Barnard House factors into 2016 budget talks

The Pocopson Township Board of Supervisors voted to advance the Barnard House project and received a preview of the 2016 budget at a budget workshop on Monday, Oct. 19.

Pocopson Township Supervisors Ricki Stumpo (from left), Georgia Brutscher, and Barney Leonard listen to financial projections for the 2016 budget.

Pocopson Township Supervisors Ricki Stumpo (from left), Georgia Brutscher, and Barney Leonard listen to financial projections for the 2016 budget.

Before the financial analysis began, Supervisors’ Chairman Barney Leonard made a motion to authorize the township’s solicitor to review a draft of the bid proposal for the Barnard House. Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the historic building is being renovated for use as the township municipal building and the home of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, a repurposing that has generated conflict.

Supervisor Ricki Stumpo said she had received only a portion of the document, which is several inches thick, that morning and thought it would be discussed at the next supervisors’ meeting. “I think it’s prudent that the board looks at it first,” she said.

Supervisor Georgia Brutscher, a member of the Barnard House Steering Committee, disagreed. “They [solicitors] need a long time to review it,” she said.

Leonard said that the bid package could still be discussed at the next supervisors’ meeting. In the meantime, he said forwarding it to the solicitor would ensure “it complies with all the laws in Pennsylvania and Chester County.”

With Stumpo dissenting, Brutscher and Leonard approved the motion and then turned the meeting over to Peggy Lennon, the township’s treasurer.

During a detailed presentation, Lennon gave the supervisors an overview of the 2016 budget, a work in progress that will require the supervisors to make a number of decisions before finalizing it.

Lennon suggested that the supervisors consider adding $15,000 to the township’s general reserve fund, which would be available for emergency use. Although the township hasn’t had to use the fund for several years, it also hasn’t increased it. Under township code, the fund, which presently totals about $60,000, could increase up to $75,000, Lennon said.

Another issue for consideration involves an open space loan the township took out in 2011. Lennon explained that it had a pre-payment penalty that expires in October 2016. “Do the supervisors want to be more aggressive at paying it down?” Lennon asked.

Lennon said questions about the Barnard House finances would also have to be reconciled. The township included a $750,000 loan in its 2015 budget that likely won’t materialize since it takes eight to 10 weeks to process. “Even if we started the paperwork now, the earliest the loan could close would be mid-December,” Lennon said, adding that the first payment wouldn’t occur until 2016.

She said she added an $800,000 loan to the 2016 draft budget because she thought an extra $50,000 was needed for windows. She revised it to $750,000 after Lauressa McNemar, a member of the Barnard House Steering Committee, said the windows were included in the loan estimate.

“I feel confident we’re going to be able to finish it for $750,000,” said Brutscher. According to township records, about $800,000 has been spent on the project so far.

Lennon said the township also typically transfers money from the general fund into the general reserve for categories such as highway aid and township facilities. In the latter category, Lennon said she listed $200,000, based on “overruns we’ve had in the past” on capital projects, a figure that the supervisors will ultimately need to determine.

Both Leonard and Brutscher will be leaving office at the end of the year. Their expected replacements, Elaine DiMonte and Alice Balsama, both of whom are running unopposed for the two vacancies, attended the workshop. Both have been among a growing number of residents who have expressed concerns about the Barnard House project, questioning costs, workmanship and the building’s suitability for township administration.

The next budget workshop is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28. The next supervisors’ meeting is on Monday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m.

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