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:


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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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?
Read more



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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more



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.
Read more


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.
Read more




Library renovations underway

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

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


Too much testing

Last week the Pottstown School Board unanimously passed a resolution to substantially decrease high-stakes standardized testing in our schools.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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."
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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."
Read more

 


Reverence for Life

Life is all around us, but it's never more apparent and delightful than mid-May, when the trees leaf out, flowers blossom, and birds greet the dawn more musically than any other time of year.
Read more


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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 


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."
Read more


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?
Read more

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.
Read more


car

Our greatest danger? Car accidents.

For most of us, the greatest danger to life and limb is car accidents, not crime. In fact, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found the risk of injury-related death is about 20 percent lower in urban areas than the most rural areas.
Read more

 


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



Impediments to revitalization

There are three main impediments to the revitalization of Pottstown: taxes, perception of schools, and perception of crime.
Read more

 


Crime: perception versus reality

Despite conventional wisdom, crime is no worse -- in fact, lower -- than it was 20 years ago. Read more


limerick

Paving over more virgin land

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

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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."
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


google

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.
Read more

 

excellence

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..."
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 


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.
Read more



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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more



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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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?
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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."
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


beech-hylton

Streets, sidewalks short on funding

Pottstown government spends $97 million annually, but very little on our shared public spaces. If want quality development, we need to focus more of our resources on the appearance of our streets, sidewalks and landscaping.
Read more

 

hesburgh-hylton

Hesburgh on life, education

Father Theodore Hesburgh, the former president of the University of Notre Dame, who died last week at 97, was one of the most influential thinkers and eloquent essayists of his time.
Read more



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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


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.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

3logos-hylton

Marshaling resources

Pottstown needs to maximize all its funding resources as it contemplates the future.
Read more


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.
Read more

 

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.
Read more


hylton-costarica

The essence of education

High school trips abroad are great. Service learning trips are even better.
Read more
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.
Read more


hylton-world-population

Sustainability: the big picture

Crime, taxes, and deteriorating properties are big problems, but they won't have nearly the impact of climate change. Sustainability is the major challenge of our time.
Read more
hylton-driving-chart

Sustainability in Pottstown

As Americans adjust their lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint, driving less and walking more, sustainable towns like Pottstown will become more attractive places to live and work.
Read more



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.