Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Pottstown is a compact town of 22,000 along the Schuylkill River in southeastern Pennsylvania, about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. It is lovely and historic, with tree-lined streets and a distinctive downtown.

Although the town is not as financially healthy as it once was, it has the potential to become one of the most livable communities in Pennsylvania. Pottstown Citizens seeks ways we can best manage our resources for the common good.

The following essays have recently appeared as paid advertisements in the Pottstown Mercury:

State oppresses local municipalities

The state legislature can be as irresponsible as it wants, but local school districts and municipalities still have to follow the rules it sets down.
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Testing merry-go-round

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the state will reduce the time school districts must spend next
spring administering the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test (PSSA).
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Police ever more costly

In 2008, the borough laid off 12 employees and increased real estate taxes 10 percent. Since then, Pottstown police officers have enjoyed the borough’s fastest growing salaries and benefits.
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Sustainable police force needed

It’s a question no one wants to answer, but it must be asked. With the ever-increasing cost of salaries and benefits, coupled with a declining tax base, can Pottstown sustain a police force with 46 officers?
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More downsizing needed

Next week, Pottstown Council will have to make some difficult choices. Unless further cuts are made
to the proposed 2018 borough budget, real estate taxes will need to increase 18.6 percent. Read more

 


Toughest job in Pottstown

At the same time it deals with a huge budget deficit, Pottstown Council will also need to appoint an interim borough manager to replace Mark Flanders, who is retiring on Christmas Eve.
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Pottstown loves dogs

During my 21-day trek from door to door prior to the recent Pottstown School Board election, I learned many things about our town I never fully appreciated. One such aspect is dogs. Pottstonians love dogs.
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Welcome -- No, go away!

In my futile quest for glory as a three-term member of the Pottstown School Board, I recently got to experience our town up close and personal. You can learn a lot about people just by looking at their front porches and yards.
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Always easiest to raise taxes

Leo Durocher got it wrong: Nice guys don’t always finish last. More often than not, they win local school board elections. And once in office, they find it much easier to raise taxes than to cut costs.
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Pottstown looks great in the fall

I can’t say I’m delighted with the outcome of Tuesday’s Pottstown School Board election, but I thoroughly enjoyed the three weeks I spent prior to Election Day walking from home to home distributing my campaign literature.
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Pottstown: a safe place to live

One of the most stubborn myths about Pottstown is that it’s dangerous.
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Asplundh fined for illegal hires

Last month, Asplund was fined a whopping $95 million for using undocumented immigrants.
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Lots of way to define the 'good life'

Let us pause in our discussion of current Pottstown issues and consider the reflections of an eminent world scholar on "the good life."
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Reverence for Life

Last month, President Trump addressed the United Nations and threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” a nation of 25 million people. At times like these I reflect on a teacher who preached the polar opposite.
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History gives Pottstown meaning

Pottstown is more than a collection of older buildings, most of them housing people of modest means. Our history and architecture give us our unique sense of place and identity.
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Hesburgh earns his own stamp

I’m not Catholic, but I consider the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, the former president of the University of Notre Dame, who died 2015, to be one of the most influential people in my life.
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Where do kids play?

The Pottstown Parks and Recreation Department
boasts 16 parks and tot lots, distributed throughout the borough. Yet you will often find kids playing on private fields, parking lots, or in the streets.
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Street work: tangible progress

Pottstown owns 60 miles of streets. (PennDOT owns another 10 miles of streets like High, Manatawny,
and Charlotte streets.) Ideally, streets should be repaved every 12 years — about five miles a year.
But until recently, we were only resurfacing an average of 1.5 miles per year.
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Pottstown grows greener

Two great examples of green infrastructure are a meadow planted last spring at the Pottstown wastewater treatment plant and a rain garden planted behind the Franklin Elementary School.
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Park or pavement?

Last month, Pottstown Council authorized the borough solicitor to prepare an agreement to acquire a .78-acre tract of contaminated land at 860 Cross Street, across the street from 2-acre Pollock Park. It ought to become a meadow.
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Ruthless downward spiral

Because of declining real estate assessments, the borough and school district will lose nearly $1.5 million in annual tax revenues, most likely starting Jan. 1, 2018.
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Hill School needs to step up

The Hobart’s Run initiative has been a public relations bonanza for The Hill School. But the school
has yet to make any substantive improvements to the neighborhood or to Pottstown.
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We need green infrastructure

Green infrastructure calls for removing as much impervious surface as possible and installing trees and other water-absorbing plants in its place.
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Green stormwater management

Removing excess impervious surfaces, such as Pottstown's "tree park," is the least costly and most effective way to reduce runoff.
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Who pays for stormwater?

The most common source of local government revenue is the real estate tax, based on the value of a property. But there’s no correlation between the value of real estate and the amount of runoff it causes.
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Non-profits would pay also

An additional feature of a stormwater runoff fee would be its application to tax-exempt properties. Because a stormwater runoff fee is not a tax, tax-exempt properties would have to pay it.
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More floods in our future

For those of us who were around in 1972, the catastrophic flooding in Houston last week was a reminder of Pottstown’s own monster flood caused by Hurricane Agnes.
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Stormwater a costly problem

With climate change and ever more natural areas being paved over for development, flooding will be far more common in the future than it has been in the past.
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Real science versus Sound Off

Millions of Americans — and thousands of Pottstonians — experienced real science last week as they looked skyward to view the solar eclipse.
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Proud of Pottstown's diversity

The controversy over monuments glorifying the Confederacy reminds me of one of Pottstown’s finest qualities: racial diversity.
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We need projects like this

Rockwell Development Group, which manages the Hanover Square townhouse development at Hanover Street and the Industrial Highway, proposes to convert the historic Meyerhoff shirt factory into 28 market rate condominiums.
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44,172 parking spaces

Many people think that Pottstown has a parking shortage. In fact, Pottstown has a surfeit of parking — more than two spaces for every man, woman, and child in the borough.
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PAID important to Pottstown

Our tax base has been steadily declining for 20 years, and we desperately need more revenue-generating businesses.
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Mosaic gets asphalt sidewalk

Pottstown’s first asphalt sidewalk, 95 feet long, has been installed at the Mosaic Community Garden on North Charlotte Street at Walnut Street.
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Plenty of information online

Today, thanks to the internet and enlightened public policies, we can easily access a wealth of public information about our county, school district, and borough.
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Speeding cars more dangerous than crime

Fatalities involving cars and trucks are more than twice as common in Montgomery County than those from crime, and they almost always involve strangers.
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Pottstown streets best at 25 mph

Excessive speed is by far the leading cause of serious injuries and fatalities involving all kinds of motor vehicle collisions, either with pedestrians, bicyclists or other autos.
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Traffic calming makes streets safer

In recent decades, traffic engineers have recognized
that physical changes to the streets are needed to force motorists to obey posted limits.
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Real estate and rentals

About half the residential properties in Pottstown are rental units, which many citizens think are a major source of Pottstown’s problems.
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It's all about economics

Perhaps no other building illustrates Pottstown’s real estate quandary better than 323-325 King Street.
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Up and out of Pottstown

Educating Pottstown students is very important. But how many of our graduates are going to stick around and contribute to the sustainability of our community?
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Avoiding the real problems

Figuring out how to keep our school district viable in the face of ever-increasing costs and diminishing resources is going to take a lot of research and creativity. But we're not talking about that.
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Emerald ash borer reaches Pottstown

There will soon be a substantial number of mature trees dying throughout Pottstown.
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Gone!

There’s been a dramatic change at the east end of High Street. Seven huge maple trees in front of the old Memorial Hospital building have been removed.
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Trees: Modest cost - big benefits

As people gather for today’s Fourth of July Parade, they will find 48 newly planted trees on High Street and other Pottstown thoroughfares.
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Annual benefit of trees: $304,000

Many people only acknowledge benefits that can be measured in dollars and cents.
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Schools can't do it all

We’re kidding ourselves if we think schools alone are going to transform Pottstown. They aren’t. Schools are a reflection of the demographics of their community.
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How many will settle here?

It’s great to prepare our students for life, but how many are going to stay here and contribute to the sustainability of our community?
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Getting a handle on local jobs

Six years ago, when PAID reorganized, it adopted by-laws requiring PAID’s director to submit an annual progress report that included an inventory
of all borough businesses.
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Spending and taxation

From time to time, I publish a chart showing how much local government — the borough and school
district — spends in Pottstown each year and where the money goes.
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Residency incentive okayed

As we try to encourage more professionals to live in Pottstown, the Pottstown School District has implemented a residential homeownership initiative through the Foundation for Pottstown Education.
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The big question

Pottstown Memorial Medical Center is the school district's biggest taxpayer, by far. With the sale of the for-profit hospital to the non-profit Reading Health System, will the new owners now seek a property tax exemption?
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Challenging tax exemptions

How does a non-profit like The Hill School qualify for a real estate tax exemption?
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Hill School takes early steps

Early in 2016, The Hill School announced a neighborhood revitalization initiative.
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Hill School: untapped resource

Pottstown Borough government and the school district need to become more efficient. But Pottstown has other resources it could tap.
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Tax-exempt campus expands

The most valuable real estate in Pottstown is The Hill School. Most of its property is tax exempt. Otherwise, its tax bill would top $2.3 million.
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Public schools and self-reliance

Pottstown superintendent Stephen Rodriguez will host a forum 7 tonight at Pottstown High School called “Why Are My Taxes So High and What Can I Do About It?”
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You can't build a city on pity

John Norquist, former 16-year mayor of Milwaukee and longtime advocate for cities, has published a compelling book about the natural advantages of cities (and towns like Pottstown).
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50 years: Pottstown drained by car culture

Mirroring national trends, Pottstown lost most of its middle class residents to new homes on large lots outside of town. It lost its stores to new suburban malls and with ample free parking.
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The future: Pottstown's key asset: sustainability

Despite the rise of sprawling development that undermined traditional towns like Pottstown, there are major economic, demographic, and environmental trends that now favor us.
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2010s: Historic renovations continue

A vacant furniture landmark, the former Fecera’s
Furniture warehouse on Beech Street, was purchased by a non-profit housing company and renovated into 43 apartments and an arts center.
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2010s: More renovations, expansions

Montgomery County Community College West Campus continued its expansion by creating a
University Center in the newly renovated
former Reading freight station on South Hanover Street.
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2000s: Downtown renaissance begins

A new borough hall was built downtown in 2000, and an adjacent town park, called Smith Family Plaza, was completed two years later. On the east side of the park, the 1880 Security Trust Building was renovated as offices and a restaurant in 2006.
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2000s: College, greenway expand

Just ten years after it opened its West Campus building in 1996, the Montgomery County
Community College expanded north of the railroad tracks to the newly re n o v a t ed Vaughn Knitting Mills building on High Street.
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1990s: From downtown to Route 100

After losing downtown stores for two decades, Pottstown replaced that retail space with the construction of a new shopping center on Route 100. Meanwhile, a gaping hole downtown was sold for the construction of a new borough hall.
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1990s: A college and a riverfront park

The Pottstown community pulled out all the stops to persuade the county commissioners to place a satellite campus of the Montgomery County Community College in the borough, near a newly-constructed riverfront park.
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1980s: More industry, train service lost

Pottstown manufacturing jobs continued to nosedive in the 1980s, and more historic buildings, like the 1923 Pottstown High School, above, were demolished.
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1980s: Historic ordinance, new business campuses

Spurred by the demolition of historic buildings, Pottstown adopted national and local historic districts and began restoring icons like the Pottstown Roller Mills, above.
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1970s: Pottstown loses industry, history

The 1960s might be considered Pottstown’s golden era. But even as Pottstown prospered, there were signs of decline in the 1970s.
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1970s: Decline, but seeds of renewal

In the 1970s, even as Pottstown began losing the heavy industries that had been its backbone for two centuries, the borough began planning for the future. The most significant event was the construction of the Pottstown Memorial Medical Center. Read more



Whither goest thou, Pottstown?

Is Pottstown turning around? You would certainly get that impression at the recent Progress Pottstown luncheon sponsored by PAID and the Tri-County Chamber of Commerce. Read more

 


Plans ... plans ... plans

We love plans in Pottstown. At least 20 of them have been adopted by borough government and nonprofits during my 45 years in the borough.
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See the whole world from home

Thanks to Google Earth and its ground-level cousin, Street View, you can tour 40 countries all over the globe from the privacy of your own home. Anyone with a computer can download it free.
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My favorite travel guide

There’s another fascinating way besides Google Earth to tour faraway places from the comfort of home, thanks to intrepid Dutch traveler Kees Colijn and YouTube.
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Rethinking school structure

We need to put the individual student first and subjects second. Building relationships is more important than anything else. To do that, we must limit the number of students each teacher sees.
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Sustainable schools

Last year, the Pottstown School Board set aside time at its meetings in February, March and April for cost-cutting suggestions. No one had any. Let me make a few.
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The test that tells us something

For all the obsession with testing, there is only one
credible test that has measured student achievement consistently since 1970 -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
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No tax increase necessary

Exorbitant taxation has deterred many prospective businesses and residents from moving into Pottstown. We can't afford to raise taxes any higher than they are now.
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Tracking student test scores

Next month, Pottstown students in grades three through eight will be taking the annual PSSAs, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.
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What does state testing mean?

Although PSSA tests are supposed to make schools accountable, the state doesn’t provide much guidance in interpreting scores.
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Pottstown yearbooks on website

The Pottstown School District has posted about 90 of its yearbooks on its website as pdf files. They can be viewed and downloaded free. Dating back to 1908, the yearbooks are an engaging narrative of the life of our community. Read more

 


Acting for the common good

Pottstown educators engage in " silo" thinking: "Whatever I’m doing is more important than everything else.” But the people who are footing the bill, the residents and property owners of Pottstown, have their own priorities.
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Pottstown crime is down, but it never was high

Major crimes were down 14 percent in 2016 over the previous year, Pottstown Police told The Mercury last week.
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Crime is down, crashes are up

After falling for decades, motor vehicle crash fatalities are increasing again, nationwide and in Pennsylvania, thanks in part to more motorists reading or sending text messages while driving.
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Learning to appreciate nature

The Natural Lands Trust is partnering with NorthBay, an outdoor education group, to immerse Pottstown elementary and middle school students in the natural world around them.
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Setting priorities in tough times

Facing a deficit of at least $1 million in the upcoming school year, and with the third highest taxes in Pennsylvania, we should pause our discretionary spending on athletic fields.
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Mountaintop remover

Back in 2015, Pottstown’s representative in Congress, Ryan Costello, was one of just 10 Republicans to sign a resolution declaring that human activity contributes to climate change and calling for action to respond to the threat. Now that Donald Trump is president, Rep. Costello is changing his tune.
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Pottstown taxation: 3rd in state

The Pottstown School District now has the third highest taxes of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts. We want to offer the best opportunities possible for our children. But we also must live within our means. We cannot afford to raise taxes this year. We must cut spending by doing things differently.
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The big day: budget unveiled

The most important state event of the year takes place today, as Gov. Tom Wolf unveils his proposed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
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Save a farm. Live in a town.

In the long run, traditional, walkable towns are the
only way to accommodate population growth while conserving farmland.
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Trails increase our quality of life

Trails allow people to enjoy the countryside and get healthy exercise at the same time by walking or biking through it.
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Deluged with technology

It’s amazing how quickly we take technology for granted. Apple introduced the iPhone just ten years ago. Yet three-quarters of all Americans now own smart phones.
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Land bank will help Pottstown

Earlier this month, Pottstown Council authorized the creation of a borough land bank to facilitate the
reclamation and redevelopment of blighted properties.
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It can be done!

It can be done! Vacant and neglected properties in Pottstown can be handsomely restored and sold at
market rate prices for a profit. We just need to find investors with good business acumen.
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Hobart's Run

As part of a fundraising campaign, The Hill School has identified an area surrounding the school campus which it hopes to revitalize by partnering with residents and property owners.
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Investing in Pottstown

The Hill School has a significant handicap in comparison to its peers. Other schools are located in an idyllic village, or in the woods, or in the countryside.
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Hill School 990

Although Pottstown is struggling with a steadily declining tax base, the borough’s largest property owner is growing.
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Hill aims to raise $175 million

The Hill School has launched a campaign to raise $175 million over a five-year period.
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Sustainable Pottstown

Terrorist attacks in Orlando, Berlin, and Brussels. The threat of ISIS. Mideast refugees flooding into Europe. These stories dominated the headlines in 2016. But the real threat is climate change.
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Restoration fund needed

Last month, Borough Council passed a $52.6 million budget for 2017. Nearly all this money is aimed at keeping existing borough services. There's no money for improving the appearance of our town.
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Thoughts for 2017

To begin the new year, here are some thoughts from one of humanity’s greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein:
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Our perilous future

Just before Christmas, NASA scientist and former astronaut Piers Sellers died of pancreatic cancer.
Earlier, here's what he wrote about climate change:
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Season of giving?

This is the time of year when people give the most to charities. We’ve paid the annual household
bills, and now we decide how much we have to spare for others.
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Effective altruism

On Tuesday, we discussed donating to charity, focused on Pottstown. But the neediest people don’t live here.
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Cars, cars, and more cars

As long as people want to live on scattered housing lots and drive for all their daily activities, open land will be consumed and ever more traffic will be generated on our roads.
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Snow-Bound!

Let us pause in the pursuit of the latest electronic gadgetry for Christmas and contemplate a calmer, simpler time in America: John Greenleaf Whittier's "Snow-Bound."
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Pottstown's best bargain

The Pottstown Regional Public Library, the borough’s most cost-effective public institution, celebrated its reopening the first day of December.
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Why I love the public library

On Tuesday I described the Pottstown Regional Public Library as the town’s most cost-effective institution. Here’s why:
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Tax base still shrinking

Pottstown’s tax base continues to fall. As of Jan. 1, 2017, the total assessed value of Pottstown’s 8,380 taxable properties will be $803,730,299, nearly $2 million below last year.
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Careful economizing needed

School district spending and taxation have increased above the rate of inflation during the last 10 years. We need to change our culture from “more spending” to “careful economizing.”
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Bombarded with information

Once a mind is made up, it’s almost impossible to change it. ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts, my
mind’s made up.’ That's a way of life for most people.
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Clearance, not appearance!

PECO is currently trimming street trees in Pottstown to clear its wires. The utility generally trims trees every five years, and the results aren’t pretty.
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Our wealth in perspective

A 2007 study by a team of economists commissioned by the United Nations concluded that assets of $517,601 or more places a household in the top 1 percent in the world in wealth.
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Thanksgiving then and now

It’s easy to think most of us are worse off than previous generations, but this ignores the enormous improvements in life we quickly take for granted.

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Simplify, simplify

Henry David Thoreau's philosophy of simplicity, reflection, and appreciation of the natural world is a refreshing break from the commotion of the internet.
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Graham Hill: Living with less

In this age of technologically savvy young people who develop ingenious internet businesses and sell them for millions, it’s interesting to find one who also values simplicity.
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Ripping out riparian buffer

Riparian buffers are used along the banks of streams and rivers to prevent water runoff and to control erosion. Riverfront Park is replacing its buffer with grass.
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A cost-effective park system

Wyomissing has three times more parkland than Pottstown, and a municipal swimming pool, and allocates $212,000 for street trees, but its overall parks budget is still less than Pottstown's. Read more



Planet loses half of its trees

Humans have removed half of the planet's trees since the beginning of civilization 5,000 years ago. As deforestation continues, we are losing an area four times the size of New Jersey every year.
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Removing nature at Riverfront Park

Pottstown has its own deforestation project going on at Riverfront Park. The woods on either side of the walking trail have been replaced with grass.
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Everything comes from nature

We have always taken our natural environment for granted. To prevent irreversible and perhaps catastrophic climate change, we must start protecting it.
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Climate change No. 1 issue

Taxes, immigration, jobs, personal character — these are the issues dominating the 2016 presidential election. But the biggest issue is rarely mentioned -- climate change.
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Restoring a Pottstown jewel

Edgewood Cemetery looks better than it has for years, if not decades.
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Cemeteries as passive parks

Fencing in cemeteries diminishes their value as open spaces and passive parks.
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Technological revolution

Everyone knows we’ve had a technological revolution in recent decades, but you’ve probably had to live through it to fully appreciate it.
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"Talking" and "Leadership"

The third PottsTOWN Talks will be held 7 p.m. next Tuesday at Connections on High to discuss education. Participants should not shy away from hard questions.
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Personalized learning

Today's public schools emphasize specialization. But for centuries, children and youth have learned all the essential skills from family tutors. James Freeman Clarke is a famous example.
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Lessons from a one-room school

Educator and teachers' union president Albert Shanker wrote more than 1,300 columns as weekly advertisements in the New York Times. Here's a sample.
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Students first, subjects second

There’s a saying in education, “Elementary school teachers teach children. Secondary school teachers teach subjects.”
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Too much specialization

There are two major trends in public schools during the last 50 years. First, rising costs, at more than twice the rate of inflation. Second, there’s been a huge increase in specialization.
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More sprawl in Lower Pottsgrove

Last month, the Lower Pottsgrove commissioners gave the last approval necessary for another car-oriented, environmentally damaging development called Sanatoga Green to move into the final land development process.
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Schools becoming ever more costly

The Pottstown School Board has approved a three-year contract with the Federation of Pottstown
Teachers that boosts pay more at the bottom of the salary schedule than at the top. The contract will cost the district $1.4 million in the third year.
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Money for parks, not for streets

We all appreciate our abundant parks, which cost borough taxpayers $1.1 million annually. Many people rarely if ever use our parks, but they all live on a street. The borough spends little on streets and nothing on street trees and sidewalks.
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Pet fair: best way to treat animals

The 6th annual Pottstown Pet Fair is scheduled to begin 9 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Park. But as we’re enjoying our pets at the Pet Fair, we might ask ourselves: Do we really want to eat animals?
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Ready made for college housing?

Now that the renovation of the long-vacant Fecera’s warehouse on Beech Street into apartments is underway, it’s time to look at another of Pottstown’s historic gems: the Pottstown Shirt Factory.
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Appearances count!

Walking or driving down the street, you really can’t tell what a building looks like on the inside.
Many property owners show they care — with flowers, trees, and well maintained exteriors.
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Schools and financial reality

Last month, the National Penn Bank office at High and Franklin streets closed as part of the bank’s $1.8 billion acquisition by BB&T Bank of North Carolina. Hundreds of jobs were lost as the bank cut costs to increase efficiency.

Public schools must also face financial reality.
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Detailed budget needed

Want to know where $59.5 million in Pottstown School District spending goes?

If we school board members are serious about doing our jobs, we need far more detailed budget information than we have now.
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Library renovations underway

After an unexpected two-month delay because of change orders, renovations have begun in earnest at the Pottstown Regional Public Library.
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Housing bargains galore

Pottstown housing sales have picked up in 2016 over the same period last year, and prices have
risen slightly, but homes are still amazingly undervalued.
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Pottstown pays for all to enjoy

Pottstown parks are heavily used by people throughout the region. But they are maintained solely with Pottstown taxpayer dollars.
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Park-like setting costs no more

Wyomissing maintains a larger parks system than Pottstown, and maintains 7,646 street trees, at less cost than Pottstown spends for parks alone.
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It's all about economics

The federal Housing Choice Voucher Program -- colloquially known as Section 8 -- is commonly blamed for the decline of Pottstown's residential neighborhoods. But more likely, it's the other way around.
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Pottstown highlights and lowlights

Recently, members of the Montgomery County Planning Commission visited Pottstown for a tour of the borough's success stories. But other prominent areas still need attention.
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Superintendent search on hold

Pottstown school directors will delay their search for a new superintendent until fall. The school district will begin advertising in October with a deadline for submissions at the end of February 2017.
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Too much testing

Last week the Pottstown School Board unanimously passed a resolution to substantially decrease high-stakes standardized testing in our schools.
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High assessments reflect falling values

Many houses in Pottstown are selling for below their assessed value. It's little wonder Pottstown has the highest rate of assessment appeals in Montgomery County-- and a sure sign Pottstown's tax base will continue to decline.
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LERTA to be adopted next month

A LERTA ordinance is expected to be adopted by Pottstown Council next month. The ordinance will give seven years of tax breaks to people who improve their properties. These tax breaks will be subsidized by existing property owners.
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Dead trees mar downtown

The 200 block of downtown Pottstown is undergoing a renaissance, with several renovation projects planned. With all the investment in flower baskets and planters for beautification, it might be a good idea to remove dead trees and stumps
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Dead trees greet postal patrons

Dead trees not only mar downtown Pottstown, they afflict neighborhoods throughout the borough. For example, dead trees flank both sides of the front door to the Pottstown Post Office, where thousdands of people see them every month.
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Mosaic's 'permaculture' garden (year later)

The Mosaic Community Land Trust is marking the first year of its "permaculture garden" at Charlotte and Walnut streets. Community gardens are a vital component of "green infrastructure."
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Walnut Street 'rain garden' (year later)

Pottstown's first sidewalk rain garden was planted in May 2015 on the Walnut Street side of the Pottstown School District administration building. A year later, it's thriving.
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Attracting families to Pottstown

Pottstown's best champions can be those who already live and work here. Pottstown Councilman Ryan Procsal and his wife, Athena, enticed Athena's brother and his family to buy a house on their block.
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Cooperation, preservation win

Bethel Community Church and Congregation Hesed Shel Emet have been sharing a landmark 50-year old synagogue building. Now Bethel has purchased the building, and Hesed Shel Emet will stay on as tenants.
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Growing -- and keeping -- leaders

The Pottstown School District has prepared many of its students over the years for leadership positions later in life. We must encourage at least some of them to stay here and contribute to the long-term welfare of our community.
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Taxes and spending

The combined budgets of the Pottstown School District and Pottstown Borough total more than $119 million -- an enormous sum for a town of just 22,000 residents. But not all that money comes from the Pottstown real estate tax. In this column, we try to hit the highlights of where all that money comes from.
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Useful dialogue continues

Pottstown Council and the Pottstown School Board have scheduled another joint meeting at the community college sustainability hub. These meetings help both entities to address problems and seek solutions -- something that rarely happened in the past.
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Taxpayers deserve fair compensation

Last week, The Hill School hosted a lacrosse tournament drawing thousands to its athletic fields. School district administrators offered three acres of free parking on its Edgewood School property. The Hill School's tax exempt status means local taxpayers are alreadysubsidizing the school.
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Philadelphia goes green (fifth year)

Last month marked the fifth anniversary of an agreement between the city of Philadelphia and environmental regulators to use green infrastructure instead of pipes and holding tanks to prevent polluted stormwater from flooding into the city's streams and rivers. Here in Pottstown, we should pay close attention, because we face the same issues.
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Too much asphalt

Pottstown is about 5 square miles, and 38 percent of our land is covered with impervious surfaces -- buildings, streets, and parking lots. Too much asphalt is not good for the environment, especially when we need rain to soak into the ground instead of running off into streams and rivers.
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Residency incentive to be offered

The Pottstown School Board plans to offer professional staff a five-year, $10,000 forgivable loan to buy a home in Pottstown.
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Lovely houses in Pottstown

Pottstown is a great place to own a home. The borough has neighborhoods that equal or excel anything in the area.
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Record keeping needed for LERTA

If you want to measure progress, you need data on what already exists. It's time the borough and school district require information and accountability from PAID.
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Annex: best building to sell

The Pottstown School District's administrative annex building ought to be leased or sold for offices. It is a lovely office building and mostly vacant.
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Wage increases unsustainable

During a four-year period of very low inflation, the wages earned by Pottstown Borough's non-uniformed employees have increased about 33 percent. This is unsustainable.
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Police compensation a challenge

During a four-year period of very low inflation, wages earned by Pottstown Police officers have increased about 33 percent. This is unsustainable.
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Superintendent search continues

Because of time constraints, the Pottstown School Board will look to appoint Stephen Rodriguez as acting superintendent while the board continues its search for a permanent superintendent.
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Salary schedule facts

In recent months, Pottstown teachers have been showing up in force at school board meetings to emphasize their solidarity. They seek salary increases. Something the teachers might want to discuss among themselves is why the current salary schedule rewards those at the top at the expense of everyone else.
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wainmanspring

Cluster: big revenues, no taxes

At long last, nine months after buying the Wainman mansion outright, the Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities will seek a zoning variance to actually use it.
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Pottstown schools better off alone

The Daniel Boone School District's decision to close the Birdsboro Elementary School shows why Pottstown is better off going it alone.
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Budget breakthrough

Pottstown Borough recently revised its published 2016 budget with a new version that clearly and comprehensively explains how local government functions and where the money goes.
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Planting trees ... in Lancaster

Tomorrow is Arbor Day. Usually this means planting a token tree here and there. But in Lancaster, tree planting is part of a major effort to control stormwater and improve the environment through "green infrastructure."
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king

Is there a better way?

Newcomers to Pottstown are likely to judge us on the appearance of our streets -- especially our main travel routes, such as King Street.When a building is boarded up, it is a glaring source of blight.

Although it's more expensive, wouldn't it be better to paint the plywood black and board up the building from the inside, so it doesn't look vacant?
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hannah

Just do it!

There's a lot of talk about renovating Pottstown's huge inventory of vacant old homes. Hannah Wolfrom, a senior at the Kimberton Waldorf School, is not just talking -- she's doing. Hannah bought an empty King Street home with an investor and is renovating the house as her senior project.
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Impediments to revitalization

There are three main impediments to the revitalization of Pottstown: taxes, perception of schools, and perception of crime.
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Curb appeal counts

People are most likely to form their opinion of Pottstown from the appearance of the downtown and our major thoroughfares like High Street.Read more


limerick

Paving over more virgin land

Another car-oriented, environmentally damaging development called Sanatoga Green is planned in Lower Pottsgrove.
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stv

The one that got away

Pottstown has lost many of its industries and businesses over the last five decades, but none was as painful as STV, originally known as Sanders and Thomas Engineers. Although it was founded in Pottstown and stayed here for 50 years, the firm moved its headquarters to Douglassville because no one made the effort to keep them here.
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walkingbus

Kids can walk the distance

The surgeon general recommends that children need at least 60 minutes of daily exercise. In Pottstown, students -- even kindergartners -- can get that just walking to and from school.
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crossing

Crossing guards an asset to Pottstown

Crossing guards do far more than stop traffic at intersections. They are friendly faces and a calming influence on our student walkers.
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borohall

Holistic thinking needed

The Pottstown School District is not an island unto itself. Public schools are but one function of government, and the school board should be working together with Council as much as possible.
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lee

Can't lead from behind

As Gen. James "Pete" Longstreet reminded Gen. Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, "You can't lead from behind." Members of Pottstown's "leadership class" all live outside Pottstown and are trying to "lead from behind."
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wiz

Creativity set free

The Wiz demonstrates the amazing things students and teachers can accomplish when freed from the mind-numbing bureaucracy that has enmeshed public education in recent decades.
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feceras

Persistence pays off

Despite years of roadblocks, the vacant Fecera's warehouse is being renovated as apartments and an arts center thanks to the persistence of the non-profit Genesis Housing Corp.
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Superintendent search won't be easy

As the Pottstown School Board seeks a new superintendent from outside the district, Google finds that interviews are often little better than guesswork.
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Front line leaders remain

America's best businesses offer some tips for the
Pottstown School District as it hires its first outside superintendent in more than 50 years: "the family feeling, small is beautiful, simplicity rather than complexity..."
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johngeorge

Superintendent search begins

For the first time in more than two generations, the Pottstown School Board is seeking a superintendent from outside the district.
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budget2232016

Where does the money go?

Pottstown Borough and the Pottstown School District together are spending $114 million in public dollars this year. Both entities need to publish clear budgets that explain where all the money goes.
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watch

To set goals, you need facts

Each Pottstown council member has set one goal for 2016. The most important thing about setting goals: First, you need to gather all the information necessary before making decisions.Read more

 

dana

Top employers: hospital, government, non-profits

Years ago, Pottstown's top employers used to make things. No more.
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cosby

Put it in writing!

Disgraced entertainer Bill Cosby now knows the importance of putting things in writing. A deal never to prosecute him made years ago recently was thrown out by a judge because it wasn't put in writing. In all facets of life, it's critically important to put things in writing.
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wainman

...still waiting...

Nearly six months have passed since the Cluster of Religious Communities purchased the Wainman mansion on North Franklin Street. They were quick to obtain a tax exemption for the property, but still have not applied to the zoning hearing board for a variance to use it.
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pmmc

Tax base reality

When the non-profit Pottstown Memorial Medical Center was sold to for-profit Community Health Systems in 2003, the hospital became the biggest property tax payer in the borough -- contributing more than $1.3 million in taxes annually. Even so, total assessments and tax revenues in Pottstown continue to fall.
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lerta

Do your LERTA homework!

Top borough officials are pushing the Pottstown School Board and Pottstown Council to adopt a sweeping LERTA ordinance -- giving property tax breaks to businesses improving their properties. But they haven't done their homework to report on the experiences of other municipalities using LERTAs across the state.
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hill

Pottstown's most valuable real estate "exempt"

Tax-exempt parcels account for about 20 percent of the total value of Pottstown's real estate. Their owners serve people from a wide area, but the costs are strictly local.
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Disparities in school spending

Of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts, Pottstown ranks 378th in wealth, 144th in spending, and 12th in taxes. If Pottstown spent the same, per pupil, as nearby Berks County districts, it could cut millions of dollars from its budget.
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auction

Property values keep falling

Property values are continuing to fall in Pottstown. The new assessments that took effect Jan. 1 are about $5 million lower than they were last year.
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Pottstown school spending soars

Reflecting national trends, spending in the Pottstown School District has risen dramatically during the last 40 years, at almost triple the rate of inflation.
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Spending level unsustainable

Statewide, of 500 school districts, Pottstown ranks 378th in wealth, 144th in spending, and 12th in taxation. The district's level of spending is simply unsustainable. Read more

 


Budgets should be reader-friendly

Pottstown Borough and the Pottstown School District should publish comprehensive, reader-friendly budgets as progressive cities like Lancaster do.
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No. 1 local issue: climate change

Using land more efficiently and limiting suburban sprawl are two of the most important ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Living in Pottstown does both.
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hanover

Sustainable Pottstown

Last year, Pottstown began work on a sustainability plan under the guidance of the Montgomery County Planning Commission. The real work -- listing specific actions -- begins this year.
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directory

Business inventory needed

Although Pottstown's economic development organization publishes a business newsletter, it would be helpful to have a compendium of all Pottstown businesses.
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headstart

Helping the poor -- and Pottstown

A recent study by two Harvard economists emphasizes the enormous impact neighborhoods have on the trajectory of poor children. The best way to help Pottstown's poor is to encourage more middle class families to move into the borough.
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section8

Getting a handle on rentals

After 20 years of talking but not doing, Pottstown Borough has finally completed a comprehensive inventory of all housing in the borough, including 5,413 rental units.
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935high

Promoting homeownership

Both Montgomery County and the borough have employed forgivable loan programs to encourage homeownership in Pottstown. We need to continue and expand them.
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livenearwork

Live near your work

Residents who live near their workplaces, stores, schools, and other destinations enjoy an environmentally friendly lifestyle. Pottstown needs more productive residents, and employees of borough government and the school district are a good place to start.
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popefrancis

Pope leads on climate change

The political world is in denial, but Pope Francis is not. He has challenged all of us to do our part to promote fairness and protect our earth.
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wainmanspring

Social service agency to expand

The Cluster, which operates a distribution and counseling center at King and Franklin streets, intends to expand to the adjacent Wainman house, an 1887 mansion. But is this the best use of the property?
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cluster

How much poverty can we handle?

With among the highest taxes in Pennsylvania and 70 percent of its public school students from low-income families, Pottstown cannot afford to attract more poor people to the borough.
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pennkids

Pottstown schools underrated

As demonstrated by Penn students Jasheel Brown and Miranda Somich, Pottstown High School '13, Pottstown schools can prepare students for the most rigorous academic environments in America.
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mosaickids

Positive feeling about Pottstown schools

Pottstown students, shown here helping to plant Mosaic's new edible garden, are polite and well-natured. Our schools are a true melting pot, and our regular classroom teachers excel.
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edgewood1

Edgewood Cemetery draws interest.

Randal Doaty, head of security at The Hill School, has taken it upon himself to begin the restoration and maintenance of historic Edgewood Cemetery, the resting place of more than 2,800 Pottstonians since its founding in 1861. Read more

 

edgewoodmap

Hill School closely tied to Edgewood

Edgewood Cemetery is not only physically close to The Hill School, three Hill School headmasters and prominent faculty members are buried there. Returning Edgewood to its roots as a passive park would be a service to the community.
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frantz-hylton

Hill needs to invest in Pottstown

The Hill School's greatest recruiting problem is its location next to a high poverty district in Pottstown. By investing in Pottstown's neighborhoods, The Hill School can help the town and itself at the same time.
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tomwolf

Gov. Wolf an example to Hill

At a recent visit to his alma mater, The Hill School, Gov. Tom Wolf offered some advice all of us can take to heart. "Do difficult things... people want to be fair and if you're fair to them, they will reciprocate."
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chicago

Green Infrastructure wave of the future

Pottstown, like most municipalities, has a storm water problem. Green Infrastructure is the most environmentally responsible way to solve it.
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mosaic

Mosaic adds to Green Infrastructure

The Mosaic Community Land Trust, which operates two community gardens on Chestnut Street, is hosting a new, more prominent garden based on sustainable agricultural principles.
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franklin-garden

Franklin creates learning garden

One bright Saturday last month, parent and student volunteers added to Pottstown's green infrastructure with a new outdoor learning garden at Franklin Elementary School.
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walnut-garden

Rain garden comes to Walnut Street

As a demonstration project, Trees Inc. recently installed a rain garden on Walnut Street next to the Pottstown School District administration building.
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tree-park

'Tree Park' making a comeback?

Last year, the trees at the Beech and Charlotte streets "Tree Park" failed to leaf out. Now it looks like they're making a comeback, thanks to a variety of remedial measures.
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high-trees

Trees: Modest cost, big benefits

During the last 30 years, Trees Inc. has planted 2,500 street trees (new and replacements), removed dead trees and ground out stumps, and remediated sidewalks. The trees have transformed the appearance of Pottstown.
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cheltenham

Sustainability for Pottstown

As the world begins to recognize the reality of climate change, people are beginning to rediscover the merits of walkable, bikeable towns like Pottstown. But we need a sustainability plan.
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georgewash

Fiscal sustainability needed

Pottstown Council passed a 2015 budget with no tax increase. The Pottstown School District has promised to do the same in fiscal year 2015-2016. This needs to become the norm.
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rupert

School construction finally done

Pottstown has committed $76 million for renovations and additions to our schools. Our school budget has increased at more than double the rate of inflation in the last 15 years. In the future, we must economize.
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qualitylife

Quality of life basics need attention

Quality of life services are essential to attracting and retaining good residents and businesses. Government should do a cost-benefit analysis to ensure we get the most from our public dollars.
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hylton-phillies1

Merger: Theory vs. reality

Proponents of consolidating Pottstown's four volunteer fire companies say a merger is necessary to control costs. The reality is, fire protection in Pottstown already costs far less than other urban areas in eastern Pennsylvania.
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hylton-wainman

Save this treasure!

The 1887 Wainman house is perhaps Pottstown's most magnificent mansion. It must be protected, but it's unclear who owns it.
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hylton-vote

Needed: insightful candidates

The next three weeks are critical to Pottstown's future. Five seats on the Pottstown School Board are up for election this year, s well as three positions on Pottstown Council. Read more

 

Hylton-Beech-Street

Blighted building can be a showpiece

The abandoned Fecera's warehouse on Beech Street can have a new life as apartments and an arts center. The non-profit organization proposing the adapative reuse of the building needs the community's support.
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york-hylton

York to Pottstown: no panaceas

Despite major economic development initiatives, the city of York faces a $7 million deficit next year. The mayor has proposed laying off nearly half its police officers. York proves there are no panaceas.
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3logos-hylton

Marshaling resources

Pottstown needs to maximize all its funding resources as it contemplates the future.
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hylton-wealthchart

Pottstown needs Hill's help

The Hill School has the largest and most valuable property in Pottstown, which is tax exempt. With a $153 million endowment, the ability to raise tens of millions of dollars from its alumni, and a location in the midst of a struggling town, The Hill School is ideally situated to help revitalize Pottstown.
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hylton-hill

Doing well by doing good

A visit by Pottstown and Hill School officials to Trinity College provided a model for the Hill School to invest in surrounding neighborhoods.
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hylton-costarica

The essence of education

High school trips abroad are great. Service learning trips are even better.
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hylton-cemetery

Thankful for Pottstown

With historic architecture, a lovely downtown, neighborhood schools, and every destination within walking distance, there's no better place to live and work than Pottstown.
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hyltonashbeforeandafter

Emerald ash borer alert

The emerald ash borer, which was accidentally imported into Michigan from Asia in 2002, has killed tens of millions of ash trees in 22 states during the last ten years. It has now arrived in Montgomery County, and thousands of Pottstown-area ash trees are threatened. The photos, above, show the impact of the ash borer on an Ohio street. Trees Inc. has published a tabloid supplement to The Mercury with information on how homeowners can protect their trees.

 
OTHER COMMENTARY

Since December 2008 , we have published more than 200 paid commentaries in The Mercury. A selection follows:

Ten-year grant history chart
The borough has paid for many fine projects with grant money in the last decade, but it has also passed up or mishandled many significant funding opportunities. We've compiled a chart of all grant applications in the last ten years.

History gives Pottstown meaning, substance
Here in Pottstown, our lovely historic buildings -- especially our schools -- bind us together.

ULI reports have helped Pottstown
Many of Pottstown's most successful development initiatives were first suggested by the Urban Land Institute, the nation's premier research institution for urban planning and development.

ULI sparks Pottstown's town center
Few people remember, but ULI -- the Urban Land Institute -- first conceived the concept of building a new borough hall and town park in its current downtown location. ULI also urged Pottstown to persuade the Montgomery County Commissioners to build a satellite campus of the community college in Pottstown.

Pottstown ripe for 'smart growth'
Smart growth is the name given to development that conserves land by using smaller lot sizes and placing houses, stores, and workplaces in close proximity. As Pottstown has evolved over the last 250 years, it exemplifies the principles of smart growth.

People who give
As we approach the end of the year with holiday celebrations of giving and thankfulness, we can be proud of Pottstown's "world class" givers.