UPT Board Meeting Notes 10/15/18 Episode 17: The Burning Ring of Fire

The October 15 meeting was truly noteworthy for several reasons. Pearson is jittery and nervous throughout the entire meeting, having trouble following the agenda, fumbling papers, losing his place. The reasons for this will soon become apparent.

Calci is not present for this meeting.

I don’t want to belabor the opening of this post with yet another snarky commentary about Pearson’s ridiculous opening “story,” but, believe it or not, this one is particularly relevant to the meeting. The story is called “The Post Turtle:”

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75 year old Texas rancher, whose hand was caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man.

Eventually the topic got around to politics and then they discussed some new guy who was far too big for his shoes as a politician.

The old rancher said, ‘Well, ya know, he is a post turtle’. Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle’ was.

The old rancher said, ‘When you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a ‘post turtle’.

The old rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he continued to explain. ‘You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place.’

Fear not, Gentle Reader: I’ll have some snarky comments about this story a bit later on in this post. For now, let’s dive in to the heart of this meeting.

John Pearson’s Ten Minutes of Hell

We’ll begin our examination of this meeting at the 12:48 mark. It is at this point that the Board is contemplating the appointment of representatives to the joint committee with Trappe Borough, tasked with exploring a regional solution for Fire and Emergency Services and moving the Trappe Fire Company into Upper Providence Township. This issue was discussed at length, and agreed to unanimously at the September 20 joint meeting with Trappe Borough, the fact of which Pearson needs to be repeatedly reminded over the next ten minutes. Recall as well, Pearson has already tabled this vote once, at the October 1 meeting, and now it appears that his two week reprieve is over. Pearson:

New Business. On n-new business this evening, we have…there are two items on tonight’s new business. One is to consider appointing Township representatives to serve on a joint Fire and EMS Services committee with representatives from Trappe Borough and the second one is to consider authorizing the appointment of representatives from Trappe Fire Company on the Emergency Services Facility Design Committee.

Pearson then takes a big breath, and reads from his prepared remarks, which translates to one, big, run-on sentence. The punctuation is mine, Gentle Reader, for ease of your comprehension:

I’m recommending that we table these two items, again, this evening, until we bring Mr. John Muir aboard, before we start making any decisions with Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company and then our regionalizing efforts with Trappe, regarding Fire and EMS, we need to re-read the several fire studies the township ordered and listen to what Mr. Muir has to offer, I welcome Mr. Muir’s expertise in guiding us through this process, I am not opposed to moving forward, I have very little knowledge in this area and have decided to walk cautiously through the process, this is a major endeavor and a costly one and I want to get it right the first time around and not second guess my decisions later on down the road, ummmmm, I am open to whatever comments the rest of this board would like to make on this, but my recommendation at this point in the game, is to table these two items.

Barker asks if Trappe Borough has not already established a committee.

ehhhh
Please table this. I’m begging you.

Tieperman responds that they have appointed three members, consisting of Trappe Borough Council President, Vice President, and Borough manager.

Vagnozzi reminds everyone that there was a joint public meeting with Trappe Borough, where everyone present—including Pearson—agreed that both municipalities would move forward with a regional, combined fire company, to wit: Appoint council, share costs, and appoint representatives from each municipality, and explore moving the Trappe Volunteer Fire Company into Upper Providence Township. (Details on that meeting can be found HERE).

Vagnozzi goes on:

“Their seven members and our five, there was nobody at that meeting that had an issue with it. All were generally in favor of it, pending working out the details. During the meeting, we all spoke about the need for regionalization and improving the fire services in the northern part of town. No deference to the Black Rock Fire Company, they are in the southern part of town and we have an 18 square mile township. Trappe Fire Company is in need of a new building, and we all decided that it would be in our best interests for both communities to explore improving the building, which would improve the fire service to our Township.”

Vagnozzi then states that at this point, all that is left to do is appoint counsel and appoint two members from the Board to represent Upper Providence. This is not entirely correct, since counsel, John Muir, was appointed at the 10/1 meeting, for which Vagnozzi was not present. The confusion on this is wholly understandable since John Pearson’s desperation to avoid taking a vote on this will continue to hinge on his appeal to Muir’s authority. Everyone has forgotten he has already been appointed; a fact which Bresnan clears up later in the meeting.

Vagnozzi concludes, “Again, everybody discussed, and everybody agreed, that this was a good direction to go into.”

Ladies and gentlemen: It’s time to tap dance.

I’m not, I’m not against this, Al. I’m, I’m, I’m not opposed to, to us, you know, doing this. I’m opposed to doing it right at this moment until we get a little bit more information. Uhhhh, uhhh, I’m not, as I said, I’m not an expertise in this field, I have very little knowledge, all I, all I know is what I’ve read in some of the fire reports that we, that we’ve requested over the years. Uhhhhmmm, I wanna, I want, I want to see where Mr. Muir can take us on this, uhhhhm, I, I, I’m looking forward to somebody GUIDING us through this thing, I, I, I don’t wanna, uhhhh…..ehhhm…ahhhh,.I wanna make sure that it’s right, I don’t want, I don’t wannnaaaaahh….”

Joe Bresnan steps in and mercifully calls a halt to Pearson’s stammering before he hurts himself. But before we move on with the rest of this meeting, I just have to say:

Sounds like bullshit
Hmmm….what does this sound like? Oh yes. It sounds like bullsh#t.

Come. On.

This performance and pathetic excuse making must challenge even the most generous of those Regular Readers, who have, up to this point, still been willing to suspend disbelief and give John Pearson the benefit of the doubt where Fire and Emergency Services are concerned.

That John Pearson has “very little knowledge” about Fire and Emergency Services is a given. He was, after all, willing to hand the entire operation over to his bar buddies at the Black Rock Fire Company.

This has all been meticulously documented through numerous posts throughout the year and the post detailing the findings of the RTK I filed at the end of July. When questioned about the documents contained in the RTK on September 4, both John Pearson, and his automatic “yes” vote, Helene Calci, immediately disavowed the policy they had been pushing through behind the scenes for several months. As a reminder, this policy, which first surfaced through emails in March of 2018—before any vote on Fire and EMS Services had been taken on this matter at a public meeting—contained the following documented points, many of which were either enacted or well underway to implementation:

  • The centrally located Township paid Engine 93 crew would cease to respond from the centrally located Township Municipal campus on Black Rock Road and instead be moved to the southeastern section of the Township, to BRVFC’s Oaks Firehouse.
  • The Township’s paid crew would be merged into BRVFC’s organization (Station 99), instead of vice-versa, i.e. become a volunteer organization that is supplemented by career staff.
  • BRVFC would have command at all scenes over the Township’s paid Fire Chief
  • The Township’s paid Fire Chief would get demoted to Fire Marshall and his call number would not be 99, but 68. He would also have no ultimate authority over Fire operations.
  • Mandates for equipment reductions were removed.
  • Training standards and minimum qualifications were removed.
  • A committee to redraw the “boxes,” the service areas for all of the responding fire companies, was formed with only Township and BRVFC members included.
  • A committee to provide input on the design and specifications of the proposed, centrally located building was formed with only Township and BRVFC members.
  • The proposed, centrally located Township fire house is referenced in “Draft” policy documents as “The Black Rock Fire Company Central Station.”
  • BRVFC named the primary fire service provider of Upper Providence Townships through the sole authority of John Pearson.

Other critical points of development on Fire and EMS over the last year include, but are not limited to, the following:

Very little knowledge
“I have very little knowledge.”

For a guy who “has very little knowledge” about fire and emergency services, John Pearson sure seemed to be the only Supervisor engaged in the development of the FEMS policy that has dominated a majority of the Board meetings in 2018. Indeed, of the eighteen meetings the Board has held this year, including the joint meeting with Trappe Borough Council, in-depth discussions on Fire and Emergency Services have taken place at twelve of them; and at some of those meetings, FEMS was the only topic of discussion.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled meeting.

Bresnan, bless his heart, seems to think that Pearson’s desperation in removing this item from the agenda is somehow procedurally related. (LOL. As if Pearson has any idea of what the procedure should be that he would recognize a deviation.) Bresnan, who is admittedly unclear as to what Pearson’s problem is on this, bottom-lines it for Pearson, stating that all legal and procedural hurdles have been cleared, so he is free to take a vote on this.

Www….well, well, there’s a whole, l-look, look: I, I, I keep saying, I’m, I’m, aaahhh—I’ve got very little knowledge in this area and it bothers me. And, and whenever I need legal advice, I go to my solicitor. Whenever I need engineering advice, I go to my engineer, okay? When I have, when I have questions or comments th-that, that I need answers from, I’m going to expect that I can go to this gentleman and, and he’s gonna give me the correct answer. So all I’m saying is at this point in the game, I’m, I’m asking that we table this, I mean it’s okay if, if, if ehhh, someone wants toooo make a motion and do this, that’s fine! And we’ll take a vote on this, I don’t have a problem with doing, you know, going through the process. Uhhhmmm, you can probably already figure out which way I’m gonna vote on this thing. My, my, my point is….I wanna get it right, I don’t want any, you know, ehhhhh, having marrying two fire companies is a very difficult process and I have never seen one that goes through without any hitches. And that’s my reason for this whole thing, it’s like, ehhhh…..”

It’s easy to understand Bresnan’s confusion in response to this stammering mess. Plus, Bresnan can remain cool since he is not the recipient of the unnerving glares from BRVFC President Joe LoCasale and completely non-affiliated, non-official non-spokesperson, the unshamable Lori Kasper, who have wisely chosen to sit outside of the Township camera angles for this meeting.

“Do you mean you want to speak to John [Muir] first, before the vote?” Bresnan asks.

And now Person is panicking and clearly agitated, as if being called upon to answer for this inexplicable stance is somehow everyone’s fault but his.

thumb image

Indeed, Pearson is so worked up by the end of this stuttering diatribe that he’s practically choking on the words. In spite of his protestations to the contrary, it is abundantly clear that he does, indeed, have a problem with all of this.

“Well, no, I’m asking him to look into this information, to see, you know, uhhh, to give me uhh, an idea as to see, you know, where I am before we start taking steps forward on this. Ehhhh….I, I , I have nothing, I have no problem, I have no problem, I have no problem moving forward with this, but I’m waiting to get some more information from the expert here before I start moving forward on this thing. I have no problem with the, with the whole concept of, of, of ehhm…making one unified fire company, I have no problem with trying to regionalize with Trappe, I, I, I’m all for that. I’m just not ready to take the step now without having some expert (unintelligible) without ha–, without having some expert in here, guiding me along through this process, that’s all I’m saying.”

I have no problem I have no problem
“I have no problem. No problem with any of this. Really.”

A couple of points here before we get to Phil Barker’s coolly laid out motion, which is now on the tracks and heading downhill without any brakes straight on for Pearson.

So is Muir supposed to “look into this information” without first being engaged by the Township? Pearson’s request/excuse here is ridiculous on its face since if Muir hasn’t been appointed, he would need to be appointed before he would be “looking in to any information,” and Pearson doesn’t even want to do that. Since he has been appointed, and Pearson himself cast a vote in favor of that at the 10/1 meeting, the whole appeal to authority is moot. What “information” is Muir going to “look into” without the fully populated committee who hired him? It’s the Joint Committee who is responsible for “looking into this information” and Muir was retained to advise them, not John Pearson individually.

And let’s not forget how important sticking to the sacred Timeline for Implementation of the Glorious Milestones has been since the April 16 meeting. As has been documented in numerous blog posts, as well as by the Township’s cameras, pushing through the Fire Services policy this year has been happening so quickly, most times Pearson isn’t even waiting for a vote to move the policy forward. He is on record at several meetings this year, pointing to the need to stay on the Timeline, the overall impression being one of getting Pearson’s and BRVFC’s policy in place before anyone figures out what’s happening.

In fact, once the light of day hit this policy direction, in the form of a confrontation by Vagnozzi at a public meeting on September 4, Pearson and Calci could not back pedal away from it fast enough, denying anything had been moved forward, denying knowledge of policy points, denying that the policies BRVFC had allegedly written were anything but “drafts.”

I'm not an expertise in this field
“I am not an expertise in this field.”

Now here we are, a mere six weeks later, and suddenly it’s time to slow down. Pearson needs to re-read studies that are at least four years old. He needs to proceed with caution, to make sure we get it right. This, after Pearson went on record as being 100% supportive of the regionalization efforts at the joint meeting with Trappe Borough on September 20. This, after Pearson has repeatedly shrugged off Township issues with the Black Rock Fire Company over the course of his three terms, wherein he has opined in my presence, more than once, that Fire and Emergency Services needs to be regionalized rather than work through any issues. As is still the case today, the heavy lifting on any problems with BRVFC was left for others to do.

paint into corner

Gentle Readers, I cannot abide this, and I cannot even give Pearson the slightest benefit of the doubt here. My theory based on careful observation throughout this year, and again, your mileage may vary, is that Pearson made promises to Black Rock Fire Company and Pearson made statements at public meetings as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and he simply cannot follow through on one set of statements without completely betraying the other. He has very neatly painted himself into a corner.

Having spent most of his previous terms on the Board of Supervisors completely uninterested in fire matters, I don’t believe that Pearson’s interest in this subject has increased; rather I believe the intent here was to simply punt again, in typical Pearson fashion, but this time to punt to Black Rock Fire Company and let them act as the “expertise” Pearson so dearly needs to “guide” him through his responsibilities.

It was a good deal for BRVFC, who instead of having to fight for an increase in their share of Township funding, would have access to the whole pot of money, especially once the “boxes” had been redrawn. They would not only have ground floor access to decision makers and influencers at the Township, but their members would be first in line when the Township starts inevitably hiring full-time firefighters. Additionally, all of that pesky accountability those noodges at the Township were demanding, that would all go away once they were in charge. It was the smart move for an organization that saw the writing on the wall for the future of volunteer fire companies and was unwilling and/or unable to adapt to the increasing demands that come with the changing industry and accountability attached to tax dollars as a primary funding source. Unfortunately for them, they put their faith in a flawed leader.

Now, once again, back to our meeting:

Barker:

“When we left that Trappe meeting, we all agreed that we would get a committee together to look into it. We’ve not made a commitment other than, develop a committee to investigate it and find a neutral person who has done this type of process before. His credentials have been forwarded to us, and I think are exactly that. So I’d like to make a motion on item number 4 to appoint Al Vagnozzi and Helene Calci, and Assistant Manager Bryan Bortnichak to our committee to represent Upper Providence Township in this joint Fire and EMS Services Committee. And along with that, to appoint Mr. Muir as the professional consultant to that committee.”

Here comes the motion
Oh God. Here comes the motion.

At this point, Bresnan interrupts and states that the appointment of Mr. Muir was handled at the previous Board meeting and his role clarified. Barker makes the motion, and Vagnozzi immediately seconds. Pearson calls for the vote.

Vagnozzi and Barker vote Aye

Pearson votes No.

Pearson then looks at Higgins and says, “I didn’t hear from you.”

Higgins: “I was hoping there would be a little more discussion, perhaps John instead of Helene, but since this is the vote….”

Barker explains that he nominated Helene because she was actively involved in all of the other fire policy discussions, and Pearson jumps in and tells her, “I have no problem not being on it.”

After which, Laurie Higgins votes Aye.

Pearson can’t move the agenda along fast enough, and when the next item, the item to appoint two Trappe Volunteer Fire Fighters to the Emergency Services Facility Design Committee, Barker throws Pearson a bone and magnanimously agrees to table that item. If Pearson wants to. Which he does. Absolutely.

But before he can just let it rest, Pearson feels compelled to address this issue one more time, and though his remarks are ostensibly addressed to the Board, I suspect these comments are really aimed at two members in the audience, who are strategically sitting off camera with their arms crossed, glaring at him (one of whomto be clear— has nothing whatsoever to do with the BRVFC):

“Just to reiterate here, okay? I want everyone at the Board here to understand. I’m not opposed to us going forward with all of this. I’m opposed to us going forward at this particular time. I, I’ve already made my case on this thing and there’s not much else I can do about it, the Board has decided it, they are going to move forward with it. So be it.”

Translation: I tried the best I could guys, but I was outvoted. It’s totally not my fault that this all fell apart. See you at Quizzo next week?

The now infamous John Muir gives a presentation to the Board at the end of the meeting. Muir has an extensive and impressive background in Fire and Emergency Services. I met him last year when I first began meetings with Trappe, Royersford and Collegeville and he came in to give the group a presentation with background on regionalization and how it had been handled in other municipalities.

During Supervisor comments, both Higgins and Pearson make a point of thanking BRVFC for the use of their hall for Township meetings. Pearson however, has taken the time to compose a love letter and reads from prepared remarks:

I wrote a little something about that too. Sometimes we lose sight of the important things in life, our parents taught us to be polite and do the right things. But even as we mature, we forget the little things in life that are so meaningful and important no matter how small. Please and thank you are important, so to Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company, please forgive me for not showing my appreciation for the use of your hall. Secondly, I thank you for hosting us while we await the opening of our facility, like Laurie said, we appreciate, ehhh, we at the Township appreciate your generosity.

Bleh. “Please forgive me for not showing my appreciation for the use of your hall….?” What the heck is that supposed to mean? C’mon man. Now you’re just embarrassing yourself.

Before we cover the rest of this meeting, there are a few things here that cannot go unremarked upon.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

First and foremost: Kudos to Laurie Higgins. Sincerely.

I am fully aware of how relentless I have been with Pearson’s Girls® this year, and there is a reason for that.

Making decisions as a Township Supervisor is both difficult and easy. It’s difficult in that, as a Supervisor, you are tasked with learning about all manner of dry subject matter: land development, sewer, planning, zoning, roads, budgeting, finance, public safety, recreation, etc. Add to that, time spent dealing with issues brought forth by the public and solving problems for your constituency. Anyone who thinks this is simply a part-time job is fooling themselves.

long way

So it naturally angered me when, after John Pearson’s Upper Providence First Worst PAC successfully campaigned 2016 to expand the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors from three to five members on the premise of having “two more sets of eyes” on the issues, those two other sets of eyes opted to be willfully blind. For the better part of the year, the two Democrat women seemed more interested in providing backup for Pearson’s Agenda of Petty Retribution and Crony Favor Granting than actually even learning basic procedure, let alone getting up to speed on the issues in front of the Board. This is doubly offensive to me when local and national Democrats are embracing identity politics and putting forward candidates whose only qualifications are their two X chromosomes.

In recent weeks, however, Higgins, at least, has been showing signs of life. She has been engaged in development projects that have come before the board, and has obviously taken the time to read the review letters and come up with relevant pointed questions.

She was on record as early as February as being interested in a regionalized solution for Fire and EMS. Yet it is abundantly clear to any outside observer of this meeting that the vote she threw in favor of the appointments to the Joint Committee with Trappe was a difficult one for her to cast: continue to provide cover for your inept political ally or do what you think is best for the Township.

Which brings us to the easy part of making decisions as a Township Supervisor: always do what’s in the best interest of the Township. I have often said that if the Board members are acting with this axiom at heart, there would be far more agreement amongst them. That judgment can only be clouded if Board members are putting their trust in others for doing the research they should be doing themselves and letting others make their decisions, which is why I harp on the homework aspect of the job so much.

To be clear, I’m not giving kudos to Higgins for voting the way I wanted her to vote, though I am pleased that she did; I’m giving kudos to Higgins for voting independently, for the good of the Township. I don’t expect that Higgins will always vote the way I’d like her to, but as long as her vote is HER OWN, and she arrived at it independently, through her own research, and in good conscience, to paraphrase another Supervisor, “I have no problem with it.”

The Post Turtle

To revisit our little fable from the beginning of the meeting, courtesy of John Pearson’s ego, let’s skip to the punchline: What is a Post Turtle?

You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there in the first place.

Coincidentally, a friend sent me this fable referring to Pearson sometime back in February after I started up this Blog. I actually got quite a chuckle out of the fact that Pearson used this tale as his insufferable little “story” at the beginning of this meeting.

But it raises really good questions: Pearson didn’t get up on that post by himself. He clearly enlisted the help of Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company, Republicans members of Upper Providence First Worst and Area 4 Democrats, among others, to get him up there. The Fire and Emergency Services Policy that was so rapidly being implemented between March and September of this year was very obviously payback to BRVFC for services rendered in service to his election.

Quizzo at the dive bar
Upper Providence First Worst members in a “bait” photo posted in June 2018. L to R: Julie Mullin, UPT Tax Collector, Lori Kasper, not affiliated with BRVFC in any way, John Pearson, Chairman, UPT Board of Supervisors, Bill Kasper, Assistant Chief BRVFC, Jim White, Appointed Upper Providence Township Vacancy Chair.

The Area 4 Democrats have some skin in this game as well. Not only did they wholeheartedly support the Democrat ticket in Upper Providence, but they actually endorsed Upper Providence First Worst member and proud Quizzo participant, Republican Tax Collector, Julie Mullin. Further, they didn’t even put up a Democratic challenger against her last year for her “very lucrative part time job.” They also, for some reason, endorsed a Republican candidate for School Board, who beat Laurie Higgins’ sometime canvassing partner, Democrat Kathleen Drennan. Drennan was the only Democrat on the Upper Providence ballot to lose in a year when most folks were voting straight Democrat.

What have the Area 4 Democrats gotten in return for their investment in John Pearson’s leadership?

Not a single municipal appointment or contract. Upper Providence was a ripe, rich, juicy plum ready to be plucked for Montgomery County Democrats and, almost a year later, they have absolutely nothing to show for their efforts.

The question I have is: Why?

Why did Pearson enlist so much help and make so many deals and tell so many lies to get himself elected?

Post Turtle

He’s not good at this and he doesn’t even seem to enjoy it. He truly doesn’t belong up there and he clearly doesn’t know what he is doing. He’s demonstrated little to no interest in subjects he can’t easily politicize. The subjects he can politicize, he does so ineptly. He hardly canvassed at all last year, preferring instead to let Higgins handle the door knocking while he stayed back at the Fitz, “holding down the fort.” His big contribution to the “Fresh Perspectives” campaign was the Port Providence Paddle school bus, on which he hung his obnoxious campaign banner and then parked illegally all around town, notably at Wegmans and at the Rec Center during Upper Providence Community Day.

Nobody enlists this many favors in service to their election, while exerting this little personal effort, for a job they don’t seem to have that much interest in, just to spend their entire term paying back those favors.

There is a reason that Pearson needed to win election last year.

It’s really worth pondering on a serious level: What kind of a dumb ass put Pearson up there and what is it that they want?

Meet me in the Middle

After many years, the Lower Perkiomen Valley Regional Sewer Authority (“LPVRSA”) is finally ready to move forward with the middle interceptor. This 3,000 foot section of pipe has been the source of a years’ long protracted battle between LPVRSA and Lower Providence Township, whose residents fought the placement of the pipe on their properties. The drama and histrionics of this battle have been covered in-depth elsewhere (see here for an excellent summary of the issue) and will not be rehashed here.

LPVRSA is seeking a zoning variance for the impact of the steep slopes on the Upper Providence side of the creek. Barker, familiar with the history of this issue, says there is no reason to send the solicitor to oppose the application, since it no longer impacts any structures on the Upper Providence side of the creek. After years of taking their property piecemeal for the Arcola Road Bridge, the Perkiomen Trail Bike Path, and the sewer, the home that was being impacted the most by the Middle Interceptor was finally purchased and demolished by the sewer authority.

Barker remarks that, “It’s not where we want it, but there is nowhere else for it to go.” Even though a motion opposed to sending the Solicitor to the ZHB on this matter is not required, Barker wants the record to reflect that the Township supports the project.

Twilight Zone, Again

There is another prolonged discussion regarding an item before the zoning hearing board and whether or not the Board wants to send the solicitor to oppose it. Again, general confusion

Confused Confusion GIF

is demonstrated by Pearson as to what it is that they are discussing and asked to decide upon. The application is from an individual who wants to build an oversized house on an undersized lot on the north side of 422 at the end of Yeager Road across from the entrance to the school. This is his second time before the ZHB and the ZHB denied him the first time. Barker, who agreed with the ZHB’s original decision, would like the applicant to come before the Board and explain what, exactly, his hardship is. Pearson, of course, is willing to punt to the ZHB as usual.

Barker’s concern, which I share, is if the variance is granted, that there are a lot of these small, undersized lots all around the Township and if one gets approved, they will all seek approval of this. Perhaps if the applicant comes before the Board, they can understand what it is the applicant is trying to do and maybe work with him to put something more favorable there.

Bresnan suggests that since the ZHB is scheduled to hear this on November 1, that they vote to send the solicitor, contingent upon the applicant granting a continuance, when he can come in to make a case before the Board.

Barker makes the motion and successfully makes his case, and the motion passes unanimously.

Other Board Business

  • There is a bit of confusion and discussion at the beginning of the meeting on the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, of all things, primarily due to Calci making a motion for the wrong dollar amount.
  • The Board approves budget workshop meetings to take place on October 29, October 30 and November 1.
  • After three tries, the Township was successful in getting a $927,000 multi-modal grant to realign the intersection at 29, Jacob and Walnut Streets in Mont Clare.
  • The Township was awarded a $196,000 grant for Lot 60 Upper Schuylkill Valley Park trail.
  • Township got a 50% cost share grant for the purchase of body cameras for the Upper Providence Police.
  • Holly Brinton is introduced as the new Rec Center Manager.
  • The Recreational Needs Assessment Survey, which will determine the future of the Rec Center, should be going out to residents in November.
  • The Board approves sending a letter drafted by the Township Planner to the Limerick Board of Supervisors asking for traffic concessions for the proposed Restaurant Depot. This was a result of a resident’s concerns voiced during public comment at the October 1 meeting.
  • The Board approves to apply for a grant to improve the intersection at Black Rock Road and 113.
  • The Board approves an amendment for the contract to complete the Lock 60 trail design costs in the amount of $26,529.
  • Bresnan reports that all of Barker’s requested changes have been made to the administrative code. Barker requests that the motion to approve the code be tabled, since he only got it the Friday before and has not had an opportunity to thoroughly review.

UPT Board Meeting Notes 10/1/18 Episode 16: Hodge Podge Dodge

The October 1 Board of Supervisors meeting was held at the Oaks Firehouse.

Again.

I am not sure if this is a quasi-permanent change in venue until the new meeting hall is opened or why this change of venue was dictated by the Board. Recall that the Board was previously meeting at the Rec Center, but since September, they have been meeting at the Oaks Firehouse.

crowd
No need for a bigger meeting hall.

Was the change made to avoid still-angry Rec Center members from stopping in to a Board meeting after their few remaining workouts? Was it made as a concession to the BRVFC? The change of venue could not have been because the Rec Center room was too small to accommodate the public, could it? After the Democrats campaigned so diligently against the new building, I’m sure they’d be completely content to continue to ignore residents standing outside the glass, being unable to participate in the meetings.

Since the purpose of this change in venue was never announced, sadly, we can only engage in rank speculation as to the cause of it. At least we know the end is in sight, as in response to a question during public comment, Tim Tieperman announced that after some water problems in the existing building, they should be able to hold meetings in the new meeting hall by November.

Related image
I could share my random thoughts!

Pearson’s tiresome “short story” this evening is not a short story at all, but as he calls it, a random collection of “thoughts.” It appears that this week, he actually is just reading bumper stickers and he’s more nervous than usual. Even though I mentioned this in the previous Meeting Notes only as a commentary and not as actual advice, the overall depth and usefulness of the philosophy remains constant.

Thanks for reading, John!

Vagnozzi was not present, which left Barker to shoulder all of the heavy lifting alone for this meeting.

The meeting clocks in at a fairly reasonable 1:21. There’s a veritable cornucopia issues to cover and, along with that, so much responsibility to avoid. Let’s dive in, shall we?

High Water Mark

The Township’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Rich Ressel, approaches the Board to explain a proposal to put another flood gauge in the Township. Upper Providence has a flood gauge on the Schuylkill River down by the Reynolds Dog Park; this is a proposal to put one on the Perkiomen Creek. The proposal needs to come before the Board because the best location for the flood gauge is on the County-owned Arcola Road Bridge and the Township needs to enter into a contract with the County in order to place it there.

As long-time residents know, the Perkiomen Creek is very susceptible to flooding and tends to rise and fall rapidly during stormy conditions.

Pearson then claims that he goes out on the FEMA website to get statistics on the Schuylkill River. He wants to know if we are going to be able to pull this information up online. Speaking of the Schuylkill flood gauge, Pearson says, “It’s a good tool for me for where I have a property, so…uh…”

Image result for titanic flooding gif
If I could just…SEE….that flood gauge…….

Ressell says that will be available “eventually.” He also says that our Schuylkill River flood gauge is the only flood gauge in the country with its own Twitter feed, where people can get updates every 20 minutes. According to Ressell, The USGS will not put a flood gauge on their website until there are two solid years of data available. At this point, the Schuylkill flood gauge has only been active a little over a year. The same thing will be true of the proposed Perkiomen Creek gauge, but, according to Ressell, that information will be available to “us.” I am unclear as to whether this means Township employees or the general public. The Schuylkill Twitter feed is available to the public and can be found here. Presumably, the Perkiomen Creek flood gauge will have the same Twitter functionality, but the proposal here is for a camera as well, so folks can actually see how high the creek is.

Imagine how useful this will be for someone who, for instance, owns a kayak rental business! Someone whose home fronts the Perkiomen Creek and whose Canal Street business fronts the Schuylkill!

Kayak Rescue

Patch, October 8, 2018:

PHOENIXVILLE, PA — Two kayakers were rescued after they became stranded on the Schuylkill River near Phoenixville over the weekend.

The incident occurred at around 1:45 p.m. on Sunday on a small island near where French Creek empties into the creek.

Two boats, one from Phoenixville Fire Department, and one from Friendship Fire Company Diving-Rescue Unit, were dispatched to assist.

Once rescuers located the kayakers, they had to cross a shoal and a deeper stretch of river to reach them, officials said.

The two individuals were taken safely back to Canal Street in Port Providence without any injuries.

WFMZ, August 6, 2018:

UPPER PROVIDENCE TWP., Pa. – Two kayakers were rescued from the Schuylkill River Sunday afternoon.

Officials say the rescue involved a man and woman in Upper Providence Township, Montgomery County.

The man’s kayak flipped over when it hit debris. Officials say he was hanging onto that debris when he was rescued.

The woman’s kayak did not flip but emergency crews helped her out of the water.

Officials are warning people to be careful around rivers in the area after the past two weeks of heavy rain.

Missed Appointments

You can always tell when Pearson doesn’t want to have too much discussion on an issue before the Board. When the agenda item to appoint attorney John Muir as a professional consultant regarding Fire and Emergency Services matters comes up, he tries to curtail any discussion and immediately asks for a motion:

I think…I’m, I’m pretty sure we all know what this is all about. Ehhh, we wanna hire this guy to give us some direction to get us moving in the right direction with our fire and emergency services situation. So I’ll just entertain a motion on that.”

nothing to see

Not so fast.

Barker wants to know: “Will he not come before the Board to do a presentation of some sort?”

Bresnan says that the direction he got from the joint meeting with Trappe was that all parties wanted to move forward with Muir as a consultant. Further, Bresnan’s direction from staff was to move this forward as quickly as possible so the joint Trappe-UPT committee can begin to have meetings regarding Fire and EMS.

Barker says he is willing to take him on as a consultant, but if the Township is unable to work out an agreement with Trappe, then Muir will have nothing to do.

Bresnan responds that this is just preliminary to get the ball rolling and see Muir’s fee schedule. Barker agrees to that and makes the motion to appoint, which passes unanimously.

Moving right along, Pearson continues on to the next agenda item, which is an event fee waiver, but before we move on, Gentle Reader, there is the small matter of the two missing agenda items, highlighted on the agenda below.

Draft Agenda1

I know, I know: “It’s just a DRAFT!”

Agenda Item 8 is to put two Supervisors on a joint committee with Trappe to hammer out the details of a regionalized Fire and EMS department with Trappe Borough.

Agenda Item 9 is to put two Trappe Volunteer firefighters on the building committee. This committee will provide input into the design and specifications of the Township’s proposed new centrally located Fire and EMS building.

Recall that previously, the Fire and Emergency Services Steering Committee to Implement the Glorious Milestones on the Road to Fulfilling Campaign Promises made on Quizzo Night had appointed only BRVFC members and Township staff to this committee, there were no volunteers, representing either EMS or Fire, from any of the Township’s other responding organizations, though, presumably, they would have been using this building as well. Interestingly, there were two Trappe Volunteer Firemen in the audience, yet no one was present from BRVFC, unless you count BRVFC’s non-official, non-spokesperson Lori Kasper.

Why were these items tabled, but the appointment of John Muir was not?

Caution: More Rank Speculation Ahead:

speculation

I would assume that the appointment of Muir was necessary in keeping the timeline for moving forward with the joint Trappe-UPT meetings simply because Muir represents an outside third party, and they cannot afford to dawdle with his engagement. After all, the Township is committed to the consulting attorney per the joint meeting on September 20. The appointment of the two supervisors to the joint committee and the appointment of the Trappe Firefighters, however, those could be, and were, put off until the next meeting, October 16 because they are appointments internal to the municipality.

My guess is that Pearson simply did not have enough cover, or guts, at the October 1 meeting to be seen as a leader continuing to steer the township away from its previously determined (and promised) course (as outlined in the “Draft” documents found HERE) on Fire and EMS. And though I truly wasn’t paying attention, I would bet that I was not the only recipient of a glare from Mrs. Kasper—who, to be clear,  per her facebook page (which has since gone private) is NOT affiliated with the Black Rock Fire Company, no matter how much she presumes to speak for them or involve herself in their business. Indeed, Pearson couldn’t scurry to her side fast enough at the conclusion of the meeting. Would a discussion of a Quizzo night strategy warrant his anxious rush to have a hushed conversation with her?

Taking for Grant-ed

The Township’s Traffic Engineer, Ken O’Brien talks about the Black Rock Trail connection from Route 29 to the Township campus. PennDOT recommended that the right turn lane from 29 on to Black Rock Road be improved, as the turn is too tight and trucks cannot properly make the turn, and they are consistently running over the curb and damaging it. The cost for the change order is $38,140.98.

Mr. Grant
How about another $38,140.98?

Barker wants to know: what was the total amount of grant money the Township received for this project? O’Brien says the Township initially requested $250,000 and the state approved $196,000. The estimate for this project was $205,000 before the PennDOT requested change order. The Township has already spent $75,000 in engineering and inspections.

Doing the math, Barker notes that the Township is approaching $300,000, leaving them on the hook for about $100,000 for this project and asks O’Brien if they will increase the grant. O’Brien says he does not anticipate that they will, but that he can ask.

It’s a problem making the motion to approve the change order, because neither of Pearson’s Girls® is quite sure how to do it. Eventually they “move to make a motion” and end up approving unanimously.

Code Breakers

Most of the last half hour of the meeting is spent by the Board— rather, just Phil Barker— discussing the Administrative Code. For the uninitiated, the Administrative Code is essentially the law, or ordinance, that determines how the Board of Supervisors will govern.

So in other words, it’s THEIR code. It’s kind of a big deal–at least it should be— for that reason.

Nothing to add
Phil’s got this. Nothing for us to do but sit on our hands.

Unsurprisingly, Barker appears to be the only one who has done his homework on this issue. Pearson’s Girls® did not even bother to bring their laptops to this meeting, so they have no documents to reference for this, or for any other agenda item at the meeting. Pearson, who has his laptop, doesn’t squint at it at all. They sit on their hands and look at Barker, while Barker reads and discusses questions he has marked up and annotated on his printed copy of the proposed code.

Ironically, the Township’s Administrative code has not been updated for many years, but the expansion of the Board of Supervisors makes these changes to it quite a bit more of a necessity. And Pearson, who along with his Upper Providence First Worst PAC, drove the expansion of the Board. Now that he has satisfied his goals towards increasing his own personal his power, he apparently has no interest in dealing with the ramifications of the very initiative he championed.

For all of the Democrats, it’s like this whole issue affects someone else.

And sitting in the audience, it was abundantly clear that none of them had read the document.

I get it. Some of this township stuff is pretty dry. I understand that to the average layperson, development plans, engineering, sewer, fire and emergency services, etc. can be pretty dry stuff.

So I’m left wondering: Why in the world did these folks campaign for these jobs?

These Democrats wanted these jobs so badly they walked miles, knocked on hundreds of doors, talked to hundreds of people, (well, Higgins walked miles, knocked doors and talked to voters; Calci accompanied her a couple of times. And Pearson only hung out back at the Fitz, to “hold down the fort”). They also spent thousands of dollars and told countless lies in order to get these jobs. And now that they have these jobs, it truly seems like they have no idea what they are supposed to be doing, and they show little interest in figuring it out.

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I have no responsibility here whatsoever.

It’s like they came in with a little personal to do list and if the mundane business of actually, you know, governing the Township comes up, they leave the heavy lifting on that to Barker and Vagnozzi.

To be clear, it doesn’t matter whether they are interested in a particular subject or not, or whether they can politicize it, or whether it’s on their list of particular hobby horses: they are responsible for all of this stuff, and the least they could do is make an effort to appear interested and informed. Thus far, only Higgins has shown sporadic flashes of this type of engagement.

I understand Pearson’s interest in being a Supervisor, even though I think he’s the worst one we’ve ever had. Pearson came in with an agenda and made promises to his cronies. He has yet to deliver on his sponsor’s agenda, and his success in delivering his own agenda has thus far been mixed at best.

But Higgins and Calci I just don’t understand. I find I am constantly asking myself why anyone would do all that work to win an election, and then sit up on a dias just to be a “Yes Girl” to Pearson’s Agenda of Petty Revenge and Favor Granting. Why would anyone sign up to take responsibility for Pearson’s embarassing and ham-handed political manuevering?

It just never ceases to boggle my mind.

Plan ahead

Township Planner Geoff Grace notes that a meeting was held to form a subcommittee of the Planning Commission to look at the Comprehensive Plan. I attended this meeting and submitted a letter of interest in participating in this subcommittee. The development of the Comprehensive Plan update will be a 12 to 18 month process with probably monthly, hour-long meetings. Interested residents should email Geoff Grace at ggrace@uprov-montco.org with a letter of intent and/or a resume, but do it soon.

Just Making a Living

Laurie Higgins mentions that she attended a County program called “Farmer to Brewer” at the property known as Two Particular Acres. Higgins says that it was a good meeting for farmers to meet up with potential buyers so that they can actually “make a living” farming.

hobby farm

Regular readers may recall that Two Particular Acres was the subject of a bit of controversy earlier in the year, as it was the owner of this property who was seeking, and won, a zoning variance to put a cellphone tower on his property. His property is zoned residential and cell towers represent a variance from existing zoning law. Recall also that the previous Board, in concert with the Township’s existing zoning and the wishes of several surrounding communities, sent the Township solicitor to oppose this zoning change.

Recall as well that one of the first actions of the new board this year was to reverse the previous Board’s decision to oppose this action, after which, the cell tower variance was approved.

For the uninitiated, cell tower leases are a great deal for the landowner. Like billboards, owners incur virtually no expense and basically just collect rent. I have no idea how much this cell tower lease was worth, but according to this website, top tier providers, like Verizon, are paying up to $156,000 per year.

An income stream like that would sure take the pressure off having to rely on growing barley and selling it to local brewers, to “make a living,” right?

Speaking of not having to rely on the income from one’s farm to “make a living,” in addition to the Foleys, who own the property, Higgins made a point of mentioning that the Duhovises were also in attendance.

Other Board Business

  • During citizen comments, resident Chris McQuaid is concerned about a Limerick proposal to put a Restaurant Depot at the Corner of Buckwalter and Township Line Roads and he is looking for help from the Township. As the project in question is in Limerick, Pearson recommends that Mr. McQuaid attend the Limerick Planning Commission meeting, but that the Board will reach out to Limerick Township.
  • Ashenfelter Road Bridge is not urgent; the repair is recommended to be reviewed in context of the 2019 capital budget. The Board tables this recommendation indefinitely.
  • The Board approves a restrictive covenant for an in-laws quarters at 137 Buckwalter Road
  • The Township authorizes the Township Manager to sign a contract with PennDOT for completing improvements with a Green-Light-Go grant award of $232,000 Township Line Road and Linfield Trappe Road. Barker notes that the Township has already spent $125,000 on this intersection, and, addressing resident Mr. McQuaid and his concerns about the Restaurant Depot, notes that Upper Providence has not had much success in the past with cooperation from Limerick. It is noted that there is other money escrowed for this project, contributed by a developer, and is currently the subject of litigation.
  • The Board discusses a timeline for beginning Budget discussions. The goal is to act on the preliminary budget by November 5, with the final budget by December 3. Big discussion items will be capital items related to Fire and EMS expenditures.
  • The Township Police Department will be partnering with Lowes at a public safety event on October 20 from 11 am to 3pm

UPT Board Meeting Notes 9/20/18 Episode 15: UPT Joint Meeting with Trappe Borough Council

It wasn’t widely publicized, but the Board met twice during the week of 9/17: the regular Board meeting of Monday, 9/17 and a joint meeting with Trappe Borough Council on 9/20. In fact, the only mention of the 9/20 Joint Meeting was as a housekeeping item at the end of the 9/4 meeting when the Board was asked to come up with some dates for this meeting.

While I have no doubt that this meeting was properly advertised, I found no notice posted on the Township’s Facebook page or on the News section of the Township’s website. An agenda was posted on the Township’s “Meetings and Agendas” page on September 19. It was, however, a public meeting held at the Trappe Borough hall and I attended that one in person. There is no video available for this meeting.

The primary purpose of this meeting was to discuss the regionalization of Fire and Emergency Services between Upper Providence Township and Trappe Borough.

Upper Providence and all of our neighboring municipalities are each supporting domiciled volunteer fire companies monetarily. However, Upper Providence funds three additional first-due fire companies (see HERE for details on fire funding in Upper Providence Township). The township has one domiciled fire company, the Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company, which covers approximately 60% of the Township. The other 40% is covered by three other companies, as illustrated by this coverage map, below.

Screenshot_2017-05-02-10-06-58-1 (1)

Trappe Borough Council was represented by Nevin Scholl, Scott Martin, Kathy Johnson, Brett Yeagley, Pat Webster, Phil Ronca and Stewart Strauss. Also in attendance for Trappe was Borough Manager Tamara Twardowski and Solicitor Dave Onorato, who also chaired the meeting.

Upper Providence was represented by the full Board: John Pearson, Helene Calci, Al Vagnozzi, Laurie Higgins and Phil Barker. Also in attendance for Upper Providence were Solicitor Joe Bresnan, Manager Tim Tieperman and Assistant Manager Bryan Bortnichak.

Agenda is below:

Agenda

John Pearson sets the Tone

Onorato began the meeting by going around the dais and asking each member to introduce themselves and briefly state what it is they hoped to get out of this meeting. John Pearson was the first elected official to speak.

Pearson stated his reason for being there was to facilitate the creation of one regional Fire and EMS service company.

This statement represents a vastly different direction than was envisioned in the “Draft” documents revealed in the RTK.

Perhaps it will come as a surprise to some readers, but Pearson has been touting regionalization of our FEMS for quite some time. As readers may recall, Pearson served with me until December 2015, and during all that time, he demonstrated little patience or support for the BRVFC, and any problems the Township had working with them were usually answered by Pearson with a dismissive suggestion that we needed to regionalize this service. He had little interest in actually doing any of the heavy lifting to accomplish this, or solve any of the problems; it was more like he thought of regionalization as a way to relieve the Township of some of this responsibility.  I always assumed Pearson did not want to be bothered with FEMS and indeed, his relatively new, documented coziness with the BRVFC is something that only developed after his defeat in the 2015 election and his subsequent efforts with Upper Providence First to expand the Board.

As they say, politics makes strange bedfellows, and now that he has accomplished his objective of getting elected, there seems to be little reason for continuing to stick his neck out for the BRVFC.  The surprise here is not that this alliance appears to be falling apart; the surprise is that it existed in the first place and lasted as long as it did.

I can only imagine the reaction to this change in direction.

Patrick Spongebob Squarepants What Thats Insane

As they went around the dais, it was clear that all representatives from both municipalities were on board with this idea.

It should be noted that although this regionalized approach to Fire and EMS Services is on the UPT Board’s milestones, approved at the 4/16 meeting, regionalization was not scheduled until “Phase 3,” which was not anticipated to be addressed for another 3 to 5 years. In my opinion, it is smarter to look at regionalization sooner rather than later, and I was pleased to not only see the UPT Board taking this step, but to see them acting unanimously on matters of public safety for a change.

For what it’s worth, regionalization discussions with Trappe, Royersford and Collegeville had already started to take place under my leadership in the summer of 2017, given that a regional approach, especially for Upper Providence, who supports four, first-due fire companies, is the only logical long-term solution for the challenges in the delivery of public safety. The growing tension is in efficiently and effectively providing Fire and EMS services with rapidly dwindling volunteerism and while not breaking the bank. Regionalization is the best solution for tackling these objectives.

Discussion of the Problems

Scholl outlined some of the financial and infrastructure problems that Trappe Borough is facing with regards to the Trappe Volunteer Fire Company, to wit: Trappe VFC is operating out of 100-year-old building and their ladder truck was purchased circa 2000. And unsurprisingly, like every other volunteer fire company across Pennsylvania, they are experiencing a decline in volunteerism.

At this, Pearson asks Trappe VFC Chief Brian Long, who was in the audience, how many volunteer there are at Trappe. Long gives a refreshingly honest answer: they pull from about 15 to 20 regular volunteers.

Figure 3 Population density and station proposal
Chart from 2014 FPA FEMS Study commissioned by Upper Providence Township

Vagnozzi notes that Upper Providence has experienced significant growth in population in the center of the Township in the last 20 years. These are the areas that were traditionally farmland prior to the development boom. He also notes that because there is no centrally located firehouse in the township, it is this area that has experienced the most significant fire losses in recent years. When the Oaks and Mont Clare fire compaies were established over 100 years ago, they were built where the population centers were at that time. He states that you have to build a firehouse where the volunteers are and, referring to a map (to which the public was not privy) notes that many of the Trappe Volunteers live either within Upper Providence’s boundaries, or in close proximity to the proposed new firehouse location at 113 and Hopwood.

Vagnozzi also states that the Fire and EMS divisions of Trappe VFC must separate their financial statements; fire and ambulance must each create separate P & L statements and balance sheets. Currently Trappe VFC’s financials are blended and in order to move forward there can be no commingling of funds; the municipalities must have a definite idea of the profit and loss of each organization.

There is enthusiastic agreement around the dais to this suggestion.

Because no meeting of the Upper Providence Township Supervisors is complete without taking a detour for a lesson in Township Supervisor 101, Calci takes this opportunity to ask Trappe Borough Council how Trappe Ambulance gets their money.

facepalm
Oy vey.

Uhhhhh…wut?

Why doesn’t she already know this????

I realize I’ve been pretty brutal on the Upper Providence Board for what I view as their continuing refusal to come prepared to a Board meetings, but this question not only betrays a willful ignorance, but glaring irresponsibility to her duties as a Township Supervisor. How could Helene Calci have possibly cast an informed vote on 4/16/18 deciding how EMS services are delivered in the Township if she still doesn’t have a basic understanding of how the ambulance companies are funded?

Calci Prepared Notes
Reading her Pearson-approved signing statement on 4/16/18

Wasn’t that the crux of the Democrats’ argument in favor of the lame medic responder unit? That putting an ambulance in Upper Providence would have a negative financial impact on the companies currently servicing the Township?

Wasn’t Calci the a member of the Board’s subcommittee tasked with studying this issue for the first three months of the year?

Finally, before casting her vote on the ambulance, wasn’t it Calci who read the following prepared (and vetted) statement into the record:

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.

Look, I understand asking questions at a meeting in order to get clarity or better understand an issue. But upon review of the meetings leading up to and including the Board’s vote on the Township’s Fire and EMS milestones on April 16, Helene Calci did not ask a single question about how the ambulance companies were funded.

Yet she cast her vote on this issue based solely on ambulance financing, a concept of which she clearly does not have a thorough understanding.

Apparently, Trappe Borough Council has no time to provide this week’s lesson and the meeting moves right along.

Image result for i don't have time for this gif

Scholl insists that Ambulance and Fire should continue to solicit subscriptions/donations after the merge.

Barker points out that there will be a tax impact to both municipalities if/when they decide to move forward to 24/7 paid crews. And the implementation of a tax could impact the companies’ ability to solicit donations.

Vagnozzi says that the new firehouse will require changes to be made in first due responses.

How will this be managed by the municipalities?

Council and Board discussed three primary options for managing the intermunicipal cooperation. The options are summed up below, in order of municipal control:

  1. Trappe Borough and Upper Providence Township fund the new building; Trappe VFC relocates to the new building in Upper Providence and shares the space with Upper Providence’s paid staff. Black Rock Fire Company would continue to operate out of the Oaks Station. All companies operate independently.
  2. Each home municipality adopts a new ordinance that operates under on entity under control of Upper Providence Township. Black Rock Fire Company merges into the Trappe VFC/Township organization.
  3. Create a legal entity called a “Cooperation of Governments” or “COG” so that both the Borough and the Township have control and provide direction for the new regional fire company.

A general discussion ensued, with option 1 being almost immediately dismissed as lacking in vision. Vagnozzi stated it was little more than picking up Trappe VFC and moving it to Upper Providence Township.

Options 2 and 3 with regard to the level of municipal control, as well as the fire command structure, were discussed at length. A flavor of that discussion follows:

As an example of a COG, Scholl cited the Collegeville-Trappe Public Works and Water Company.

Vagnozzi urged those present not to overcomplicate this and Webster responded by asking him to keep an open mind on the COG. She said that her vision for this option would be to provide high level oversight. As elected officials, they have the right and the responsibility to demand accountability as to how taxpayer dollars are being used. Ronca proposed that with a reliable stream of income, these organizations could operate differently. Johnson noted that the Fire and EMS guys just want to fight fires and respond to emergencies. If the municipalities are providing resources, then they should also provide oversight. Barker stated that the organization would be regulated through joint meetings with a set of standards, and Pearson noted that the Upper Providence Recreation Committee grew out of an existing COG.

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Vagnozzi countered the COG discussion by pointing out that the paid staff, which will also service Trappe Borough through the new regional organization, are employees of Upper Providence. His vision is to decide on a capital contribution from Trappe to offset the cost of the new building and determine an annual operational contribution as well. Upper Providence will unavoidably be absorbing most of the costs of this proposal.

A need to involve the volunteer fire companies was discussed, and Barker suggested perhaps a return to the old FEMS committee if there is one company.

Scholl noted that if the companies do not blend, there could simply be separate cost centers for Trappe VFC, BRVFC and the Township staff.

Barker notes that this meeting represents a change in course for the Township’s previous direction with BRVFC.

Bresnan states that currently the volunteer organizations are completely independent from the municipalities except for workers’ compensation insurance. Bortnichak adds that the volunteer entities can still remain independent and Bresnan says the municipalities can provide oversight of all organizations, and if they are unsatisfied with how they are operating, the municipalities can withhold funding.

Calci wants to know if the Fire Chief will have control over the entire organization, and Bortnichak, who is apparently still operating from those “Draft” documents that supposedly “nothing has been done with,” instead of the Township’s Chapter 85, which designates “Chief,” says that the Director of FEMS would write and enforce the policies with Onorato adding that each company would continue to operate independently, a united fire company with two different command structures. Barker says that the municipalities need to have some control.

Conclusion

Unite the clans

While nothing was decided on the ultimate structure of the regional organization, in my opinion Upper Providence does not improve their position in keeping three separate fire companies, each with their own command structure. The whole point of regionalization is to combine resources and gain economies of scale; maintaining three different companies (Trappe VFC, BRVFC and Upper Providence Township), with three different command structures, simply continues the status quo from the Township’s perspective. The Township gains nothing unless a true regionalized solution is adopted, under a single command structure.

And, as was demonstrated earlier this year, having the Township’s paid Chief of FEMS (or Director of FEMS, or whatever it is they are calling Overholt’s old position this week) enforce Township policy is ineffective at best, especially if the politicians are involved. The regional solution needs to be set up like the police department, with one chief empowered to enforce policy and a command structure under him for day-to-day operations and the municipalities providing high level oversight and budgetary approval.

It also has not been decided if BRVFC will be part of the new regionalized company, and if so, if it will continue to operate out of Oaks.

thumbsup

Board and Council members agreed to get feedback from their respective fire companies and reconvene for another meeting. They also decided to create a subcommittee consisting of two elected officials from each municipality, the Managers and the solicitors. They also agreed to engage an attorney specializing in mergers and regionalization of Fire Companies.