Borough Council reverses course on wage tax

Updated at 2:50 p.m. to add comment from Borough Manager Joseph Scalise

Two returning issues dominated the Kennett Square Borough Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 19, one prompting a vote reversal and the other several apologies.

Kennett Square's Borough Council votes to support an attempt to repeal the Sterling Act, but not at the City of Philadelphia's expense.

Kennett Square's Borough Council votes to support an attempt to repeal the Sterling Act, but not at the City of Philadelphia's expense.

The first item that represented a repeat involved the Sterling Act, a measure passed by the state legislature in 1932 that has enabled Philadelphia to tax suburban residents who work in the city without remitting any portion of the wage fee back to the residents’ municipalities.

At its Aug. 1 meeting, the council voted 4 to 3 not to pass a resolution supporting a statewide effort to repeal the law, estimated to cost the borough about $12,000 a year. After considerable debate, Councilmen Geoffrey Bosley, Danilo Maffei and Doug Doerfler voted in support of the measure, arguing that it would serve the borough.

But Councilman Ethan Cramer advocated the importance of not undermining the area’s main urban center, and Councilman Jamie Mallon noted that if the effort succeeded, Philadelphia would need to close the gap, potentially subjecting residents to an even higher tax.

Although Councilman Wayne Braffman joined Cramer, Mallon and Councilwoman LaToya Myers in voting against the measure, he said he remained troubled by it and crafted a compromise. His resolution added language that suggested that life in Kennett Square is “significantly affected by the success of the City of Philadelphia” and that the remittance of funds to the residents’ municipalities be done “in a manner which does not result in any net loss of revenue” to Philadelphia.

Braffman suggested that lawmakers could find a way to support Philadelphia without pitting it against its suburban neighbors. The council voted 5 to 1 – with Council President Danilo Maffei out of town and Councilman Jamie Mallon dissenting – to support the amended resolution. Mallon said he believed that the borough’s vote would simply be added to the “yes” column and that Braffman’s changes would not get any attention.

The second recurring topic stemmed from a decision that occurred at the council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6, a vote that deviated from procedure and that later prompted Andrew J. Fronig, who had chaired the borough’s Historic Architecture Review Board (HARB), to resign.

Fronig addressed the board at Monday night’s meeting to express disappointment with the way the process for granting a demolition permit for 515 S. Broad Street was handled – and to explain the history of the request. He said the HARB, which had not placed the issue on the Sept. 6 agenda, requested more time to review the situation, which Borough Council granted.

Then, later in the meeting – after Fronig had left – the property’s owner, Patrick Taylor, voiced dismay about the delay, accusing the council of putting people at risk because the building was in danger of imminent collapse. Moreover, Taylor said his efforts to keep people out, including fences and signs, had failed.

Taylor’s remarks prompted more discussion, and a new vote. Maffei said he believed that council should follow procedure, giving the HARB the time it needed to conduct a thorough analysis, but several council members echoed the sentiments of the majority that safety should not be compromised, voting 6 to 1 to grant the permit.

At Monday night’s meeting, Braffman, Cramer and Mallon all offered personal apologies to Fronig. “We viewed it as a public safety issue,” Council Vice President Geoff Bosley added. “We didn’t mean it as disrespect.”

Disputing the safety issue, Fronig pointed out that the building has been in the same condition for three decades. “I will note the building’s still standing,” he said. He also said that the permit was not put on the agenda by the HARB, another deviation from procedure, and he wondered whether Taylor, a former council member, got special treatment.

Fronig said the HARB has handled 30 applications since its inception, mainly for minor requests, such as signs and additions. “This is the first time we’ve been asked to preserve a piece of history,” he said, referencing the 1870s timber-frame building, once owned by the well-known Gawthrop family. “We weren’t given the opportunity to do that.”

Borough Manager Joseph Scalise said the permit was added to the agenda by Rusty Drumheller, the borough's code enforcement officer. Scalise explained that Drumheller made the request because the HARB had recently changed its meeting date, making it unable to respond within the required 30-day window. Without any official action during that timetable, the permit would have been automatically approved, Scalise said.

In other business, the council approved a request from the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County to place purple ribbons in select locations in October to observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Kennett Square Police Lt. William T. Holdsworth reported that the borough would soon have three officers certified to conduct truck weight enforcement. Borough Mayor Matt Fetick said he hoped that word would get out that the borough has stringent regulations and that violators would be fined.

Giving an update on the borough’s finances, Scalise noted that the fund balance is slowly improving every year. “We’re not where we want to be,” explained Bosley, adding that the borough has “made really strong strides.” Scalise said the 2016 quarterly financial reports are available in the borough’s public Dropbox site here.

Finally, Councilman Doug Doerfler extended thanks to all of the borough staff and hundreds of volunteers who contributed to another successful Mushroom Festival.

 

 

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