About a month ago, a ChesterBlog reader asked why I don’t write about Chester politics. About 8 months ago, a reader told me I need to be more balanced with my blog posts on politics.
Well, damn! Which one is it?
I’ve been doing this blog for 6 years, and I’ve written stuff about the administration in office at the time, particularly when I have a question, concern, or to bring something to your attention. But, that’s not real political reporting. Those are opinion pieces. During election time, one candidate asked me to interview them and the other didn’t. That probably makes me seem biased, but I’m never chasing an interview for the sake of doing an interview because I hate transcribing them.
I don’t do political writing because smart politicians tell you what they want the readers to hear, which is fine with me. But to get to the real story takes time to dig and research. I don’t want to work that hard.
Last week, one of the best overviews of how Chester City government currently operates appeared on the City’s website in the form of the MUNICIPALITIES FINANCIAL RECOVERY PLAN FOR THE CITY OF CHESTER. It’s not a political document, but it doesn’t take a genius to determine which administration seemed to have the city finances under control and which administration is struggling with those responsibilities.
The problem with political reporting is each side starts blaming the other. The great part about this Recovery Plan Report is that it doesn’t dwell In the past. It contains firm, concrete, documented, action items that the current administration must take in order to get the City finances in order.
What a gift. Who else would do the work to comb through every segment of city government to find where money can be saved or avoid being spent, and write a comprehensive report with a firm timeline to accomplish each task? The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Governor’s Center for Local Government Services has laid out the game plan to Make Chester Great Again.
When Republican mayor Wendell Butler was going up against current mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, I asked Butler why not campaign on something other than what Kirkland was running with. It seemed like in the four years that passed since Butler lost to John Linder, the city finances fell into trouble with late filings, missed payments, and credit rating deductions. You hear whispers everywhere. Even the dog catcher can’t get paid.
Butler was quick to respond that no one cares about city finances in a campaign. All the people want to hear about is fighting crime, twice a day trash collection, and better schools.
Maybe that’s why I find this report so refreshing, albeit troubling. You don’t have to go any further than first page of the Executive Summary to read…
In 2009 this new revenue source (Harrah’s) allowed Chester to operate within its budget for several years including establishing a reserve fund with excess revenues.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the City has slipped back into severe financial distress.
Under the law, the City must exit Act 47 by May 2018.
Page 2 goes on to state…
…the City must take immediate steps to eliminate its budget deficit and address its funding deficit. Extreme measures must be taken, and no department of the City will be able to avoid making difficult decisions.
In a nutshell, the report says that at the rate things are going, Chester will be $24 million dollars in the red by 2018. But, if the City does everything the report recommends and everything works out as they plan, the City will be in the black by $6.3 million.
I’m not going to bore you with all the recommendations in the report details, but two things are abundantly clear. One, they recommend the City hire somebody who knows how to manage money. Two, they are upset the City ignored the Recovery people’s earlier guidance and went on and approved the police and fire fighter contracts when it was clear the city couldn’t afford it.
Despite all the hoopla you are going to hear and read over the next few weeks over this, I don’t think much will be done by City officials to comply to the Financial Recovery Plan. If they followed every recommendation in that report, there would be anarchy in City Hall, the Police Department, the Fire Houses, and among themselves.
The real question is, what are their alternatives? No one ever talks about the money around here because the politicians don’t believe the residents care.
I’ll just say that Detroit proved that once bankruptcy hits, the recovery marches in fast. If you’ve got something to hold on to in Chester, you better work hard on strengthening your grip.
If anyone does care about city finances…
On Tuesday, August 2, you’re invited to attend City Council where Act 47 will be the major topic.
The Plan is open for public inspection, as of Friday, July 15, 2016, at the City Clerk’s Office in Chester City Hall, 1 Fourth Street, Chester, PA 19013, during normal business hours. The coordinator hereby invites written comments on the Plan from any and all persons and entities. Please submit such written comments on or before Saturday, July 30, 2016 by mail or email to: Stephen P. Mullin, Econsult Solutions, 1435 Walnut Street, Suite 400, Philadelphia, PA 19102, firstname.lastname@example.org.