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All the news that doesn't fit in print
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    The Book Tree
    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown Regional Public Library.

    The Pottstown Regional Public Library book tree is a new holiday tradition which honors the place books hold in the history of the holidays.

    The tree is created entirely from out-of-date books that were destined for the recycling bin.

    For a donation in the amount you choose, (minimum $10), the library will place your name or family name on the spine of a book for the 2018 holiday season.

    One hundred percent of your donation will be used at Pottstown Library to enhance the collection of books.

    Dedications are available Nov. 20-Dec. 22.

    Stop into the library for a Holiday Tree Donation Form or call 610-970-6551 or email to receive a form.

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    Exelon donated funds for turkeys, green beans, stuffing, corn, potatoes, pies  and cranberry sauce.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the YWCA Tri-County Area.

    Two hundred Pottstown-area families will have a full Thanksgiving meal this year, thanks to YWCA Tri-County Area and Exelon’s Limerick Generating Station.

    Exelon donated funds to purchase a Thanksgiving meal for families whose children attend YW’s Early Education Center. Exelon employees volunteered to deliver the food on Friday. 

    Each family receives a turkey, fresh green beans and potatoes, canned corn and cranberry sauce, a box of stuffing mix, and a pie.

    Exelon also contributed to Operation Warm, which provides warm winter coats to the 160 children enrolled in pre-school and after-school programs at the Pottstown Early Education Center.

    YWCA Tri-County Area is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YWCA Tri-County Area is a leader in advocacy for women and girls, works to eliminate racism, and empowers women through quality affordable childcare, adult literacy, and a host of programs to support the health and vitality of women, girls, and families.

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    A model of the All Abilities Playground planned for Phoenxiville's Reeves Park.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Phoenixville Borough

    At the Nov. 13  Borough Council Meeting, the Borough of Phoenixville accepted a prize check from Dallas Data Systems, Inc. for being the winner of their 2018 Commitment to Community Contest.

    The Commitment to Community Contest allows municipalities to enroll their community projects or charities, and then encourages their community to vote for their project in hopes of winning one of three cash prizes. 

    This year, Phoenixville entered their All-Abilities Playground Initiative. 
    From left, Janet Hunter, Mayor Peter Urscheler,
    Dallas Data Systems, Inc  
    reps  Jim Arms and Erin Keller,
     Councilwoman Beth Burckley, 
    and Director of Parks and
    Recreation Melissa Gibbons.

    The contest lasted from July 1 until Sept. 30, and Phoenixville’s project received a total of 32,157 votes, earning the first place prize of $2,500 to go towards the project. 

    Melissa Gibbons, Director of Parks and Recreation, said, “we are very grateful to our community for taking the time to vote for our project. This prize allows us to get one step closer to making our dream playground a reality.”

    Second place was awarded to Manheim Township Public Library, who received 30,823 votes, and third place was awarded to Schuylkill Valley Little League who received 27,397 votes. Those municipalities were awarded $1,500 and $1,000 respectively.

    Representatives from Dallas Data Systems, Inc. Erin Keller and Jim Arms were present at the  Borough Council meeting to award the check to the Phoenixville Borough Recreation Department. 

    Borough Manager, Jean Krack said, “The outcome of this contest displays how connected we are as a community, and truly shows that we are, as the name of the contest suggests, committed to making our community the best that it can be.”

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    Upper Pottsgrove Township Manager Carol Lewis
    There was a lot going on at last night's Upper Pottsgrove Commissioners meeting dear reader, so try to keep up.

    First and foremost, the resignation of Township Manager Carol Lewis, after more than four years at the helm, was announced and accepted by the board.

    Lewis has taken a job as the manager of Valley Township in Chester County and her last day will be Dec. 7.

    Commissioner Elwood Taylor said over her four-plus years with the township, Lewis had saved between $600,000 and $700,000 by taking over finance responsibilities, health insurance savings and obtaining grants.

    In her place, Police Chief Fran Wheatley was named as acting township manager.

    But one gets the sense that appointment will be more of a decision-making post than doing most of the the actual work given that the board also appointed Zoning and Planning Administrator Michelle Reddick as "finance and administration lead," according to the agenda from last night's meeting.

    Asked what her job definition is, Commissioners Chairman Trace Slinkerd said it had not been defined yet.

    Also undefined is any change (increase) in pay for either Wheatley or Reddick to compensate them for their additional duties.

    Reddick did receive a bump in pay earlier this year, when she was appointed board secretary and made responsible for the minutes.

    Slinkerd said no procedure for replacing Lewis has been determined yet and Commissioner Martin Schreiber's motion to advertise for a new township manager died without a second.

    I predict we can look to see Reddick appointed manager sometime in early 2019, after she has proven she can do the job.

    OK, next up? The budget.

    No Tax Hike

    The board voted unanimously last night to advertise a $3.4 million budget which keeps the tax rate at 4 mills, but draws more than $200,000 from this year's surplus to balance revenues with expenses.

    A portion of that millage, .6 mills, goes to the fire fund, which shows a positive balance in 2019 budget, some of which is being put toward a fund to buy a new fire truck, as well as maintenance on the company's aging fleet.

    As solicitor Charles Garner Jr. explained to the board, by advertising the millage, it can be reduced in subsequent votes, but no increased.

    The final budget adoption will not come until December.

    Millions in Building Costs

    The final item on tonight's account was the first on the agenda last night, the preliminary report by the Bethlehem engineering firm Alloy 5 on its assessment of the township's buildings.

    The firm rated various issues in the firehouse/administration building on Farmington Avenue and the building shared by the police and public works departments on Heather Place.

    At the firehouse/township building, the parking lot, roof, structural integrity, security, HVAC system, emergency power, sprinklers and plumbing fixtures are among those deemed most in need of repair or replacement.

    Initial estimates for those repairs, and others deemed a lower priority, could cost as much as $990,000 over the next 10 years, said Randy Galiotto of Alloy 5.

    At the Heather Place building, things like a secure vestibule for police and the as-yet-to-be-funded new salt shed (although there is $76,000 in the 2019 budget draft to pay for this), the bill over the next 10 years adds up to more than $600,000.

    The cost of building new, and replacing the current 13,800 square feet of space with 20,000 square feet, would be close to $2.4 million, according to the study.

    Detailed questions on the study are set to be discussed at the board's next workshop in Dec. 3.

     And now, without further ado, here are the Tweets from the meetingP:

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Coventry Singers. '

    The Coventry Singers present their Christmas concert “Silence….and the Glory” Saturday, Dec. 1 in North Coventry and Sunday, Dec. 2 in Phoenixville. 

    The concert includes classical and traditional Christmas works featuring selections from Handel’s Messiah and Bach Cantata No. 142, “To Us a Child is Given.” 

    More contemporary music include pieces by Dan Forrest and Will Todd. The concert concludes with the John Rutter “Gloria” accompanied by brass and organ.

    The conductor for the Coventry Singers is interim director Lisa VanHeldorf. Lisa is a graduate of New England Conservatory with a Bachelor of Music degree in voice performance. She holds a Masters degree from Notre Dame in voice performance. She has held the position of choir director and music coordinator at Media Presbyterian Church since 2011 and has been directing choirs throughout the greater Philadelphia area for the past 20 years. 

    Nadine Lydic returns as piano accompanist. Nadine holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her master’s degree in music is from West Chester University. She is a retired teacher from the Boyertown School District and has been a beloved member of the Coventry Singers for many years.

    The Coventry Singers, a choir of about 40 voices, have been performing in the Pottstown area since 1972. They have performed with the Pottstown Symphony, the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, and at Longwood Gardens Christmas Concert Series. 

     More recently they have performed Handel’s Messiah with the Reading Choral Society, the National Anthem at the Reading Royals hockey games and participated in the Pottstown Relay for Life luminaria lighting ceremony.

    Performances take place Saturday Dec. 1 at 3 p.m. at Cedarville United Methodist Church, 1092 Laurelwood Road and Sunday Dec. 2 at 3 p.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 355 Saint John’s Circle Phoenixville. 

    The concerts are free and all are welcome. A freewill offering will be accepted. 

    For more information about the Coventry Singers, visit their website or find them on Facebook at Coventry Singers-Pottstown, Pa.

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Pottsgrove Manor.

    Bring the whole family to learn about the little known holiday of Twelfth Night during Pottsgrove Manor’s holiday tours.

    Pottsgrove Manor is transformed for the yuletide season to reveal the traditions of an 18th century Twelfth Night party. Twelfth Night was usually a lively celebration held on the day of Epiphany which marked the end of the Christmastide season. 

    Guided tours of the manor feature all aspects of the festivities, from the intense preparations to the differences between the ways the Potts and their household staff experienced the celebration.

    Find the front parlor arranged with elegant desserts and decorated with greenery. See the Twelfth Night Cake, both a party game and dessert, being prepared in the kitchen. Discover the meaning of Boxing Day in the 18th century holiday tradition. 

    Consider the differences between the way the Potts family entertained for the season and the work the household staff underwent to throw a party. Listen to hear if your ears can recognize holiday tunes that are still sung by modern carolers or test your luck and play a colonial parlor game. Uncover the links of winter traditions both old and new at Pottsgrove Manor.

    Twelfth Night Tours are given during normal museum hours, Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.. Tours are 45 minutes to 1 hour; the last full tour of each day begins at 3 p.m. 

    Additionally, the Museum Shop is also open and full of unique gifts, books, and more! Find the perfect holiday gift for everyone on your list. These tours welcome all ages and there is a suggested $2 donation per person.

    Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King St. near the intersection of King Street and Route 100, just off Route 422 near the Carousel at Pottsgrove and Manatawny Green Miniature Golf Course. 

    Pottsgrove Manor is operated by the Montgomery County Division of Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites.

    For more information, please call 610-326-4014, or visit the website at Like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook at

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottsgrove School District.

    Three Pottsgrove High School choral students have been selected to perform their version of "God  Bless America." 

    Sarah Ounsworth, Chloe Tice and Rae Schon will be singing God Bless America, at the American Heritage Credit Union Grand Illumination Tree Lighting and Fireworks Symphony on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. 

    The annual program attracts thousands of spectators to American Heritages main campus on Red Lion Road in Philadelphia.

    According to the students choral instructor, Ms. Kelsey Hendler, “the girls, who call themselves the "Soprani Squad" arranged their own music and prepared themselves for the audition. They competed against other acts and won the most votes to be selected for the performance. They are thrilled to be given the opportunity, and I couldn't be more proud of them!!”

    Spectators will also enjoy the sounds of the Philadelphia Boys Choir and The Fife and Drum Corps of the Old Barracks. 

    The evening celebration ends with Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross counting down the lighting of their 40-foot Christmas tree and a spectacular firework show to ring in the holiday season. The firework show is set to the theme music of the HBO series, John Adams.

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    Photos Courtesy of Cathy Skitko
    Pottstown High School innovators Jaheim Gregory and Wilchon Seward are joined by Twila Fisher in making their 'Shark Tank' presentation for the Pottstown Area Social Innovations Lab.

    Blogger's Note: The following was provided by The Hill School.
    Creativity, energy, and optimism were on full display on Nov. 8 when 12 entrepreneurial young men and women from Pottstown High School and The Hill School pitched five different team ideas for endeavors to benefit Pottstown while providing a positive social impact.

    Their proposals were presented during a “shark tank” style event hosted at the Hobart’s Run office as the culmination of a seven-week pilot program for the Pottstown Area Social Innovations Lab (PASIL) program, led by Twila Fisher, director of community and economic development for The Hill School and Hobart’s Run.
    Hill students Louis Fleisher and Sasjha Mayfield present on
    a project to create computer and gaming space at
    The Olivet Boys and Girls Club/Ricketts Center,
    which was the top-ranked project.

    The PASIL was generously funded in part through a two-year grant from the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation. Fisher noted that the students worked on the projects in their after-school hours. The Hill students were participants in the School’s afternoon community service program, and the Pottstown students were drawn from the Molding Men organization.

    About 30 invited community leaders attended the project presentations and served as judges. Each project required a preliminary budget and a specific “ask,” and no pitch could last longer than five minutes. 

    The judging rubric was based on categories including mission statement, social innovation (or how well the project would creatively address a social need), the governance structure of the proposed entity, budget, and the effectiveness or “salability” of the speeches and PowerPoint presentations. Students also were put on the spot by questions posed by the judges.

    While all the teams earned the respect of the spectators – individuals representing businesses, educational settings including Alvernia College and Montgomery County Community College, professions, and nonprofits – the top-ranked project involved creating a computer and gaming space for local youths at the Olivet Boys and Girls Club/Rickett’s Center. 
    Pottstown students Marquis Bartlett, Omarion Paschall, and
    David Starks 
    present on re-establishing a community 
    pool in Pottstown.

    The student team – Hill students Louis Fleisher and Sasjha Mayfield -- found that Pottstown youths want a safe space in which to socialize as well as gain computer skills. They also wanted to help the Olivet BGC attract more teen members.The second-highest scoring project was dubbed “” This team envisioned an ecommerce site focused on helping Pottstown businesses grow their revenue by managing their online marketing presence. The students – Tassilo Heinrich, Calvin Chang, and Nick Fan, all of Hill -- said Sellifyit would take a 5 percent fee (as opposed to the 10 percent charged by E-bay), and use those payments to generate funding for Pottstown-related concerns that could range from supporting the borough fire departments to a designated nonprofit.

    A proposal designed to help Edgewood Cemetery fund its ongoing maintenance was the third-highest scoring idea. The multi-pronged vision, shared by Pottstown High School student David Van Wallace, Jr., would involve special fundraising events ranging from flower sales to a “Taste of Pottstown” restaurant food sampling event – but the biggest and, the students believe, most sustainable idea would be to pursue a Community Supported Agriculture model in which small garden shares (perhaps via raised beds) created from the open, unused Edgewood land would be rented to Borough residents allowing them to grow their own vegetables. (Not present but contributing to this team effort was Hill student Haroon Feda.)
    Hill students Tassilo Heinrich, Calvin Chang, and Nick Fan
    make their "Sellifyit" presentation to the judges.

    While one employee would need to be hired to oversee the gardens, the rents would generate income that could be used for cemetery maintenance. In addition, cemetery mowing costs would decrease as the open land would be turned into gardens.

    At Edgewood, the success of this project – based on CSAs elsewhere in the country – would depend upon solving issues such as the lack of running water at the cemetery for watering the plants. The  students said a system of rain barrels could perhaps be established.

    Another idea that was passionately pursued was the re-establishment of a Pottstown Public Pool to “bring Pottstown together and get kids and youths off the street in the summer,” said a team representative. The students – Pottstown students Marquis Bartlett, Omarion Paschall, and David Starks -- discussed whether it would be feasible to find a buyer who would purchase the North End Swim Club, rebrand it as a community pool, establish daily rates, and find other ways to raise funds for pool maintenance and to cover the many expenses of running a pool.

    The fifth group offered a plan for what they dubbed the “Pottstown Knockout 5K Mud Run” that would get Pottstown residents involved in a fun physical activity while raising money through registration fees and sponsorships – funds that would be given to a Pottstown nonprofit and/or a new downtown business.
    Pottstown High School student David Van Wallace, Jr. 
    makes a point during his Edgewood Cemetery proposal.

    The Mud Run innovators – Jaheim Gregory and Wilchon Seward -- said the race would showcase High Street businesses along the route and offer a “mud and color” component at an obstacle course toward the end of the race.

    “Cities across the globe have integrated social innovations labs into their urban fabric, often with measurable results,” Fisher said. “As Pottstown continues to find resourceful methods to help it rebuild, making room for a think tank-style lab made sense here, too.”

    The next group of new Hill and Pottstown PASIL participants, who will begin their think tank work after their respective schools’ Thanksgiving holidays, might continue to build on the first cohort’s ideas, or they may come up with their own pursuits.

    “At this phase, the PASIL goal is to get the students’ creative juices flowing, and encourage them to think about how they can make a real difference in Pottstown,” said Fisher. She welcomes feedback from Pottstown’s entrepreneurs and investors – not to mention financial backing and other support – for any of the ideas presented.

    Fisher is working with Montgomery County Community College to create a PASIL course that Pottstown and Hill students can take for college credit.

    Hill School and Pottstown High School students with their PASIL program certificates.

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    Members of the Spring-Ford School Board work together to turn over a blanket using only their feet as part of an exercise undertaken by students and demonstrated Monday night. Maybe next year's preliminary budget was hiding under there as well.

    Last night the Spring-Ford School Board unanimously voted to "make public" the preliminary 2019-2020 school budget.

    I would like to tell you how much the document calls for spending, but I don't know because nobody seemed to think it was important enough to mention during the meeting.

    And afterward, when I asked Superintendent David Goodin how much the budget calls for spending he didn't know either, at least "not off the top of my head."

    One might hope that a top administrator of a school district who just had his contract extended for another three years last month and who will be paid more than $198,000 in the first year of that contract, might know how much money his administration has proposed spending next year, but hey, that's just me.

    So then I asked Dr. Goodin if the preliminary budget includes a tax increase and, noting that "I know that's all you care about reporting," he said it was "about 4.2 percent."

    Asked if there is a copy of the preliminary budget that had just been "made public" and he said "it's online."

    Except it isn't.

    At least it wasn't on the Spring-Ford website any place that I could find it last night.
    These 10 Spring-Ford Marching Band Members have been
    chosen to  
    march in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, CA.

    The 2018-2019 budget can be found on the business office page, the one that did not raise taxes, but no 2019-2020 preliminary budget.

    According to the agenda for the Nov. 19 meeting, Chief Financial Officer James Fink gave a presentation on the 2019-2020 preliminary budget, but his presentation is not attached to that agenda, nor does it appear under board presentations page, which don't go past October.

    You can't look at the presentation from the minutes of the Nov. 19 meeting because no meeting minutes beyond September are posted on the district web site.

    Nor can you watch Fink give the presentation because there are no videos of board meetings posted on the web site beyond October.

    So it would seem that the Spring-Ford School Board and I have a very different definition of what "make public" means.

    All that said, it is unlikely that taxes will end up going up by 4.2 percent next year.

    The preliminary budget is just what it sounds like, a very preliminary look in a ridiculously long budget process driven by Pennsylvania's Act 1.
    Not to be outdone, the Spring-Ford High School Marching Band
    was on hand last night, all 170 of them, to celebrate winning the
    Cavalcade of Bands Championship this year.

    That act requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue an "adjusted index" for each school district every year. Think of it as a "tax cap" over which a school budget cannot raises taxes without getting voter approval in the spring primary election.

    Given that Spring-Ford's index for the 2019-2020 school year is 2.3 percent, it's more likely that the 4.2 percent tax hike Goodin mentioned is simply a place-holder.

    As the year goes on, expenses get clearer and estimates get more accurate and the final budget adoption in June is likely to produce a tax hike, if any, of 2.3 percent or lower.

    Last year the board did not raises property taxes at all and the year before that, it raised taxes by 2.3 percent.

    But until the 2019-2020 preliminary budget is "made public," we won't know exactly where things stand right now.

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Boyertown School officials hope to have a new set of grandstands, replacing these, ready to go for the first football game of the 2019 season in August.

    The Boyertown School Board voted Tuesday night to spend more than $1 million for new grandstands at the new stadium being built at the high school.

    Although the financing for the $5 million project has not yet been decided upon, the vote occurred to take advantage of an offer to skim $100,000 off the price of the new stands if the order was placed before Dec. 1.

    The board decided in June to move ahead with demolishing the old stadium, which developed structural problems due to water infiltration.

    The package the board approved Tuesday is with Stadium Solutions and includes the home side grandstands, the home side press box and a new handicap platform for the visitor side.

    The price is $1,167,200 and there would be a three-year warranty on the grandstand and it's installation, along with a one-year warranty on the press box.

    The vote was not unanimous.

    Board member Ruth Dierolf, who said she likes the package and agrees it is the right one for Boyertown, said she nevertheless had to vote against it because she has taken the position she will not vote on anything until she knows the impact on the budget.

    Board member Clay Breece was more expansive in his opposition, tying it to what he said is the board's spendthrift approach to budgeting.

    "I'm not voting for new stadium. I think we need to be fixing the stadium we've got," said Breece.

    "There are people on this board who have never met a spending idea they don't like," he said. "We should be fixing the stadium we've got for $2.5 million, not spending $5 million for a new one."

    Fixing the current stadium would be pennywise and pound foolish, said board member Brandon Foose, saying it could develop the same problems in a few years.

    "If we repair stadium, and a couple years later, we have to replace it anyway, that would be a huge waste of money," Foose said.

    The current plan is for the new stadium to be ready for the first football game in August of 2019.

    Budget Discussion

    The board also undertook a fairly lengthy budget discussion, although the discussion focused more on process than the details of the budget, which is still months away.

    In January, the board can either vote to stay within the state tax cap, called the index, or go through the process of  building a preliminary which has to be adopted in February, according to Chief Financial Officer Becky Clouser.

    This slide shows that if the school board had raised taxes each 
    year by the state index, it's millage would be .73 mills higher.
    Doing so would allow the district to apply for, as it has in past years, for "exceptions" to the tax cap without having to go to voters. This year, Boyertown's index would limit a tax hike to a maximum of 2.8 percent.

    In addition to hiring a new superintendent this year, the district has also had to replace almost the entire business office, that combined with the vote to rescind the per capita tax elimination and "inconsistent expenditure reporting," has slowed progress on holding budget meetings.

    Dierolf and board member Christine Neiman complained that work on the budget was supposed to start earlier. "We used to have the different school building leaders come in an make their pitch for what they wanted in the coming year. How are we supposed to vote on a budget if we don't have all the pieces?" asked Dierolf.

    Board Vice President and Finance Committee Chairman Steve Elsier said work on the budget has occurred in the finance committee more than in previous years.

    Superintendent Dana Bedden, who is undergoing his first budget with the board since being hired in July, said he was disturbed by Dierolf's suggestion.

    "I have never, in 14 years as a superintendent, had departments or buildings lobby the board. That sounds like a 'Shark Tank' scenario and pits one department against the other. That's scary to me," Bedden said.

    Instead, those pitches should be made to the administration and the administration should bring a recommendation to the board, he said.

    Clouser said the deficit in the current budget has already been reduced to $1.3 million, which is less than previous years.

    Bedden said he has never presided over a school district that "operated in the red" and he does not intend to start now.

    His team has already saved $125,000 on copier leases and workers compensation insurance.

    In fact the new copier lease will save $625,000 over the course of the five-year contract, which Elsier said "is real money."

    Annual savings of more than $30,000 will also be realized as the result of a change over to a new student information system that the board approved Tuesday night.

    The district needs to take a different approach to budgeting to "right the ship" Bedden said. "Whatever we've done in the past isn't working."

    There are many factors that contribute to rising costs. "We feed our children milk every day and the price of milk will go up," he said, also agreeing with Elsier that the PSERS retirement costs dictated by the state-wide pension system is a huge factor.

    "When I saw the figures for this year I called and checked because I didn't think that could be right," said Bedden. Another factor will be negotiations for a new teacher contract, he said.

    "Like I said when you interviewed me, you can't tax your way out of this, but similarly, you can't cut your way out of it," Bedden said. "I hope we're open to doing this a different way, so we can be more efficient."

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    More than 100 people attended the Perkiomen School District's special meeting Wednesday night looking at facilities issues and particularly, to discuss the fate of South Elementary School. 
    Maintaining small class size and equity of instructional opportunity were the two top priorities identified among 10 by the more than 100 people who attended a special Perkiomen Valley School District meeting about facilities -- with a particular focus on South Elementary School.

    Coming in dead last on the priorities list was "minimizing tax impact" of whatever decision is made by the school board.

    Driving public interest is the possibility of South Elementary School being closed; or renovated; or replaced and all the ripples of district-wide impact that decision will send out into the greater school community.
    South Elementary School in Trappe.

    It all began this summer when air quality tests revealed mold spores in classrooms.

    The ensuing clean-up, spurred a discussion about the future of the school, the district's oldest, built in 1955 with an addition added in 1995.

    Options have included repairing and upgrading the building; building a new South Elementary School; re-districting elementary students among the remaining three elementary schools; or even changing the configuration of the schools to make 5/6 and 7/8 grade centers at the district's two middle schools.

    Each choice comes with its own set of challenges, pros and cons and, of course, costs.

    The district has held a number of public meetings on the matter. And after more than 300 people volunteered to be part of a steering committee, the administration shifted gears and invited everyone to last night's meeting to attempt to set a foundation for decision making.

    The results of a priority survey taken by those at last night's meeting.
    Divided up into tables of eight people, each with a "facilitator" who was either an administrator or school board member, Superintendent Barbara Russell walked the crowd through the basics of how the district got to this point.

    Then the group was charged with taking an electronic survey asking them to rank their priorities to create a "define a values framework for reviewing current facility options."

    The results were immediately available and the clear top priority was class size, followed by ensuring consistency and equity in educational program.

    Coming in third was limiting the number of building transitions; closely followed by providing students with modern resources; providing staff with the resources they need; maintaining a maximum bus ride of 45 minutes; enhancing resources for special education and extra curricluar activities.

    Perkiomen Valley Schools Superintendent Barbara Russell
    instructs residents who attended last night's meeting how"
    to take the electronic priorities survey.
    Coming dead last was tax impact.

    Minimizing tax impact was "rated as least important by 65 percent of you," Russell said.

    It should be noted that the residents also noted their municipality and the largest number of those there live in Collegeville and Trappe boroughs, which is the attendance area for South Elementary School.

    Residents of Schwenksvuille and Lower Frederick made up the fewest percentage of the audience.

    One resident asked Russell if the same priorities survey could be offered to the entire district, and she said it is definitely something the district would consider.

    She told the residents that an engineering and architecture firm had undertaken a "Master Facilities" study that will be unveiled at the next school board work session meeting on Dec. 3.

    A second "South Elementary Feasibility Study" has also been undertaken, but will not be ready by that meeting, she said.

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Submitted photo
    From left, Montgomery County Planning Commission Vice chairwoman Dulcie Flaharty, Planning Commissioner Director Jody Holton, Regional Recreation Coordinator Michael Lane, Michelle Reddick and Dennis Elliott, Vice Chairwoman and Chairman, respectively, of the Upper Pottsgrove Open Space and Recreation Board, board member and former township commissioner Herb Miller and State Rep. Marcy Toepel, R-147th Dist.

    The Upper Pottsgrove Township Open Space and Recreation Board was recently named the 2018 winner of the Planning Advocate Award from the Montgomery County Planning Commission.

    Given out every year since 1967, the Planning Advocate Award "recognizes an engaged citizen, appointed/elected official or board, or community organization that has made significant and sustained contributions to advancing or promoting planning in Montgomery County."

    The volunteer group was "recognized for community vision, sustained commitment to conservation of natural resources, and successful open space preservation and trail development achievements. Over nearly three decades, the board has created an enviable record of accomplishments, furthering the vision and goals of the township," according to the announcement from the planning commission.

    The open space and trail development achievements were funded by a .25 percent earned income tax approved by voters in 2006.

    At the time voters approved the tax, only about 70 acres of township land was permanently protected as open space.

    Today, Upper Pottsgrove has more than 400 acres of open space that's permanently protected — that's an addition of 330 acres and an increase of more 450 percent, according to township officials.

    The group held a special town-wide meeting Sept. 27 to gather input on the writing of a new plan.

    This annual awards program, which is in its 51st year, recognizes the best in planning, design, and advocacy in Montgomery County. It promotes awareness of outstanding design and innovative planning in our communities and acknowledges the high quality of work and commitment of communities, organizations, and professionals in contributing to these projects, according to the county website.

    The award was one of six announced recently and all the more impressive when one considers how often the recipients of these awards are from the eastern portion of Montgomery County.

    In fact, in the last 10 years, only six out of 57 winners have come from any part of Montgomery County west of Limerick, representing just 10.5 percent of award winners.

    Pottstown has won three of those six awards in the last 10 years, with the other three going to Pennsburg, Upper Hanover and East Greenville.

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    Saturday will be one of the few times in the year that historic Bethesda Church at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, will be open to the public.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.

    The National Park Service (NPS) invites the public to celebrate an “Iron Plantation Christmas” and stroll through 100 years of American Christmas, at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. 

    This free event will take place on Saturday, Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature Christmas as celebrated during the 18th and 19th centuries at Hopewell Furnace.

    Hopewell Furnace Site Manager David Blackburn encourages visitors to experience the simple
    Der Belsnickel will also be on hand Saturday.
    elegance of Christmas through the years during the event. 

    “This is an opportunity for today’s public to travel back in time and witness Christmas at different periods of the furnace’s history” he said. “The company store will be open for business and the park’s buildings will be staffed with employees and volunteers bringing the village once again to life” he added.

    Visitors will find nearly a century of Christmas illustrated through a series of recreated holiday scenes, dating from 1795 to 1880, inside the park’s historic buildings. Visitors will be able to discover the variety of customs, foods, and traditions of the holiday season from different times during the furnace community’s history. 

    Participants will include Der Belsnickel, a mischievous version of Santa Claus with a commitment to justice. He rewards good children with candy and naughty children with switches.

    Along with the regular program of historical Christmas activities, costumed volunteers will present a special program of 19th century holiday caroling at the park’s Bethesda Church. 

    This is one of only a few days of the year when the historic church is open to the public. It is located one mile east of the main iron furnace community, on Bethesda Road. Programs at the church will be held at 12, 1, 2, and 3 p.m.. 

    Directions to reach Bethesda Church will be available at the park’s visitor center or by contacting the park at (610) 582-8773.

    There is no admission fee for visitors to the park or to this special event.

    Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site preserves and interprets an early American industrial landscape. Showcasing an iron plantation and its surrounding countryside, the park’s facilities are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. During the summer season (June – September) it is open seven days per week. Hopewell Furnace is located five miles south of Birdsboro, PA on Route 345. 

    No entrance fee is charged. 

    For more information stop by the park’s visitor center, call 610-582-8773, visit the park’s web site at:, or contact us by e-mail at:

    Visitors with specific needs may contact the park for assistance before their visit.

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    Submitted Photos
    Students in the Pottstown Middle School Environmental Education Club learn about water systems and aquaponics at the Montgomery County Community College campus in Pottstown as part of the "Liquid Connections" program.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Foundation for Pottstown Education.

    The Foundation for Pottstown Education is now helping to fund a community collaborative program designed to teach students in the Pottstown Middle School students about our local water environment.

    The Foundation is funding the program in cooperation with Green Valleys Watershed and the Montgomery County Community College.

    This program will provide students in the Pottstown Middle School Environmental Education Club an opportunity to learn about local waterways.

    Program topics include adaptations and birds, water quality and orienteering. The group will also participate in field trips to various local sites for hands-on studies and hiking, including Warwick County Park, Green Valleys’ headquarters of Welkinweir, and Murgia Park in West Pottsgrove for pond and stream studies. 

    They will tour the Pottstown Wastewater Treatment plant and canoe a portion of the Schuylkill River in Phoenixville. The group will work with the Montgomery County Community College taking part
    Pottstown Middle School students are learning about
    the ecology of water at MCCC and other locations.
    in water quality studies at the Pottstown campus.

    The program is titled Liquid Connections – How Water Quality Affects Biological Organisms. 

    Through this seven week course the students will learn about how water quality is a measurement of the condition of water relative to the requirements of the biological species the water supports. 

    The physical, chemical and biological characteristics of a body of water have a direct impact on the health of the organisms that rely on the water. In nature, pollution and agricultural run-off have major impacts on the water quality of lakes, streams and rivers. 

    These pollutants also affect the biological species that the water sustains, often causing species to die off and ecosystems to collapse. Therefore, limiting pollutants and maintaining ideal water quality conditions is vital for the survival of the ecosystems that rely on the water. 

    Likewise, in artificial systems, such as the hydroponic systems that are used to grow much of our commercial produce, maintaining proper water conditions is vital to sustained plant growth and yield.

    In these sessions, students will learn how to measure various water quality conditions and then use these measurements to investigate how water quality affects the health of natural and artificial water systems.

    Specific topics include:
    • Session 1: Introduction to Water Quality and Water Quality Measurement Techniques 
    • Session 2: Field Study on Water Quality of Schuylkill River and Manatawny Creek 
    • Session 3: Field Study Data Analysis 
    • Session 4: Automated Water Quality Sensor Introduction and Deployment 
    • Session 5: Introduction to Hydroponics and Aquaponics and Water Quality Measurements of  These Systems 
    • Session 6: Hydroponic and Aquaponic Systems Data Analysis and Water Quality Experiment Set-up 
    • Session 7: Water Quality Experiment Data Collection and Analysis 
    From left, Pottstown Middle School science teacher
    Ginger Angelo, Carl and Sylvia Landis, and
    Dawn White, all from from Green Valley Watershed, along with
    Dr. Karen Buchkovich-Sass, Dr. Jamie Bretz and Regina Kline
    from  Montgomery County Community College.
    Funding for this program is made possible by donations to the Foundation for Pottstown Education to the Foundation for Pottstown Education specifically for environmental studies.

    Previously, the Foundation has provided funding to support the Middle School Environmental Club trip to the Pocono Environmental Education Center as well as programs in environmental after school programs for all four Elementary Schools in the Pottstown School District.

    The Foundation is currently seeking additional funding to continue to support these programs.

    Anyone interested in contributing to these funds is encouraged to contact the Foundation at 610-970-6616 or the Foundation’s Executive Director, Joe Rusiewicz via email

    About FPE: The Foundation for Pottstown Education’s (FPE) mission is to support, promote, sponsor and carry out educational, scientific or charitable activities and objectives within or related to the Pottstown School District.

    Visit for more information about the Foundation for Pottstown Education. You can also follow FPE on Facebook and Twitter.

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    An early rendition of the Sanatoga Green plan.

    With little fanfare and no comment, the Lower Pottsgrove Township Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to approve the first phase of a $146 million project which, when finished, will construct nearly 500 housing units near the Limerick outlets.

    The first phase, which is what was approved Monday night, calls for the construction of 147 town homes. The final site plan for this phase was recommended by the township planning commission in October, said Township Manager Ed Wagner.

    A rendering of the town homes planned for Sanatoga Green.
    Construction is set to begin in the spring.

    Located on a total of 57 acres, the project calls for the construction of 490 housing units comprised of the approved 147 town homes; 343 apartments in 17 buildings; a 50,000 square foot medical office building and a 108-room hotel.

    The site is located off Evergreen Road, near the entrance to the Costco and Philadelphia Premium Outlets, both of which are in Limerick Township. 

    The project was first envisioned in 2014, when the township commissioners agreed to change the zoning to “gateway mixed use” at the suggestion of the developers, Castle Caldecott, LLC.

    The project won preliminary site plan approval from the township commissioners in July, 2017.

    Commercial Comes Next

    Township Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. said a clause remains in place that requires the commercial phases of the project to be built next, before the apartments, otherwise the developers can be subject to a penalty of $375,000.
    A rendering of the medical office building proposed for
    Sanatoga Green.

    The commissioners had previously expressed concern that if all the housing were built first, the commercial properties might never get built.

    That would be of gravest concern to the Pottsgrove School District, which benefits from tax revenues from commercial properties because they do not add to the district's enrollment. Residential development, on the other hand, does.

    Last year, Pottsgrove School District Business Manager David Nester shared the results of a demographic study that forecast the district could see growth of as much as 3,700 more students in the next 10 years.

    However, the scenario the consultant hired by the board in November considers the most likely is an 8-percent increase in the next 10 years, which works out to 262 additional children.

    Nester said the buildings most likely to see the greatest impact under this scenario are Lower Pottsgrove Elementary School (53 more students) and Pottsgrove Middle School, which would see 109 more.

    The primary drivers behind this forecast are the residential units in Sanatoga Green, the Spring Valley Farms project now under construction at Pleasantview and Bliem roads — both in Lower Pottsgrove — and the 58-unit rental development off Moyer Road in Upper Pottsgrove.

    “We’ve never had his kind of influx of housing before. These numbers are conservative, and frankly they’re still twice what developers said,” Nester told the board last year.

    Tax Windfall?

    But Castle Caldecott's analysis predicted the Sanatoga Green project will generate only 58 additional students for the school district and will be a tax windfall.

    Estimated to generate just over $3 million in additional tax revenue for the school district, a 2016 analysis done for the developers, estimated $1.1 million in costs to the district.

    That leaves Pottsgrove Schools $2.6 million on the positive side when Sanatoga Green is completed, according to the analysis.

    As for the township, which has a much lower millage rate, the total revenues would rise by $627,159, minus $385,400 in costs for township services — again, undocumented — leaving a net gain of $241,759.

    More Traffic?

    The exact impact the project will have on local traffic was not immediately available Monday night.
    Plans for a new ramp at the Sanatoga interchange are in the works.
    However, more homes usually equals more cars.

    As it stands, PennDOT is already moving ahead with upgrades to Route 422's Sanatoga interchange, which is nearby to the project.

    The $3 million project will allow traffic driving away from the Philadelphia Outlets and Costco to get onto westbound Route 422 without having to cross opposing traffic on Evergreen Road as it does now

    The project is expected to take most of 2019 to construct and is not likely to be ready for use until 2020.

    Sewer Impacts

    Sanatoga Green will generate 78,000 gallons of wastewater per day. It will be pumped to the Pottstown Wastewater Treatment Plant with the help of $500,000 worth of improvements to a township pump station.

    The state, concerned about the amount of stormwater and groundwater infiltrating Lower Pottsgrove’s sewer system, approved the additional flow after the township increased its efforts to stem that infiltration from $175,000 per year to $435,000, said Wagner.

    No Tax Hike

    In other business, the commissioners also voted unanimously to advertise the 2019 budget which calls for a 1 percent increase in spending, but no tax hike.

    Wagner said the 2019 budget is $6,366,989, which is only $35,059 more than the current budget.

    However, the budget nevertheless calls for using $328,749 of reserve funds to balance the budget and avoid the tax hike.

    He said during the budget process more than $400,000 in spending was cut from the 2019 budget draft to get it to this point.

    Sewer fees remain $136 per quarter, as they have been since 2014, Wagner said.

    The commissioners are expected to adopt the final budget at the Dec. 20 meeting.

    Police News

    District Judge Maurice Saylor, in robe, administers the oath to 
    Lower Pottsgrove's newest police officer, Aaron Diefenderfer.
    The township swore in a new police officer Monday night. His name is Aaron Diefenderfer and he previously worked in Philadelphia, has emergency medical training and is currently pursuing a master's degree, according to Police Chief Mike Foltz.

    Another candidate, Michael Tantorno Jr. has also accepted a conditional offer of employment and will be sworn in at a meeting in January.

    Foltz also reported that during an intense rainstorm on Nov. 2, one of the department's patrol carts was "overcome by flood water."

    Moisture remains trapped in patrol car 88-2 after
    it was flooded during 
    a Nov. 2 rainstorm.
    "I imagine it has quite bit of mildew inside it now," said the chief. An insurance claim has been filed.

    Foltz also fielded a complaint made Monday night by a resident of Pebble Beach Drive about residents of the Rolling Hills public housing development creating problems on his street.

    "They steal from our cars. When I come home at 2 and 3 in the morning, they're walking down the middle of the street," said Brian Sacks. "I feel like I'm living in the hood."

    He asked for a fence to block access, but Foltz said he did not think that would work because there is a fence between Rolling Hills and neighboring Walnut Ridge development and "it keeps getting torn down."

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    The approval of the first phase of the proposed Limerick Town Center includes the 308-unit senior housing complex, shown above in gray, and the road improvements which include re-routing Swamp Pike through a traffic circle to align with Lewis Road at the intersection with West Ridge Pike.

    For residents of Limerick Center Road, what was most significant about last night's Limerick Supervisors meeting is what didn't happen.
    An opponent of the TP Trailers project
    was on hand Tuesday with this flyer.

    A controversial proposal for a trailer and shipping container facility at 181 Limerick Center was pulled from the night's agenda "due to a scheduling conflict with the developer," according to a posting on the township web site.

    Instead, the project, which has won a recommendation for approval from the planning commission, will be on the agenda for the Dec. 18 meeting.

    But that doesn't mean that news didn't happen.

    It was just a little under the radar.

    With no comment or discussion, the Limerick Township Board of Supervisors granted final site plan approval to the first phase of a 30-acre project that will eventually bring more than 450 new residences and a traffic circle to the intersection of Ridge and Swamp pikes.

    With Supervisors Chairman Elaine DeWan absent, the plan for phase one of Limerick Town Center was approved by a 3-1 vote. 

    Supervisor Patrick Morroney voted no.

    The first phase includes Arcadia at Limerick Pointe, the 308-unit senior units — comprised of a mixture of independent living, assisted living and “memory care” units —  that is at the center of the project. 

    But the aspect of the project that will affect the most people is that the first phase approval also includes the re-alignment of Swamp Pike, through a traffic circle, to align with Lewis Road at the intersection with West Ridge Pike.
    Limerick Supervisors will hold
    a special meeting Monday.

    Despite vehemently opposing the traffic circle since it was first insisted upon by Montgomery County and PennDOT road planners, Vice Chairman Ken Sperring, without comment, provided the crucial third vote needed for passage.

    Back in September, Sperring said he refuses "on principle," to vote for anything involving the circle.

    However, with Morroney also voting no and Supervisor Ken Neafcy also absent at the September meeting, Sperring was convinced to vote to apply for three new traffic light permits from PennDOT that the project needed to move forward, after being re-assured there would be other opportunities to raise concerns about the traffic circle.

    Tuesday night was one of those opportunities, but Sperring did not take it.

    In addition to the the Arcadia building, the project also proposed about 160 townhomes and three retail buildings that have 32,000 square feet of space on the first floor, with apartments above.

    The developers, Ridge Swamp Associates LLP, must still obtain permits from the Montgomery County highway officials, as well as PennDOT, but have already obtained crucial permits from the Montgomery County Conservation District, according to Township Manager Dan Kerr and Township Engineer Khaled Hassan.

    In fact Hassan said the developers may begin doing some earth moving for the senior building quite soon.

    As for the townhouses and commercial buildings, although they have been the subject of extensive discussions with township supervisors, no formal plans have been submitted to the township for either of those project phases, said Hassan.

    And now, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Photos by Evan Brandt
    Santa only delivered candy canes, not budget cuts, to borough council Wednesday night. But beleaguered taxpayers are getting an early Christmas gift .... kind of. The threatened 12 percent tax hike has been cut to 9.46 percent.

    'Tis the season of giving, so never let it be said that we at The Digital Notebook never gave you anything.

    Today we give the gift of good news ... kind of.

    Remember when the $48.9 million budget was unveiled in October and it was calling for a 12 percent tax ax hike? We have trouble forgetting it since it would have been the second 12 percent tax hike in two years.

    The key words in that last sentence are "would have been..."

    It seems that as the budget adoption date draws closer, the tax hike has dropped. Borough Manager Justin Keller told council Wednesday night staff has whittled it down to 9.46 percent.

    He pointed out that the 2019 budget calls for less actual spending than the 2018 budget, and that, as of Oct. 31, spending in 2018 is down in a number of categories over 2017.

    He ticked them off:
    • Administration spending is down 29.2 percent over 2017
    • Legal costs are down 16 percent over 2017
    • Engineering costs are down 50 percent over 2017
    • General government spending is down 50 percent over 2017
    • Police overtime is down 20 percent over 2017
    • Police court overtime is down 57 percent over 2017
    So why are taxes still going up?

    Keller laid the blame on two major factors.

    FUTURE LEADERS?: The graduating class of the most recent
    Pottstown Ciutizens Leadership Academy was
    announced last night.
    The first was the $1 million increase in pension obligations for 2019.

    "That one kind of hit us by
    surprise," Keller said. The 16 percent increase "is a big number," he said.

    The other was big tax refunds to large commercial properties which had challenged their property assessments and won.

    The biggest of those was the $360,000 the borough has to pay back to the owners of the moribund Pottstown Center shopping center at 799 State St. after the court decision on an assessment challenge.

    The good news, if there can be said to be any, is that assessments seem to have leveled out and challenges are diminishing.

    Keller said as the budget stands now, the millage rate will be 12.675 mills, up from the current rate of 11.58 mills.

    Council will vote Monday on advertising the budget and new tax rate, after which the tax rate can go down, but not up. Final adoption of the budget is likely to be at the end of December.

    New police sub-station

    Council also will vote Monday on a proposal to re-establish a police sub-station in the First Ward, near to the sites of a murder and a shooting last month.

    It's been five years since the police had a sub-station in the First Ward. The previous location was adjacent to the Chestnut Street Park.

    A new police sub-station could seen be located here.
    The new location, presuming council approves the move, will be space being offered free of charge in the Beech Street Factory building, once Fecera's Furniture Warehouse, at the corner of Beech and North Evans Street.

    Given that two of the three recent gun crimes involved locations on North Evans Street, it seems like a good spot.

    The most recent shooting, Nov. 30, was the discovery of a victim who had actually been shot in Warwick Township in Chester County, but came to a residence in the 400 block of North Evans Street rather than go to a hospital. Go figure.

    The night before, a shooting victim as discovered three blocks south on North Evans Street.

    On Nov. 18, Sylvia Williams was shot and killed inside her home in the 300 block of North Washington Street during a home-invasion robbery.

    Ten days later, Aaron Joseph Taylor, 18, of the first block of West Second Street, was arrested, along with a 17-year-old juvenile, in connection with the crime.

    Last night, Mayor Stephanie Henrick, used her monthly Mayor's report to comment on the gun violence.

    Here is what she said:

    Councilman Ryan Procsal, who represents the First Ward, later said that gun violence must be taken seriously.

    He said he hoped before committing more, would be shooters ask themselves "do they want to spend their next 25 years, or their entire life in jail? Because that's what's going to happen to them."

    Odds and ends

    A few other nuggets of interest from last night:

    • The Pottstown Land Bank has been reviewing its policies and before presenting them to council, is looking for input from, among others, the citizens of Pottstown. They can read them and provide comments here, through a link on the borough website.
      PAID's new website application.
    • Speaking of websites, Peggy Lee-Clark, the executive director of the the borough's economic development agency, Pottstown Area Industrial Development Inc., gave a presentation on PAID's new website application. If focuses on commercial and industrial properties that are available, particularly in the new opportunity zones created in the tax reform passed by Congress. Within those zones, investors can buy properties or invest in businesses and by-pass capital gains taxes for 10 years.
    • In addition to voting on a new contract with the Montgomery County Planning Commission Monday for planning services, council will be asked to approve a second contract with the county planners. This one will make use of a federal grant to look at and perhaps change the zoning along Keim Street in preparation for what Keller said is the expected start of construction on a new Keim Street Bridge in 2020.
    • And, in case you didn't notice the photo above, a certain North Pole resident made his way to Pottstown a little early to wish council and all of the borough a Merry Christmas:

    And with that, here are the Tweets and other video from the meeting.

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    Crappy Photo by Evan Brandt
    An example of one of the slides from last night's presentation about improving nine of the regions intersections. This one is for the intersection of Armand Hammer Boulevard and Industrial Highway in Lower Pottsgrove.

    What are the Pottstown region's worst intersections and, perhaps more important, what must be done to improve them?

    Those were the questions faced by the members of the Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Planning Commission Thursday night.

    That's when a draft of a study of nine intersections by the Delaware Valley Regional Panning Commission was presented.

    Next month, the second half of the study and data on nine more intersections will be presented.

    The nine outlined list night were:

    • Manatawny Street and Grosstown Road in West Pottsgrove;
    • Manatawny Strret and Sell Road in West Pottsgrove;
    • Manatawny Street and Glasgow Street in Pottstown;
    • High Street and Moser Road in Pottstown;
    • High Street and Armand Hammer Boulevard in Pottstown;
    • Armand Hammer Boulevard and Medical Drive in Lower Pottsgrove;
    • Armand Hammer Boulevard and Industrial Highway in Lower Pottsgrove; 
    • Vaughn Road and route 724 in East Coventry
    • Hoffecker Road and Route 100 in North Coventry.

    Each intersection was outlined for traffic volume and safety, along with projections for future traffic load.

    Surprisingly, several of the intersections were forecast to actually have less traffic in 2020 or 2025 because planners anticipate future building will convince drivers to take different routes.

    The meeting was also an opportunity to gather more information.

    For example as DVRPC Planner Kathleen Whitaker outlined the problems with the intersection of Hoffecker Road and route 100, she became aware -- thanks to input from North Coventry Supervisors Chairman Jim Marks -- that the township had just received a sketch plan for a proposed 200-plus apartment complex near that corner, making the recommendation for a traffic signal all the more imperative.

    Once the second half of the study is presented in January, the DVRPC will take the input back to create a final report, due in June, which each of the eight municipalities that are part of the regional planning commission can use to recommend upgrades at those intersections.

    The report was funded entirely by a $65,000 allocation DVRPC made to the region.

    After June, another allocation is available and Whitaker outlined some other areas that might be studied at no cost to local taxpayers.

    Whitaker says possibilities include a study of High Street corridor traffic to create a model for downtown Pottstown; a school transportation study for the region; a Route 663 study from Maugers Mill Road to Route 73; 10 to 15 more intersections; a look at restoring regional rail; or ways to make better connections between adjacent housing developments.

    What do you think?

    In the meantime, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    A mixed media piece by Kristen VonHohen is among the art work being auctioned for the ArtFusion fundraiser.

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by ArtFusion 19464

    ArtFusion 19464’s holiday art show Squared is a fundraiser for the non-profit community art center. 

    Each piece of art was created by a local artist and donated to ArtFusion. 
    A black and white work by Erika Hornburg

    Many of their students also created work for the show. 

    The artwork is being sold via silent auction and can be seen on and their social media. 

    Bids can be placed in person, over the phone or by email until Friday, Dec. 14.

    This show has been sponsored by VIST Bank.

    Dec. 14 is also ArtFusion 19464’s holiday party. Everyone is invited to come celebrate from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Refreshments will be served and the event is free and open to the public. 

    RSVPs to 610-326-2506 or are appreciated. This party is a join event with MOSAIC Community Land Trust.

    ArtFusion 19464 is a 501(c)3 non-profit community art center located at the Beech St. Factory in downtown Pottstown. The school offers day, evening and weekend art classes to all ages. 

    The goal of these classes is to help students develop their creative skills and independence through self-expression. ArtFusion 19464 also hosts rotating art shows featuring local artists.

    An acrylic painting by Arline Christ

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    Submitted photos

    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by the Pottstown School District.

    Pottstown High School students and staff understand, when it comes to donating blood every drop counts. 
    There is always an urgent need for blood and platelet donors to give during the holiday season to ensure blood is available for medical treatments and emergencies. 

    PHS Health Care Technology students recently held their first of three yearly blood drives. They exceeded their goal of 35 donors by collecting 37 units of blood. 

    The Miller Keystone Blood Bank calculates that each unit collected can be used to help save three lives. All units collected go directly to the Pottstown Hospital. 

    Health Technology teacher Michaela Johnson said, "I am very proud of our students and staff, their gift of life helps make Pottstown High School one of the top donating sites in Southeast Pennsylvania."

    Johnson added, "our Health Tech students also gained some excellent real-world experience while assisting the phlebotomist on the floor and in the canteen area. They were able to implement skills they learned in the classroom while helping to make a difference in the community. We are thankful that we are able to host blood drives every year."

    "We understand how important it is to have a supply of blood ready and available to those in need," said student Wynter Harris. 

    "I really enjoyed helping out at the blood drive and knowing that what we did will make a lifesaving difference for someone," Harris said.

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    Arguably, the single most important thing local government does is pass a budget every year.

    One year after raising considerable dust by hiking taxes by 12 percent, Pottstown Borough Council raised considerably less dust by hiking taxes another 9.5 percent.

    No one showed up to complain.

    In fact, hardly anyone on council said a word, with the exception of Councilman Joseph Kirkland.

    Some readers may remember that last year, when the budget was passed by a 4-3 vote and the tax hike that loomed was above 18 percent, it was Kirkland who complained loudest that serious cost-cutting measures needed to be made.

    He was the one who made the motion for a budget that raised taxes by 12 percent.

    Because 2017 was a local election year, the borough code allowed the budget to be re-opened and changed in 2018 and Kirkland was appointed to head up an ad hoc commission to look for ways to cut costs and lower the tax hike.

    But when the February deadline came around, the commission had no cuts, or savings to offer and the tax hike and budget remained intact.

    Nevertheless, the ad hoc commission remained in place through out the year, so it could implement some of its ideas in time for the 2019 budget.

    But it produced no savings that were ever presented to council.

    If it produced anything and it was incorporated into the 2019 budget plan, it remained a secret. In fact, Kirkland reported last week the ad hoc committee did not even meet this month -- the month the budget is adopted.

    It should be noted that the budget adopted last night calls for spending $49,986,179, which is $4.4 million less than the $54.4 million 2018 budget. That's some tricky math when you consider that Justin Keller said last week that while spending is down, it was a $1 million pension obligation and several tax refunds of several hundred thousand dollars which drove much of the tax hike.

    But I'm not a financial consultant like E-Consult.

    Speaking of E-Consult, the firm hired under the state's Early Intervention Program to do what borough officials apparently cannot -- keep taxes sustainable -- will not deliver its report or suggestions in time to change the tax hike just adopted.

    And after a budget process, which included little public discussion of the staff's conclusion that all that could be done to keep taxes down had been done, it received unanimous support from council.

    But not before Kirkland decided to lecture council that some difficult choices need to be made in the budget process, perhaps including staff cuts.

    Too little too late Joe.

    The 2019 budget sets a new tax millage is 12.675 mills.

    For a property assessed at $85,000, it means an annual borough tax bill of $1,076.95, an increase of $92.65 over the 2018 tax bill of $984.30.

    (Oh, and just in case your forgot, in October the Pottstown Borough Authority voted to raise water rates by 5 percent a year for the next three years. So in addition to the $92.65 more the average property will pay in property taxes in 2019, the average water user will pay an additional $26.88 in water costs, for a grand total of $199.53)

    Here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Phoenixville Borough Council Tuesday night unanimously adopted a $14.5 million general fund budget that will require a 3.8 percent tax hike to be balanced.

    Borough Manager E. Jean Krack said the tax hike will cost the owners of a property assessed at the borough average of $100,075 an additional $22 in 2019.

    When the draft budget was first presented to council in November, it called for a 6.5 percent tax hike and a millage rate of 6.27.

    However Krack said since then the borough received "really very good rates from our insurance company, for liability, health and workers compo. Unfortunately, those numbers usually don't come in until late, so we had estimated them conservatively."

    Other changes included an increase in some revenue projections as well as a $17 million increase in the overall assessed value of property in Phoenixville.

    All of which combined to allow a budget that raises taxes by 3.8 percent instead of 6.5 percent. The 2019 millage rate will be 6.14 instead of 6.27.

    That increase will raise the $171,067 to close the gap between budgeted revenues and expenditures, Krack said.

    Krack said other funds such as parking, water and sewer are self-sustaining and paid by users.

    None of the rates for those services will increase in 2019.

    However, trash rates will go up by $4 per quarter due mostly to the borough's success with recycling.

    Phoenixville Borough Council President James Kovaleski,
    right, congratulates Louis Beccaria, executive director of
    the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation on the
    occasion of the foundation's 20th anniversary Tuesday.
    He said the recycling market has softened since other countries stopped taking U.S. recycled materials and, as a result, it now costs more to dispose of.

    No one spoke out at the meeting, either the public or members of council, prior to the vote on either the budget or the tax ordinance.

    20 Years of Health Foundation

    In other business, borough council also passed a resolution honoring the 20th anniversary of the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation.

    According to the resolution, it began in 1998 with the merger of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and an endowment of $30 million.

    Since it's inception, "the foundation has given, and this number is staggering, $37 million back to the community in grants, including numerous grants to assist the borough with revitalization," said Council President James Kovaleski.

    Here is video of the entire resolution being read:

    Beautification Awards

    The Rev. Russell Mitman, Jen Dixon and Louis Beccaria.
    Louis Beccaria, the executive director of the health foundation, also happens to be the chairman of
    the borough's Beautification Advisory Board.

    Tuesday night, he gave out the beautification awards in three categories.

    In the Community Category, the award went to Parkside United Church of Christ and was accepted by the Rev. Russell Mitman and Jen Dixon.
    Michael Hamara and Louis Beccaria

    In the Commercial Category, the award went to Root Down Brewing Company and was accepted by Michael Hamara, co-owner.

    In the Residential Category, the award was presented to Mr. and Mrs. Bill Evans.

    Park Equipment

    Council also approved the purchase of playground equipment for the "All Abilities Playground" planned for Reeves Park.

    Mr. and Mrs. Bill Evans with Louis Beccaria
    Krack said for more than a year, the borough has worked with civic groups and the community, obtaining grants and donations for the planned playground.

    In fact just last month, the borough accepted a $2,500 prize check from Dallas Data Systems, Inc. for the park after it was named being the winner of the company's 2018 Commitment to Community Contest.

    Krack said the borough will save money by buying the equipment now and getting end-of-year-pricing and the vendor will hold the equipment until spring when it can be installed.

    And with that, here are the Tweets from the meeting:

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    Blogger's Note:The following was provided by Theoria.

    Theoria, a quartet of four professional vocalists, will return to Pottstown to perform an a cappella concert of Slavic and other Eastern European Christmas music and Western carols on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 4 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Church, 301 Cherry Street, Pottstown. 

    This concert is free and open to the public.

    Theoria was founded by Andrew Skitko, of Pottstown, who also directs the ensemble. Skitko regularly performs with the Opera Philadelphia chorus, as well as the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir and The Same Stream Choir, which has recorded several albums of new choral music and recently performed in New York. 

    He is an assistant producer and singer for The Ukrainian Art Song Project and the Ukrainian Art Song Summer Institute based at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music.

    He recently received a grant from The Eparchy of Passaic to expand the Theoria ensemble and perform as the choir-in-residence in New York City at St. Mary’s Byzantine Greek Catholic Church as part of a 2019 liturgical concert series.

    Skitko is the paid cantor at the Assumption Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in Trenton, where Theoria frequently performs, and he has served as a cantor at St. John’s church (Pottstown) and St. Michael’s Byzantine Church in Mont Clare.

    Skitko also is a private voice teacher in the Pottstown area.

    “We are very excited to return to Pottstown to share this unique music with my hometown community, support Pottstown’s growing arts presence, and again sing in the beautiful setting of St. John’s Byzantine Church,” Skitko said. “Past audiences, which have drawn from Reading, Philadelphia, and other surrounding areas, have been so warm and welcoming.

    “This will be our second Christmas concert in Pottstown; the last concert here was in 2016,” he continued. “This space is perfect for a performance of this Slavic music, as St. John’s is known in this area for its distinctive ‘onion dome’ tower, stunning stained glass, and traditional iconography.

    “We have been asked to return to Pottstown,” he added. “Previously, many of the audience members said they had never before heard traditional Slavic choral music and they were impressed by its beauty and hoped to hear more.”

    The program will feature Carpatho-Rusyn, Ukrainian, and Russian works of composers such as Leontovych, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov.

    Skitko, a Hill School graduate, earned both his bachelor’s degree in vocal performance and his master’s degree in vocal performance and voice pedagogy from Westminster Choir College, Princeton, N.J.

    He will be joined by vocalists and fellow Westminster Choir College graduates Lauren Delfing, alto; Brett Avery-Lawyer, tenor; and Rebecca Achtenberg, soprano.

    Delfing earned her bachelor’s degree in music education. An original member of Theoria, she is the music and theater arts teacher at First Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School and the associate director of Sister Cities Girlchoir.

    Avery-Lawyer, also a founding Theoria member, received his degree in music education. While embracing his lifelong love for classical music, Avery-Lawyer currently works as an agent for Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty.

    Achtenberg holds degrees in Voice Performance and Comparative Literature. Last fall, Rebecca made her debut with Tri-Cities Opera. She has been a fellow with the CoOPERAtive program, and has been involved in many premieres of new works, including a production of Lewis Nielson's Opera NOVA with Cleveland's Real Time Opera.

    Convenient, free parking is available in the lot behind the church, which can be accessed via South Street. Handicapped access to the church is available via the South Street entrance. A free will offering will be accepted to help defray the performers’ expenses.

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    Front row, from left, Kristi Rodriquez, Cassia O’Brien, Carly Morris, Sydney Wasdick, Savannah Lear and Danielle Leach, Treasurer of the Pottsgrove Booster Club. Rear row, from left, Steve Anspach, Athletic Director, Kim Rodriquez, William Ziegler, HS Principal, Anna Carroll, Jodi Sproule, Head Field Hockey Coach,  William Shirk, Superintendent of Schools, Lydia Mace, Nate Tornetta, Justin Adams, Hailey Yerger, Isaiah Glover, Patti Grimm, Board Member, Bill Hawthorne, Head Football Coach, Janiya Jones, Stephanie Van Horn, President of Pottsgrove Football Club and  Jaime Reinhart, Head Coach Girls Volleyball.

    Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottsgrove School District.

    Members of Pottsgrove’s Football, Field Hockey, Girls Volleyball and Cheerleading teams, along with members of the Pottsgrove Booster Club recently presented a check in the amount of $4,200 to the Phoenixville Cancer Center.

    This is the eighth consecutive year Pottsgrove has contributed to the Patient Cancer Fund. 
    Oncologist Amy Curran, accepts Pottsgrove's check from
    Gary DeRenzo, Director of Community Relations
    and Co-Curricular Programs and
    school board member and cancer survivor Patti Grimm.

    The Cancer Fund helps individuals who are being treated for cancer with the many incidental costs that are not covered by insurance. 

    Oftentimes, patients cannot afford or are unable to drive to purchase groceries and other household necessities. The Patient Fund assists with those expenses so that patients can concentrate on their treatment.

    Pottsgrove Booster Club, athletes and members of the community have contributed in excess of $15,000 for those patients. Each year, the Pottsgrove High School sponsors their annual “Pink Out” football game in support of those who have been affected by cancer. 

    This year, Pottsgrove’s own Middle School Assistant Athletic Director and Trainer, Paul Exley and his wife, Lori, an Episcopalian priest, both diagnosed with cancer in the same year, served as Honorary Captains for the game.