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Towamencin approves study commission budget

TOWAMENCIN — Another week has brought another step forward for Towamencin’s government study commission, and another round of debate about the township’s sewer sale last year.

The township’s supervisors heard an update Wednesday night about the commission’s expected budget, approving it ahead of that group’s next meeting later this month.

“I thought you did a very thorough job preparing the budget, and it seems very reasonable to me,” said supervisors chairman Chuck Wilson.

Earlier this month the government study commission held their second meeting since being established by voter referendum last November, and interviewed a Plymouth township councilman about home rule provisions in that township, and their exploration of a possible sale of their municipal sewer system.

Towamencin’s study commission grew out of a similar discussion in that township over the past two years, as the supervisors studied and ultimately voted to sell the township’s sewer plant and infrastructure, and residents have mobilized to oppose the sale citing fears of massive rate hikes by a for-profit owner, while investigating ways to rewrite the township charter to add “home rule” provisions that would allow voter referenda on such sales.

During their Jan. 4 meeting the commission also outlined their projected budget for the coming year, and commission member Martin Cohen made the same presentation to the supervisors on Jan. 11. The study commission’s estimated budget totals just over $37,000, with the bulk of that spending going to roughly $21,500 in legal costs, an additional just shy of $13,000 for mailings, and smaller amounts for court recording, web hosting — of a study commission website that has now gone live — and Zoom services, printing and a court reporter for a planned March 1 public hearing in and April 24 townhall meeting ahead of the May primary election.

“For the townhall meeting, rental of the (North Penn) high school audion for one meeting, I can’t believe the cost is $10. And if we need IT support, there’s no charge for that,” Cohen said, while summarizing the costs for the supervisors.

“The copies of the home rule charter for three meetings, this is just an educated guess on what this is going to be; the cost is based on 10 cents a page,” he said, showing a projected cost of $400 for 200 copies of 20 pages each.

After Cohen outlined the expenses, supervisor Joyce Snyder questioned one slide, which noted costs for home rule charter efforts between 1972 and 1980 averaged just over $500, only a fraction of the estimated cost for the current round.

“Why did you choose 1972 to 1980? Because that’s a really bizarre timeframe. That was 40 years ago?” she said.

Cohen answered that those years were “the only piece that I could find that basically gives us some idea to what was paid for previously,” and noted one key difference.

“The legal fees were generally done with the existing municipality’s solicitor. That’s not the case here,” he said.

In response to a resident question about what kind of study the commission would ultimately produce, commission chairman Kofi Osei said that will be up to the group, and based on what they hear from others who have done so.

“We’re interviewing a few people, from different home rule municipalities. We’re looking at different home rule charters. We’re doing a study, but we did campaign on a shorter study,” Osei said.

Prior to the supervisors meeting, the study commission announced that their Jan. 18 meeting will include an interview with David McMahon, who led an effort in Norristown to stop a sewer sale attempt there using home rule charter provisions. Osei said public comments can be made at that meeting or submitted via email to TowamencinGSC@googlegroups.com by 6 p.m. that day, and Wilson encouraged anyone interested to do so.

“I would urge anybody out there listening, you should really come out to those meetings. I know some other people have expressed the same concerns, and I think that really needs to be heard at those (study commission) meetings,” Wilson said.

The supervisors then voted unanimously to approve the commission’s budget, with one wry comment from supervisor Laura Smith that drew chuckles from the board.

“We’re getting a much better deal with our solicitor than you guys are getting with yours — just gotta say it,” she said.

Regarding the solicitors, a second action item for the supervisors on Wednesday night dealt with the two attorneys, and drew further public comment. Before the board was a motion to send the township solicitor to the study commission’s meetings, to represent the board of supervisors there. Study commission member Jenn Foster gave a public comment thanking township solicitor Bob Iannozzi and new township manager David Kraynik for a recent meeting with study commission members, and director of administration Colleen Ehrle for her “tremendous” work posting study commission info on the township’s website and social media pages.

“I know our solicitor and Bob have been in close contact with one another, and have established a good working relationship,” Foster said, referring to attorney Lauren Gallagher who was appointed in December as legal advisor for the study commission.

“So I just think it’s important that the board explain to residents why there’s a need to have two solicitors at the meeting, because there are tax dollars involved,” Foster said.

Wilson answered that the purpose of sending the township solicitor was “so that our solicitor can keep informed on what the commission is doing, and how they’re moving forward, so he can keep us informed.” Iannozzi added that he charges the township an hourly rate of $160, so a rough estimate would be that rate multiplied by the length of time of the study commission meetings.

“The township is responsible for the payment of all costs, and the facilitation of the room, et cetera. So they thought it would be productive for me to be there, so I’m informed. And I work well alongside Lauren, so we’ll work together on that,” he said. The board then approved sending him to the study commission meetings, with Snyder casting the only vote against doing so.

Osei added during his own public comments that he’s begun researching possible grant opportunities that could help cover the costs of the study commission, and of an update to the township’s comprehensive plan that the supervisors have said is on their to-do list for 2023.

“If we could roll the township planning initiatives, and the government study commission, into one grant application, I think that would be great. We could even do a photo-op together, with one of those oversize checks,” he said; Wilson answered that Kraynik and staff would look into doing so.

Towamencin’s government study commission next meets at 7 p.m. on Jan. 18 and the township supervisors next meet at 7 p.m. on Jan. 25, both at the township administration building, 1090 Troxel Road. For more on the township visit www.Towamencin.org and for more on the study commission visit www.TowamencinGSC.org.


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