Bunker’s Mentality on Better Sidewalks

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

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

“So the money is earmarked?”

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

“So, the money is discretionary?”

Not exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, this is all I’m asking.

August Council Meeting: What we learned

At last night’s council meeting, we attended with the plan to ask a few questions and then to observe. However, another resident who spoke after us brought up many additional concerns, which also received plenty of sympathy but no relief. Seeing an ally, we followed him out the door after he aired his concerns to compare notes.

Last night, I had some specific questions:

1. When will the borough post all the agendas and meeting minutes missing since last April and February respectively?

Answer: They’re up! I checked the website around 4:00 P.M. yesterday and nothing had changed. Shortly after, I posted on Mayor Ed Foley’s Facebook page asking him why minutes and agendas where still missing. He did not know, but he’d check. Talk about our government in action!

2. With regards to the debt service line item in the posted budget summary, what is that $244,000 in debt (or 4% of the budget) servicing?

Answer: As I expected, mostly the new parking lot.

3. Why does the borough only post a summary of the budget on the website? Where is the document with the breakouts?

Answer: No real reason. Borough Manager George Locke assured the council that upon request, he will provide a PDF of the entire budget to anyone who asks. I followed up by asking why not just post the entire thing online? Unless the borough is penny pinching and can’t afford the extra (insignificant) bandwidth or server space, there’s no need to post a summary.

4. What can anyone who does not comply with this ordinance expect to happen?

Answer: This discussion prompted Council to jump ahead in their agenda to display a two-slide powerpoint show that outlines the process. In short, those not in compliance face a court date before the Honorable Judge Elizabeth McHugh, where she can levy fines up to $600. Mind you, the law also states that jail is also in the offing.

In an earlier email sent me, Councilor Rick Bunker told us that we could expect the borough to slap a lien on our property and the borough will do the work, except that this isn’t exactly true, either. As it happens, the borough has no budget for performing any of the work itself.

We are not civil engineers, but one would reasonably expect that with a project of this scope, statistics already exist that show a rate of non-compliance. This is what you budget for.

Finally, it’s hard to shake a sense that we’re living in a kind of Bizzaroland. Even in the face of many stories of hardship, mismanagement, and potentially brutal enforcement, the councilors who in theory represent  our best interests as a community seem completely oblivious to the way they are dismantling it with this process. The councilors themselves used terms such as “onerous” and “hardship” in their discussions, but could only punctuate their remarks with shoulder shrugs.

I’m happy to say that we are finally hearing from a growing number of residents who have expressed utter disgust with how this program is being carried out. Please contact us here or via our Facebook page. We are planning to meet with other concerned residents to strategize for the September Council Meeting.

Let your voice be heard. The time is now.

Please spread this around.
Please spread this around.