Patch brings you the second of its three-part series on Ward Commissioner candidates’ thoughts on the following township issues and concerns:
- Fiscal Responsibility
- Storm Water Management
Speaking with Patch in separate interviews, Ward 6 candidates and provide their responses below:
Worth-LaManna has a mantra when it comes to revitalization: “Clean, Green and Walkable.”
Worth-LaManna recalls the several revitalization plans over her 34-years she has lived in the township. Pointing to a summery of a past township revitalization plan, created earlier last decade, Worth-LaManna quotes a line to describe areas of the township that are not pedestrian-friendly, particularly those with SEPTA transit stops within the township.
“What has been done in nine-years to change that one line?” asked Worth-LaManna, adding that she could likely find more examples of unchanged, but identified, areas in need of revitalization.
She further asked if the answer would need more grant seeking or hiring more consultants.
“Or, does it just require the will of the board to fix what is known as a hostile pedestrian environment and an inhospitable transit situation?”
Particularly, within the downtown area of Willow Grove, Worth-LaManna points to the difficulty of crossing York Road from the Willow Grove Train Station, as that is currently an illegal crosswalk.
She said that that the projects in the expected new revitalization plan of the township’s revitalization task force, must be acted upon by the board. She also said that the current decisions being made at the township level, in terms of revitalization, are in need of a change.
“I like things good, but whatever happened to better and best?” Worth-LaManna said. “Why do you think that change is going to be a negative?”
Valenza said that revitalization has to be done, and it has to be done as a group effort.
“Everyone wants to see it succeed, because there is a need to have something done in Willow Grove,” Valenza said.
Recalling past years of when the immediate area around the was the hub of a popular business and entertainment district of downtown Willow Grove, Valenza said that he would like to see the train station moved up the SEPTA tracks toward Hatboro.
He said that if the train station would be moved on the other side of the track, the west side where the entrance to Veterans Memorial Park is located, and moved further up, traffic along Davisville Road and its York Road intersection would be alleviated and more parking for commuters would be available.
Valenza, who has been involved with past revitalization task force efforts, said that developers are interested in developing downtown Willow Grove. And, while past revitalization efforts are township improvements, including the creation of the Veterans Memorial Park entranceway, Valenza said that expediting revitalization will come down to how the township works with developers interested in pursuing projects suggested by the .
“Once the first one gets started, and they have a positive experience, from the township staff to the board of commissioners, developers will want to develop in Willow Grove,” Valenza said, emphasizing that township commissioners must be in full-favor of redevelopment and encourage developers to pursue the project ideas.
“I’m not saying give them cart blanche,” Valenza said of the developers, and added that he would trust the township staff to guide board decisions on projects. “And, I got to tell you, I think we have a great township staff and a great professional staff.”
On Fiscal Responsibility
Valenza disagrees that it will be possible to downsize township positions and maintain the same level of service to the community.
He gives the example, should the township’s zoning department staff decrease; processing and community development time would increase. Valenza also points out there have already been staff reductions in recent years within township departments, including Public Works and Parks and Recreation, as the board of commissioners did not hire replacements for vacated positions.
As for union staff positions, particularly within the police department, Valenza explained that the township is tied to the decision of an arbiter, who compromises between the best interests of both township and union staff.
Valenza further explained that the township has operated in the red for the last five years. He attributes the lack of a tax increase for several consecutive years, due to the decision of a majority of the board, which, he explained, resulted in the 13.6-percent real estate tax increase last year.
“I’ve always been in favor of a 2-to-4-percent tax increase a year - only if we’re operating in the red,” he said, adding that the township had to use fund balance transfers to balance the budget, due to lack of revenue. “You can operate in the red, but you’d have to put it on a credit card, and that’s not the way you do business.”
He added that, due to lack of township funds, his 2008 asset allocation table plan, which would have outlined a way to pay and maintain township assets, could not be completed.
Valenza further explained that the incremental tax increases would be more affordable to residents, while putting funds into the township’s capital reserves. As chair of the finance and administrative committee, Valenza said it is important to build up the capital reserve funds, as that is what maintains Upper Moreland’s AAA township bond rating.
Worth-LaManna’s focus on fiscal responsibility is on management of township employees and resources.
“Learning to live within your means is a phrase that actually has an action behind it,” she said.
She addresses the municipal three-year contracts given to certain township employees in June of this year, identifying a 3-percent raise each year, adding that the previous three-year contracts gave an overall 14-percent raise. She also identifies that those township employees do not participate in contributory medical benefits.
“I don’t think it’s ok,” Worth-LaManna said, emphasizing the township employees’ minimal cost-share medical plans. “How about the rest of us who pay out of pocket for our kids? You pay, $14,000 for two kids to have braces on their teeth, and you get a little passionate about it.”
She said that township employees must be treated with respect, but also with an understanding of participation in relation to the means of the township. This is why Worth-LaManna suggests taking an audit of all township employees.
“Every good, strong municipal government can take a look at itself internally, and ask itself the big question, ‘Can we afford this?’” she said. “It’s what you do in a good family, it’s what you should do in your personal life.”
She said that an audit would be able to bring consensus to the board when opportunities, such as reducing staff, are presented.
Worth-LaManna specifically said it was a missed opportunity for cost-reduction when the board approved the creation of the police community service representatives, when their previous positions had been transferred to a countywide dispatch system.
“We can always bring somebody back,” Worth-LaManna said. “But, let’s start with what we think we can finance, and look at exactly at what [positions] would do to augment every member of this township’s life.”
On Storm Water Management
If elected, Worth-LaManna said she would see to the creation of an “Office of Storm Water Management.“
“Storm water relates more, in my thinking, to infrastructure,” she said. “It needs to go somewhere.”
Worth-LaManna said she also has storm water and ground water issues on her own property. She would like to see a township that pays attention to water as a precious commodity, and see how the township could capitalize on it.
She said that she would like to look at future projects that further track storm water flow along its waterways, and see if the water ways themselves are in need of repair. She adds that infrastructure areas, identified as insufficient in handling flooding, would be directly addressed through the office.
She said that the office would help residents maintain waterways on their private properties and provide expert knowledge on water issues.
“There are multiple areas here for consideration,” she said.
“Storm water management has been a problem in this township for over 30 years,” Valenza said.
He said the first steps the township has taken toward better storm water management were to identify the township’s problem areas of flooding. He does say that most of the storm water issues stem from Horsham Township, and future increased communication will be needed to address those issues.
Valenza also said that he has supported many of the recent initiatives coming from the community development committee, such as giving developers the opportunity to opt into an in lieu of fees for their projects that would benefit storm water and parks and receration issues.
Valenza stated that he would also support, as soon as the economy recovers, a 1-percent tax increase toward storm water management.
“Because, it’s about time that someone steps up and starts taking responsibility toward storm water issues,” he said. “Let’s look at what we can start doing; it may not be much now, but we should get the ball rolling. “