Borough illuminates path to saving money

The adage about not being able to squeeze blood from a rock came into play at the recent Kennett Square Borough Council meeting.

Bob Norris, a member of the Kennett Consolidated School District board, stresses that the district wants to keep its good communication with Kennett Square Borough Council.

Bob Norris, a member of the Kennett Consolidated School District board, stresses that the district wants to keep its good communication with Kennett Square Borough Council.

Bob Norris, a member of the Kennett Consolidated School District’s board, appeared before council on Monday, Oct. 17, to ensure that active, open communication continued between the borough and school district. He said he was reaching out to hear any concerns, and he welcomed council members to address the school board at any time.

Councilman Wayne Braffman asked Norris if he knew that the borough was about to send out bills to all tax-exempt organizations, seeking voluntary compensation for their fair share of taxes – the amount they would be paying for services if they didn’t have tax-exempt status.

Norris said he was aware of the effort, but not optimistic that the school district would be able to find any extra money. “I remind you that what we take out of this pocket will come from that pocket,” he said. “We get revenue from the same place as you.”

The school district budget doesn’t have wiggle room, Norris said. He explained that salaries and benefits take up 60 percent, or $48 million, of the 2016-17 $81.8 million budget, while another 10 percent covers state-mandated programs, leaving the district with discretion over only 30 percent of the budget.

He said the average cost to educate one child for one year in Kennett is $14,000, and since the average property owner in Kennett pays about $5,300, a sizable gap has to be filled. Add the fact that one in every five students at Kennett schools, which have 4,200 students and a capacity of 4,500, requires some type of higher-priced special education, and the funding challenges are exacerbated, he said.

On a different school-related topic, Councilman Ethan Cramer noted that the borough recently created an Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, and he wondered if the school district was interested in a similar program or some type of collaboration.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” said Norris, adding that 51 percent of the district’s students are non-English speaking. “One of our biggest challenges is the amount of parent involvement in their education.” He said the district has started using graduates to help families and would likely benefit from input and assistance from the borough’s advisory commission.

Borough Manager Joseph Scalise (left) and Borough Council President Danilo Maffei

Borough Manager Joseph Scalise (left) and Borough Council President Danilo Maffei

Norris also noted that he and his wife moved recently from New Garden Township to Kennett Square. “The borough is so vibrant and fun,” he said. “It’s a fun, neat place to live.”

Although Norris essentially dashed hopes that the borough would get additional revenue from the school district, the council found another potential source for savings.

In a 7-0 vote, it approved a Regional Street Light Procurement Program. The project has been in the works since March when council voted to authorize an agreement with Johnson Controls, Inc. to conduct an audit to determine the savings of an LED streetlight replacement project.

Borough Manager Joseph Scalise explained that the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission had secured a below-market group rate for dozens of municipalities in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties, a program that benefitted everyone by passing along the economies of scale. After the first year of operating, the system is expected to save the borough $25,144; cost savings over 20 years are projected to be nearly $200,000.

Borough Council also approved a special-event application for the holiday parade and tree lighting on Nov. 25, and carriages rides on Nov. 27, Dec. 4, Dec. 11, and Dec. 18.

During public comment, resident John Thomas said he hoped the debut of the Kennett Square Mushroom Cap Half Marathon on Oct. 15 would prompt changes next year.

“It wasn’t well-planned as far as traffic,” Thomas said, adding that people were being directed the wrong way on one-way streets.

 

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