township Manager Bryan Bortnichak reiterated at the end of his response to Mr. Colleli’s question.

At this juncture in the post, I’m simply going to remind my readers of the following representations made by the Democrats during the campaign last fall.

1MailersideA

Moving on.

7 FirePolicy3

This is another recommendation I agree is necessary, but I want to pause here and note that in order to build this necessary facility, the Administration facility had to be built first, so a lot of the Democrats’ demagoguery surrounding the new Township Administration Building is, again, short sighted and lacking in vision.  As mentioned previously, the Black Rock Campus improvements were outlined in the Township’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan Update starting on Page 29 which was approved by John Pearson, Phil Barker and Bob Fieo.

The cost for a centralized Fire and EMS facility, which is contemplated to be built across the street from the Police and Administration buildings, is estimated between $3.2 million and $4.0 million according to Bortnichak.

I should also note that a mere 90 days into their term, the new Board has already held a meeting that necessitated a much larger venue than is currently available through existing Township facilities, even if the old meeting hall was still usable.  When I mentioned to Pearson after the meeting that it was too bad that the new Administration facility wasn’t done yet, he chuckled first, then snapped, “I still think it’s too big.”  Oh really?  Based on what?  Our shrinking population?  Again: short sighted.

8 FirePolicy4

I’m going to skip policy recommendation #4 for right now and come back to it at the end of the post, since it is the main reason for the meeting and there is a lot—quite a lot–to unpack on this subject.

9 Budget analysis

Staff’s proposals would result in an 18.8% increase over the Township’s current FEMS budget and greatly improve public safety in the Township.

11 PSLevy

For all of those who got the Democrats campaign mailer above and were wondering, “Where did that money go?” Here is the answer to that question.  This levy was implemented because the prior Board knew that the costs for providing Fire and EMS services were going to increase, and increase quickly.  As you can see, the levy does not even cover the entire current fire budget, and it only offsets a portion of the police budget, which is approximately $6 million per year.  Of course, now that the Democrats know where that money went, do you think they will apologize for lying to the public about it?

11a PSLevyPrp

11b PSLevyBrkdn

Staff is proposing to change the allocation of this money to more adequately support the areas that most need the dollars to support them.

14 UPTTax

And we are the seventh lowest in Montgomery County overall.

Long Range FEMS Plan

After noting what has already been accomplished on this issue, Tieperman presented the following milestones:

12 MilestonesP112a Milestone12b Milestones12c Milestones12d Milestone12e Milestones13 LTStrat13a LTStrat13b LTStrat

Why are we here?

For this:

8 FirePolicy4

Here’s the real reason why this meeting was necessary.

As readers may recall, since I reminded you all of it at the beginning of this post, there was a great hue and cry over having to make a decision on this issue after “only being in office for 35 days!”  The newly elected Democrats insisted that they needed an additional 60 days for “further study” on this issue.  The result of that “study” was this meeting.

The Township proposed two options for meeting the EMS needs of the township, outlined in the following slides  Alternative 1 is the full service Ambulance Option:

8b Alt1b

8c Alt1c

As a point of full disclosure, these two cons were also sticking points for me during the ambulance evaluation process.  At about 55:15 in the meeting, Vagnozzi addresses these “cons” points with some statistics. He notes that there were 1,602 EMS calls in the Township last year and of that number, a full 25% were not responded to by the first due ambulance assigned.  Vagnozzi’s argument is that the only reason for this is because the “ambulance squads are busy,” and their response areas are kind of like a “jigsaw puzzle,” in that whoever is closest, responds. Additionally, he notes that the coverage area for the three squads assigned to Upper Providence is bigger than it appears on the map that was presented, which only looked at areas within the boundaries of Upper Providence.  These squads have first due responsibilities in other municipalities and take about 4,000 calls per year each.

At 1:19:40 Vagnozzi talks about the “tethering” of the ambulance or medic response unit to the township and states that in practical application, it will not happen.  He contends that a paramedic or EMT is going to go where he is needed, whether he is in an ambulance or a medic response unit.  Our fire companies and our police regularly respond to the call for mutual aid outside of our boundaries; it is folly to think that a medic responder won’t do the same.  He also elaborates on how these services are delivered, reiterating that the squads are “busy” but noting that this first due issue he brought up earlier is a “capacity” problem, and that a centrally located ambulance in Upper Providence will alleviate some of the capacity issues and allow all the squads to better serve their response areas.

Regarding mutual aid and the “tethering” of a medic responder to this Township, I have to agree with Vagnozzi on this unequivocally.  Upper Providence has no “home” ambulance; we therefore rely on the services of EMS providers who are located outside of our boundaries.  We also have only one “home” volunteer fire company, Black Rock, that covers approximately 55% of the Township, with the other 45% of the Township being covered by volunteer fire companies located in other municipalities.  Additionally, there are many other local fire and EMS companies with no first due responsibilities to this township who respond to emergencies here.  Having a medic responder resource that we are unwilling to “share” with our neighbors in the spirit of mutual aid not only seems short-sighted, but downright selfish and un-neighborly.

The Medic Responder unit alternative was discussed next.

8d Alt2a

8e Alt2b

8f Alt2c

8g Alt2d

Budgetary comparison, Year One Analysis:

8i AltBudget

The Year One analysis presented above is inclusive of the capital outlay for a vehicle, either an Ambulance or a Medic Responder unit.  The payroll would be for a contracted employee, therefore, there is no additional insurance expense or increase in Township staff levels (I asked).  Vagnozzi notes throughout the presentation that these numbers are not inclusive of subscriptions to the ambulance companies or corporate donations.

8j AltBudgetyrs2

After Year One, the operating costs of the ambulance decrease dramatically and will continue to decrease as housing comes on line and call volume increases.  Indeed, it is conceivable that within the next two to five years, the call volume will be so high that the Ambulance could be self-sustaining. On the other hand, the costs for the Medic Responder will never decrease, regardless of call volume.

8h AltScoring

The grid above is a handy visual, but I have a few problems with it as the categories are not weighted.  If the Board is following it’s mandate, the first three line items in this grid should be given more weighting than the other three, especially since line items 4 and 5 are in contention and Vagnozzi, with whom I have had my issues in the past over this very subject, makes compelling arguments on both of these points.

I would also take issue with rating the Ambulance option as a 2 for cost impact as opposed to a 3 since there were no subscriptions or corporate donations taken into account for the budgetary analysis and the costs for the ambulance decline year over year while the budgetary impact of the medic responder never decreases  With these items properly weighted and adjusted, the impact of either option is about equal.

…..And here’s where the politics comes in

At 1:25:00, Vagnozzi states flat out, “If we do a medic responder, we are failing this community.”  He then states that, “There are people on this Board who are caring more about the organizations that serve us than the community itself.”

Now as a little bit of inside baseball, in August 2017, Trappe, Friendship and Lower Providence ambulance squads all prepared and presented proposals, including budgets, for their respective companies to contract with Upper Providence and provide staffing for our Township-owned ambulance.  After the election, but before I left the Board, one of those squads (and I am not going to say which one), met exclusively with the newly elected Democrats before they were sworn in and gave them a completely different set of budgetary numbers than they presented to us in August.  Those numbers, which I have seen, show that if the Township awards them the contract, they will be negatively impacted and if the Township doesn’t award them the contract, they will be negatively impacted. In fact, the only option that will sustain their Organization is for the Township to do nothing.

I think the Democrats were perfectly happy doing nothing based solely on this limited information, until they got backed into a corner by the facts and Vagnozzi.  So the next best thing to doing nothing is to do as little as possible.

The diffference here is between supporting an expanded service versus an additional service.  Many people in Upper Providence already “subscribe” to an ambulance service and even more pay for healthcare insurance that covers ambulance service.  Implementing an ambulance service in Upper Providence would only require subsidizing the income of an existing ambulance organization to staff a centrally-located, Township-owned ambulance, with reducing costs year over year, until the service eventually pays for itself.

The costs of implementing a Medic Responder not only never decrease, but the Township is essentially asking the residents to double pay for this service in perpetuity.  If they need transport, the ambulance company will still bill their insurance company (or the patient directly) and their need for an ambulance subscription will not go away even though their tax dollars are supporting an additional service.

Resident Dr. Icenhower, apparently seeing that the majority of the Board is leaning towards the Medic Responder option, asks if this issue hasn’t been batted around enough and whether the Township going to get the best “bang for it’s buck” with this option.  At 1:31:59, Higgins responds that, “The Medic Responder Unit is the easiest way to go, in my opinion, at this point.”

Calci follows up those remarks at 1:32:34 with, “For right now, this is what we are looking at, till the next two years when we’ll build the central location for Fire and Emergency Services location.  At that point, when the numbers in the center of town maybe increase, then we can re-calibrate whether we are on the right track.  So I don’t want to say that we’ll never get an ambulance.  Maybe in two years it will make more sense to do that.”

At 1:33:27, resident Frank Colleli returns to the microphone and brings up the obvious budgetary point about the ambulance vs. the medic responder in years two and beyond.  He asks, “Isn’t there more cost benefit to the residents” by choosing the ambulance?

Pearson responds with a defensive, “If all you care about is dollars and cents,” and a snarky, “you’re entitled to your opinion,” which is becoming typical disrespectful treatment by Pearson of residents with whom he disagrees.  Funny how at the beginning of this meeting he was “still struggling with what most of these [EMS] terms mean,” and by the end, he’s the expert, lecturing a professional firefighter on EMS services.

Resident and Black Rock Fire Company member Steve Smith approaches and wants to know why the Board never considered putting an ambulance at Black Rock Fire Station, claiming it does not have to be centrally located.  To that, Calci responded, “We didn’t want to disrupt the applecart and pick an agency to fill the spot and disrupt the other circles that surround the Township.”

Predetermined Conclusions

The Democrats have a palpable aversion to the idea of buying a full service ambulance, as if buying equipment for emergency services is some ground breaking precedent (the Township buys equipment for Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company all the time).  But somehow, the idea of a purchasing limited use Medic Responder unit is not at all offensive.  I’d give real money to understand their objections here.

In the two solid years that the Board debated this issue, the idea of having a medic responder as an alternative to a full service ambulance was never proposed or considered.  Bearing in mind that it was a brand new idea, and remembering that the Democrats’ whole reason for the 60 day delay was to “get educated” on this issue, why weren’t there any questions on this service from Pearson, Higgins, or Calci?

Why was there only a vigorous defense of their pre-determined conclusion?  A conclusion which did not offer a solution to the problem, but instead, was about only what they would NOT do:  put a centrally located Ambulance in Upper Providence Township.

How much staff time and corresponding tax dollars were wasted in having staff generate yet another report when they just did this same analysis only a year ago?

It’s fun to sit on a dais and subject people to your little “tidbits of wisdom” and give away tax dollars to your friends and pass meaningless resolutions against Donald Trump, and maybe that’s all they thought this job was going to be.  And maybe some of you elected them to do just that.  But for a bunch of supposed liberals offering a “fresh perspective,” they sure are pretty closed-minded.  Despite all of the information they have been given, and all of the staff hours spent in service to this project, they had already decided what they were going to do on this issue way back in December.  They just needed 60 days to create a fact set to back up their politically derived conclusion.

Each Board member talked about doing what was “easy, ” or “quick.”  They talked about “revisiting” this issue at a later date, about this being the best solution for “right now,” or “at this point.”  About “not disrupting the applecart.” Calci herself talked about implementing the ambulance option in two years–which, if the Medic Responder unit is really the “best” option that Pearson says it is, why even talk about it as a temporary solution?  Shouldn’t the Medic Responder unit BE the long range solution?  Didn’t Pearson promise us a “comprehensive approach to Fire and Emergency Services and a plan that will take us into the future” at the very beginning of the meeting?

Instead, we are asked to believe that this short-sighted, limited-term option is the best solution for our residents.

Let’s be very clear about one thing:  The decision on how the Township will provide Fire and EMS services rests with the Board of Supervisors, and ONLY the Board of Supervisors.  They can try to generate “cover” for their decisions with their appeals to authority.  They can direct staff to come up with a nice dog and pony show for the public and they can ask staff to make a recommendation, and they can poll the county and talk to ambulance workers, but at the end of the day, it’s their decision how this matter is handled.  If a preventable tragedy occurs now that these deficiencies have been identified, and the Board’s response to that information is found to be inadequate, this is not on anyone but them.

The buck, after all, stops here.