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By Heather Tyrrell
PHOENIXVILLE — Phoenixville Borough Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to advertise a draft of the 2013 budget which includes $7,973,055 in estimated revenue and a shortfall of $47,106.
Borough manager E. Jean Krack said the estimated expenditures for 2013 are $8,020,161. Krack said there is potential for a 1.3 percent increase in taxes which would bring the millage rate from 5.25 to 5.32.
Council members emphasized that the information was just a draft which means it is not the final budget. A public hearing for real estate millage will be held on Dec. 11 and the budget is scheduled to be approved at the same meeting.
Krack said the 2013 budget factors in increases in health insurance, salary increases including contract union 3.75 increase and non uniform union employees will get a 2 percent increase, non-union non-uniform full-time employees will get a 2 percent and some salary adjustments to their positions. The debt service for 2013 is $572,850.
“We continue to rethink and re-purpose the level of services and programs we can provide to existing revenue projections and we’ve made every effort to address all of those issues head-on,” Krack said. “With Borough Council supporting economic development and our ability to hold the line while sustaining consistent services has kept the borough in high demand.”
Borough Council also voted 5 to 3 on authorizing condemnation by eminent domain of easements, and rights-of-way that would become the Phoenixville Borough section of the Schuylkill River Trail. The trail would extend north crossing High and Fillmore streets. Members Christopher Bauers, Jim Kovaleski and Karl Bucus voted no.
Borough Council President said the French Creek Trail would connect with the trailhead of the Schuylkill River Trail in East Pikeland Township at Township Line Road.
Krack said the owners, Valley Forge Railways, were approached or contacted several times about giving up the properties.
“It’s a railroad to nowhere,” Krack said. “It’s been holding up the process to move trail system.”
He said the Schuylkill River Trail connection is high on the priority list of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and the Chester County commissioners. Funding for the project is coming from the William Penn Foundation.
During public participation, Kusko said that creating the public trail in Phoenixville was 20+ years in the making. “If it takes eminent domain to do it, then we need to take that action,” Kusko said.
Bucus and Kovaleski talked about why they were voting no.
Bucus said, “We have a person responsible for these properties that could get something, but is bound to get nothing. I find it confusing of why we’re in the position where we have to, in my opinion, abuse the eminent domain inappropriately. I want this trail done. I find it flabbergasting we have to use this process.”
Kovaleski said, “I also support the trail. I think eminent domain is a heavy handed (option) that you should only use in dire circumstances. I think there are other alternatives here.”
Council Vice President Michael Speck asked what the legal fees would be. Krack said it is unknown what the legal fees will be.
Solicitor Andrew D.H. Rau explained what will happen as part of the process.
“Even in eminent domain, even if there isn’t an agreement, there is a review of what is the value lost to the property,” Rau said. “In this case, I think there is a question of what Valley Forge Railroad still owns and if they do have something, what is the loss of the easement over the railroad area. The borough isn’t trying to take any fees as the tax parcels, just looking for an easement to allow for the trail. Those questions will get sorted out by the court.”
Rau said if council finds that the cost or process isn’t worth it, the council can withdraw the action of eminent domain.
Kirkner responded to Bucus and Kovaleski saying that he disagreed that eminent domain was an abuse in this situation and that he sees the action as a last resort.
He said Speck had a point when he asked about legal fees, but the grant for the trail also has a deadline that he didn’t want the borough to be responsible for interfering with.
Bucus made a motion to table voting on eminent domain to find out what the legal fees would be, but the motion was defeated.
Mayor Leo J. Scoda offered his opinion on the matter of using eminent domain for the trail.
“There is a reason for eminent domain and that is when the landowner is preventing something beneficial from occurring,” Scoda said. “This is what we’re seeing. This land is never going to be used. There’s never going to be a railroad down there and it allows the government to take that land. People have the wrong impression...they think eminent domain that the landowner doesn’t get anything and that’s not true at all.”
-Council unanimously approved a resolution for the subdivision and land development plan for Fillmore Village – Phase 2. Kirkner suggested the entrance to the development at Taylor and Wilson streets be one way instead of two way because of the Taylor Street Park. He said that traffic would be a hazard for children at the park. The resolution was approved with the condition of keeping Taylor Street one way north into the development.
-Council unanimously approved a resolution for the subdivision and land development plan for Madison at French Creek.
-After being informed Officer Sedaris was resigning from the police force, council voted to hire a police officer pending results of a physical and psychological exam. Chief William Mossman and Scoda will bring a list of names of potential officers from the civil service list to hire at the next council meeting. The person chosen would be the 28th officer of the force.
- Ron Sigismonti Jr., an ambulance coordinator for West End Fire Company, asked council to rescind the request for proposal for alternative ambulance service. Sigismonti said West End is no longer servicing East Vincent Township because of the request for bids council established during its October meeting. West End’s plan is to have two 24-hour ambulances servicing Phoenixville after Nov. 16.
He asked the borough to give West End six months to reorganize.
Council didn’t take any action on the request. Council expects to vote on the bids in January.
-Paul Kusko was honored for serving on the Tree Advisory Commission for eight years. Kusko thanked council for appointing him to the commission in 2004.
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