Friday, October 16, 2015

Lansdale talks televised meetings

Now that Lansdale Borough's staff have moved into their new municipal building, officials are revisiting an issue tabled for most of the last two years.
Council's Communication Commission is starting to revisit the possibility of televising borough meetings, according to commission Chair Denton Burnell.
"We've obviously capable of televising things, video recording things, so now that we're in this fancy, cool space, what can we do?" Burnell said.
Before leaving the previous borough hall in 2013, the commission had broached the topic of televising meetings and posting the video on the borough website
Since then, the website has been revamped and modernized, and the new borough building "is certainly wired for" video recording equipment, Burnell said, thus restarting a discussion that's been on hold for years.
"There's obviously a lot of questions to be answered: are we buying this stuff? Are we renting that stuff? What do we have to do with regards to a public access channel? Who would manage the equipment? So on and so forth," he said.
Some of those responsibilities could be part of the role of the borough communications coordinator, a position that has been vacant since early August.
According to Burnell and borough Manager Jake Ziegler, candidates for the coordinator position are still being interviewed, and a new employee could be in place by mid-November.
That new coordinator, once they're in place, could draw on a shared services agreement with the North Penn School District to discuss how the district's NPTV channel does their broadcasts, and the hard- and software they use.
"We could have them come in, look at our situation, and say 'Hey, we can help you here, here are some recommendations we can make,'" Burnell said.
"At least, starting the conversation with them to start to build a framework for the type of things we would need to do, in order to leverage and publicly televise on a public access channel our meetings," he said.
With talks on the 2016 borough budget underway, any large equipment expenses such as multiple large cameras would likely wait until 2017, but low-cost options such as a single-camera setup could be implemented sooner depending on the answers to the cost questions.
"I'm committed to realizing at least one of those options in the next 12 months. I would assume that the video recording options could happen much quicker than that, and at a relatively low expense to the borough," he said.
The website and channel could have fresh content, if another project discussed by the commission comes to reality.
Commission member Carrie Hawkins Charlton suggested a Civics 101 program, or a series of courses introducing residents to local government and how it works.
"You can learn about the police department, learn about the fire department, learn about borough government: what we do, how our local government is structured, the processes that we go through, and some basic information about how our budgets are structured," Burnell said.
Those courses could be offered in person by borough department heads, and could run four to six weeks and result in an honorary certification for those who complete the courses.
"The idea is to engage people who don't normally come to council, who perhaps aren't really engaged, and don't really have a sense of what we do, but might be interested," he said. 
"The goals are simple: getting people more engaged and interested in their local government, and hopefully not just engaged but more involved," said Burnell.
In recent months the commission has welcomed three new members and shifted from monthly to quarterly meetings, and as part of that reorganization Burnell was renamed as the commission Chair and Charlton as Vice-chair. The group also discussed the new look of the North Penn Water Authority's water tower near Third and Richardson Streets, which now sports the new borough brand and logo developed by the commission, and a possible update to the recently revamped borough website The upgraded site is able to track users' stays and how they find certain data, and Burnell said the commission and new coordinator could use that data to make certain features more prominent and easier to find.
"We don't really know with any great certainty how people are using (the site), so I'm very keen to leverage any data tracking metrics that we have," he said.
Examples discussed by the commission include promoting more economic development topics for outsiders visiting the site, linking borough social media channels to the site, and reconfiguring photos that appear distorted due to the page framing. 

 Lansdale's borough council next meets at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the borough municipal building, 1 Vine Street. For more information or meeting agendas and materials visit or follow @LansdalePA on Twitter.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The kiosks are coming!

If you park at any of three public lots in Lansdale's downtown, this is your first warning.
The parking kiosks ordered by the borough Parking Authority last year could be running soon.
 "It's likely that the kiosks will be operational soon. It could be as early as a week or two from now - sometime within the month," said borough Manager Jake Ziegler.
For years the Parking Authority has been discussing ways to modernize its operations and better manage the parking spaces available downtown. A parking study in 2011 produced several recommendations to better manage the spaces that already exist, including three pricing zones in downtown.
Those zones are as follows: the $1 per hour downtown core includes street parking on West Main Street from Green and Wood Streets to Madison Street, Madison Street from Main to Richardson Street, the front of the Madison Parking Lot, and the West Main Street lot.
The secondary, 50 cent per hour zone includes the rest of the Madison lot, the borough’s Walnut Street and Vine Street lots, along Railroad Avenue, and street parking on Walnut Street from Main to Linden Street, on Courtland Street from Green to Wood Street, on West Main from Wood to Richardson, on West Second Street from Broad Street to Walnut, on East Second from Broad to Chestnut and on North Broad from Main to Third Street. All other public lots in the borough are free.
In June 2014 the kiosks were ordered, costing roughly $10,000 each, and designated for three public lots:the West Main parking lot at Main Street and Susquehanna Avenue, in the Walnut Street lot at Main and Walnut streets and in the Susquehanna lot at Susquehanna and Vine Street. 
The kiosks were installed this past summer, and staff initially said they hoped to have them activated in September. Ziegler, who acts as parking administrator as well as borough manager, told the authority Wednesday that the process is now nearly done.
The kiosk at Main Street and Susquehanna Avenue  would likely be programmed to charge $1 per hour due to locations in the inner core zone, and the Susquehanna and Main and Walnut lots would likely be 50 cents an hour.
"Assuming there is not a large objection to that, that's something that could be implemented relatively quickly," Ziegler said.
Ziegler also announced that the current borough parking attendant has given formal notice that he plans to retire, so staff are looking into hiring a replacement. That employee would likely work roughly 20 hours a week, and be paid for by Parking Authority funds, which come from the revenues from parking meters.
Lansdale's Parking Authority next meets at 7 p.m. on Nov. 11 and borough council next meets at 7 p.m. on Oct. 21, both at the borough municipal building, 1 Vine Street. For more information or meeting agendas and materials visit or follow @LansdalePA on Twitter.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lansdale Historical Society - the story of "E.M."

If you're looking for a free and fun way to learn about the area's history, the Lansdale Historical Society is offering its latest Community Program tomorrow, Oct. 13.
Starting at 7:30 p.m., LHS member Donald Lewis will tell the story of "E.M.," Edward Mathews, one of Lansdale's earliest local historians.

According to LHS, Mathews wrote in exhaustive detail about the people and events in the North Penn region during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Despite several serious illnesses, Mathews was able to gather thorough information for nearly every local newspaper, and his diaries would become reference sources for local historians of future generations.
He would crisscross the area by trolley and bicycle, and stayed for a time in Lansdale; details will be described at Tuesday night's LHS program, held at the Lansdale Parks and Recreation building, 660 Lansdale Avenue.
Lewis, a longtime LHS member, has researched Mathews' life and writings ahead of the 100th anniversary of Mathews' death, and has previously given LHS presentations on the origin of Lansdale's street names and the question of where General Winfield Scott Hancock was born.
As with other LHS events, admission is free and donations are appreciated.
LHS also has tons of resources for any area history you'd like to know, including back issues of The Reporter dating back to issue 1 in 1870, and host Saturday seminars to teach new residents about the area's history.
For more information on the October program or other LHS events, call (215) 855-1872 or visit
Also, best wishes to LHS President Dick Shearer who is undergoing a medical procedure today - hopefully that gives him plenty of time to watch former Phillies in the playoffs!

Monday, October 5, 2015

More budget news - MMOs

Now that budget season is underway for our local municipalities, we're hearing quite a bit about MMOs, or Minimum Municipal Obligations. An MMO is an amount a local municipality is required to pay for pension expenses during each budget year. Most municipalities have some sort of pension board or committee that oversees these calculations

Per state law, each municipality is required to certify what those numbers are by the end of September, ahead of passing their formal budget in November/December. The budget includes those amounts as an expense the muni is required to pay, and there is usually state reimbursement available for at least some of the MMO pension costs - that also varies by municipality.

Here are the MMOs that have been approved recently:

- Hatfield Township's MMO obligations are slated to decrease for the first time in nearly a decade in 2016, a trend officials attributed to a defined contribution plan first implemented in 2013. Total township pension costs totalled $623,860 in 2014, peaked at $716,383 in 2015 and now project to fall to $537,788 in 2016; here's the breakdown:

- Lansdale Borough: Police MMO has been calculated as $967,144 for 2016, based on a total police employee payroll of $2.74 million and an expected contribution of $96,000 from members.

MMO for borough non-uniform pension plan has been calculated as $475,000; of that total $190,000 is required for the management category of employee; $190,000 for employees of the Molders Union, and the remaining $95,000 from AFSCME union members.

- Montgomery Township: MMO for the township's police pension plan in 2016 has been calculated at $761,309; estimated state aid is $247,000 leaving a township obligation of $514,309. 2016's figure is a 1% increase from 2015, and a total of 36 police officers contribute 5% of their salaries.

For non-uniform employees, the MMO is calculated to be $279,591 in 2016, with an estimated state aid of $188,000 leaving a local obligation of $91,591. 49 employees participate in the plan, to which the township contributes 8% and the employee, 4%; the 2016 total is less than a 1% increase over 2015, according to the township.

- North Wales: Council approved an MMO figure of $65,770 at their Sept. 8 meeting, and council Vice President Christine Hart said the borough typically receives "most of it back in subsidies" from the state. "To keep it fully funded is something we've done as long as I've been here. We have not stopped contributions, even when we've been ahead of the game," she said.

- Towamencin: Police MMOs for 2016 have been calculated to be $773,557 for 2016, down from an $814,586 figure in 2015. The township's non-uniform MMO, based on a defined benefit pension plan, has been calculated at $162,360 in 2016, down from $181,117 in 2015.

- Upper Gwynedd's MMO figures were still being calculated during their Sept. 15 workshop, and I've asked their staff if those figures are available - will update once I get that info!

Friday, October 2, 2015

2015 Budget season - UPDATED 10/13

UPDATE 10/13: Montgomery Township has announced their schedule of topics to be discussed during a series of budget workshops later this month.
The board has already voted to schedule budget workshop meetings for Oct. 20, 21, 22 and 28, with Oct. 29 as a backup date. All meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. and run until roughly 8:30-9 p.m.
Topics for each of those sessions have now been announced:
Oct. 20 - budget overview, general engineering projects, traffic engineering, Public Works, Parks
Oct. 21 - Environmental Advisory Committee, Fire Department of Montgomery Township and Department of Fire Services, Sewer Authority, Planning/zoning, Shade Tree commission
Oct. 22 - Community & Recreation Center and Autumn Festival, Police, IT and Finance
Oct. 28 - Administration, personnel, conclusion.
The supervisors are tentatively scheduled to adopt a preliminary budget on Nov. 9 to start the formal public review period, and adopt the final budget on Dec. 14. If any change is made during the drafting process that alters one item by more than 25 percent or the total budget by more than ten percent, the budget must be re-advertised for another 20 days, according to township staff.
All of those meetings will be held at the township administration building, 1001 Stump Road; for more information visit or follow @MontTwp on Twitter.

UPDATE 10/9: Towamencin has adjusted their budget schedule due to the cancellation of an Oct. 7 budget workshop meant to discuss several township departments.
With the Oct. 7 meeting canceled, Oct. 21 will now mark the start of budget talks, with topics on the to-do list including the township Police, Fire Department, emergency management, Code enforcement, and the Morgan Log House.
Several other departments originally scheduled for Oct. 7 will now be discussed on Oct. 18: Parks and Recreation, Public Works, the Towamencin Pool, and the long-term capital budget and fee schedule.
A budget workshop on Nov. 4 will discuss remaining departments: Finance, IT, economic development, administration, and sewer.
Adoption of a tentative 2016 budget, originally scheduled for Nov. 10, will now take place during a Nov. 18 budget meeting.
The 20-day window for public inspection now means that instead of final adoption of the budget on Dec. 9, the budget will now be adopted on Dec. 23 at the supervisors' work session. For more info visit


It's that time of year again, one of the most important and yet unappreciated for local governments - budget season!

Each of our local municipalities has at least one, and usually a series, of meetings to go over the last year's budget and plan the coming year.

Typically, each department (parks, finance, police, code, public works, etc) will submit a draft budget containing everything they would like to see included in the next year, and over the next several meetings their board will cut that down to make ends meet.

Depending on their schedules, each of the municipalities handles the early weeks of budget season differently, but all of them have to approve a draft budget in November, make it available for public comment, and approve the final version in December.

Each municipality schedules their budget talks differently: Lansdale Borough began talking about the expenditure side of their budget in Sept. 2 council committee meetings, and will talk about revenues in their Oct. 7 committees next week. Those committee meetings start at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7 at the borough municipal building, 1 Vine Street, and the draft budget could be adopted Nov. 18 and the final version Dec. 16.

Montgomery Township's board had a choice between several possible budget meeting dates, and said they'll hold their workshops on Oct. 20, 21, 22 and 28 with the 29th as a backup date. Those meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and tend to run to 8:30-9pm, and (SEE ABOVE FOR UDPATE) which department goes on which date will depend on when engineers and professional consultants are available, according to their finance director. Those meetings are held at their administration building, 1001 Stump Road, and follow them on Twitter @MontTwp or visit www.MontgomeryTwp for details on which meeting is when.

Upper Gwynedd tends to hold one all-night budget meeting to discuss their entire wish-list, and last year's ran from 5 p.m. to roughly 11:30 p.m. - eat something beforehand! That meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 at their administration building, 1 Parkside Place.

Hatfield Township holds an annual goal-setting meeting - which used to be at the start of the calendar year, until they realized it made more sense to hold it while drafting the budget - and then keep up talks on the budget during board workshop meetings. The budget-only meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 11 and the other commissioners' meetings are schedule for Nov. 4 and 18 (which should include a formal budget presentation) and December 2 and 16, all at their admin building, 1950 School Road.

North Wales Borough is a trickier case, since they are still looking for their next full-time borough manager. Last year, the former manager had a budget complete in mid-November before he left to work in a larger town, but this year's schedule is still to be determine. Borough council has said they hope to have a new manager hired by Nov. 1, and their council meetings are scheduled for Nov. 10 and 24 and Dec. 8 and 15, all at the borough municipal building, 300 School Street.

And last but certainly not least, Towamencin's supervisors have scheduled several budget workshops, to be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 21 and Nov. 4. Those will go alongside supervisors meetings at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 and 24 and Dec. 9 and 23, all of which will be held at their township building, 1090 Troxel Road.

Let me know if I'll see you at any of these budget meetings!