Updated: Oct 2, 2020
We have been following the proposed $22.3M prosed renovation and addition to the Plymouth Township Campus. We continue our multi-series event with this Q and A. Council President Chris Manero quickly responded to our request for an interview and agreed to answer our questions concerning the proposed $22.3M Township Campus renovation.
We sent over the following question to Mr. Manero to which Karen Weiss Township Manager was kind enough to respond.
Q: Now that you have had a chance to reflect on the presentation regarding the overall project and hearing the last financial update where we may be facing a deficit, what are your thoughts on the overall scope of the project, do you feel this is an all or nothing project?
Council has not decided yet. I think if we want the building to function for the next 40-50 years it should all be done, otherwise at a minimum, some things need to be done now.
Q: Do you think we should only address the necessary items as outlined by Karen Weiss which includes the roof and HVAC?
There are a few other items that need to be fixed besides the HVAC and roof. Some office space needs to be added for the Code Department, the electrical service needs to be replaced, asbestos needs to be removed, and the building should be brought up to ADA compliance.
Q: Do you think we should do everything proposed?
Council will decide.
Q: While many residents opposed selling the sewer system, is a tax increase to leverage any amount of debt the only way Council sees as a path forward?
Q: Do you see a way to accomplish the needed repairs or expansion within our budget? No.
Q: Does this maybe take several years where we address the needed issues and work down the list?
This project has been worked on since 2016. The list is made. It is a good time to borrow money. In good years, there might be a $500,000 surplus. With COVID, we are projecting an operating loss for the next two years, at least. The systems that need replacing cannot be done piecemeal.
Q: In your statement about tax increases you implied all tax increases are on the table (real estate, earned income, etc.) this is obviously a point of pride for many in the Township that past excellent financial management has led to a record number of years where no tax increase has been passed to the residents. What avenue of a tax increase would you prefer, do you want one over the other or a combination of both or none?
This is currently being explored.
Q: What is your rationale and if you go with both, wouldn't you see that as a double tax on property owners who would be forced to pay both?
I would not call it a double tax though it would come from two sources. I like to think of it as a % of one tax and a % of the other. Township businesses pay the real estate tax, so I believe we should include an increase in real estate tax, so the businesses can share in the cost. An increase in the earned income tax would shift that increase onto the wage earners, thereby taking the burden of an otherwise potentially larger real estate tax increase off the residents who are on a fixed income. This is why a blend of Real Estate and Earned Income taxes makes sense to me. Every parcel owner shares the increase, to a lesser or larger degree.
Q: Do you have concerns about this - you have a large political majority of voters, is there a concern there is a limit to their tolerance of tax increases? How will this impact seniors in our community, and is this a concern to the controlling party this loyal voting base would turn on the elected body if they have to carry the burden of a tax increase or even worse several tax increases? How much political capital is Council willing to invest if you go all in?
I cannot answer these questions of a political nature.
Q: Council still has not publically announced any dates in which the community can come watch the presentation and ask questions.
The presentation is on the Township website, September Workshop 2020. (Editor's note: Mrs. Weiss is referring to the September 7, 2020, Council Workshop which is available on the Township Website, in theory, the public could watch that video and then send an email in follow-up to Council)
Q: Are there plans to have such a community workshop(s)?
The community will have an opportunity to comment and ask questions at the Zoom Council workshop meeting on October 5th at 6pm. Instead of other presentations, “Public Comment on the Township Campus Renovation Project” is the first item on the October 5th Workshop meeting agenda.
Q: I would point out there were 4 events held to inform the community of the problems, do you not want the community to have at least the same amount of opportunities to come and questions the proposed solutions? If not, why not? If so, when will these workshops take place (Assuming Zoom)?
This was discussed at the September 8th meeting, and will be again on October 5th. There is audience participation at each Regular Meeting-second Monday of the month.
(Editor's Note: There is no public comment during the Council Workshops)
The October 5th Zoom meeting sign-in details will be posted on the Township website prior to the meeting. Council has decided to hold Zoom meetings through the end of the year.
Q: If you are willing to have a workshop with public comment, will you commit to having these workshops far enough in advance of a vote to allow the consultants to act on community feedback received during these meetings and re-present to the Council a revised plan?
I cannot say what Council will do, but I can say that the architect and project manager, chosen after a presentation to Council at its December 2019 Workshop Meeting, have been working on this project for the last 9 months. The building committee has met every other week for months. We have met with all department heads several times. The design is just about complete. Minor revisions may be possible, but I wouldn’t suggest major revisions at this time. The Master Plan was worked on for 18 months in 2016 and 2017. Much thought and planning have gone into the plans so far. Q: I noticed the presentation spoke of future growth of Township staff, with this Township being 98% developed, what expansion are we expecting beyond the current staffing levels we currently have? What are the proposed needed positions of the future we have not enacted and how will the addition of staff in the future impact Township services and residents?
The proposed addition is for the Code Enforcement Department, where presently there are four employees sitting in two former closets. That department has made great strides in scanning and digitizing records, using space in the basement with high density storage of files required to be kept. I do not see the need for many more employees, but if the project is built for the next 40-50 years, it would be prudent to allow for some small growth. Also, some employees are sitting in other departments, because there is no space for them in their proper place. E.g. an IT employee is in the Code Dept, another IT employee is in the former employee break room, (currently there is no employee break room), the Fire Marshal and Fire Inspector are in the PD. I agree that most of the Township is built out, but most land developments these days are re-developments. And the calls for service made to the police, fire companies and codes dept. increase every year, as the population increases. This building had 60 employees when it was built. There are now about 100. This is why the employee break room and two storage closets were converted into office spaces.
Q: I noticed in the presentation, the connection of the Township campus to the new school drive being constructed was mentioned but I have been unable to find that on any of the rendering shared or mentioned in the budgeted items (maybe I missed it?), does this mean there are additional costs which have been planned already above the $22.3M proposed at the workshop?
That road was initially on the Township’s Master Plan. Then the Colonial Middle School asked if they could use it for school buses. To make it work, they needed an easement over Township property, so as to minimize the impact to the neighbors on Maplewood Drive. The School District is building and paying for the road.
Q: If these are already proposed and included when will an updated project rendering be available or would you be able to share that?
The road should be on the School District’s plans. The township land development plans are not finished and I have not seen the road on them.
Q: I received a comment from a local resident who suggested if the entire project was to be considered we include the adjacent park in this plan and include play equipment as it is unsafe for residents in the Township Building area to cross Germantown Pike to get access to East Plymouth Valley. Would this be considered?
This is the first I have heard the request for play equipment in Bicentennial Park. This could be a Council decision at a later date. All of the township’s playgrounds are 20-25 years old with the exception of Harriet Wetherill Park. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-do one playground. East Plymouth Valley is slated to be next. After that, Black Horse Park, Alan Wood Park, JFK Park, Community Center Park and Colwell Park will all need to be re-done. It is very expensive to maintain what the Township has, let alone build more.
Q: I also noticed no mention of making this a walkable campus, although this might not be the area we want our residents walking, your thoughts on that?
There is a trail in Bicentennial Park which is heavily used, but you are right that unless someone has business at the Police or Administration building, it is not the ideal place to encourage walking around the building. There is heavy equipment out back, township vehicles and message boards, materials, mulch, etc.
Q: Would access to the overall campus or park be improved, planned, or by default during this project if Council were to proceed with the master plan?
Access to the building would be the same as it is today. The driveway along the Middle School would be used for the Public Works, and Police departments. The driveway by the entrance sign would be for visitors to the police or administration departments. Access via the new road that the School District is building to New Hope Street would be available to the police and public works, but not the public. It will be gated for school security.
Q: I noticed a lot of the justification for expanding our public works garage was to keep the equipment out of the elements and to further extend the life of the assets. Is there data available to compare to our non-garaged items to a township or even Penndot who does garage all items? What is the average replacement life of their garaged equipment compared to our historical replacement data - Is there truly a difference we can show the residents? What is that difference, if any, and does it justify the money being proposed on the garage expansion?
We do not have the data you are looking for, but we know and agree that garage kept vehicles and equipment will last longer. The staff has already recommended to remove that item from the project due to the estimated cost, and have that built separately. The existing pole barn for vehicles cost significantly less many years ago. We are certain we can build the needed garage for a lot less money.
Residents are encouraged to attend the Zoom meeting on Monday, October 5, 2020, at 6pm to learn more. The zoom link will be placed on the Township's website the day of the meeting.
Join our conversation here.