Today I'm going to post the gist of the live chat session with municipal administrator Crandall Jones that took place Friday morning, for those of you who missed it. Mostly, I'll just quote what's there (you can read it firsthand at this link), but I'll also try to clean it up a bit so it's more understandable. There was confusion at first as to where the chat would take place, so the Municipality posted questions from the event page, not always saying who asked them, plus some of the answers aren't for the questions listed above them, so I'll try to make that clearer here.
Also, questions are not necessarily in the order they were asked or answered. Facebook uses an algorithm to put comments in an order it thinks is most meaningful for each user (it never is meaningful, but they do it anyway). So if you go the page to read the original transcript, it will be in a different order on your screen than it appears on mine.
First, Crandall answered a question from Grace Williams about how our tax money is allocated.
Crandall: Good morning and great first question. The great majority of tax dollars are spent on service delivery--Police, Fire and Public Works (streets, parks, etc) are the largest departments. You are correct in noting that you can't find it on our website. We're working on doing a better job with that.
Shae Ashe: Why hasn't there been any additional discussions on paving roads in Norristown since May's workshop? Specifically 1000 of Oak.
Crandall: Actually, there has been more discussion. We put the street paving project out to bid and just last month the Municipal Council approved a $600K paving project that includes East and West Oak. The program will be posted on the website and work actually begins in the next 2 weeks.
Grace Williams: Along the lines of Shae Ashe's question, will there be more focus on getting last winters pot holes properly repaired before the coming winter weather.... Is it there a plan in place or do pot holes get addressed as reported or put on a list? If there is a plan great, if not then asking residents for input would be helpful. I saw an answer to Shae's question but that doesn't address ongoing maintenance, just a one time repaving project.
Crandall: There is a great deal of reprogramming going on right now in terms of how we handle pothole repair. Council has been very focused on this issue and we are working to improve the process.
Nick Graff: What is the status of all the construction going on on Markley, is it still on schedule, behind? When should it be all done?
Crandall: Markley Street is actually a bit ahead of schedule. The next phase will start early next year and the project should be completed around the end of 2016.
Unknown: Hello. I live in a twin on Swede St which shares a walkway with a rental home. The landlord refuses to put a fence at the rear of his property. Therefore anyone can walk through and leave trash, cigarette butts and beer bottles that I am constantly cleaning up. This is a MAJOR SAFETY CONCERN for me. What can I do?
Nick Graff: Just report them to code enforcement. And I agree, rental houses are getting worse in Norristown, these landlords will let ANYONE use their property and be obnoxious.
Crandall: Correct on Code Enforcement 610-292-8096. We're reaching out to landlords directly to deal with Code issues, both through our New Horizons Collaborative and in how we are revising our Code Department business model.
Grace: When I was working part time I was able to better keep up with the website and other concerned citizens (Elena Santangelo's blog, Norristown Nudge), but one thing I noticed early on is that the Council meeting agendas are rarely posted in a timely manner and if a topic is coming up that impacts my family I would like some time to talk it through with my husband and communicate our perspective to our Council People. Any possibilities to better this process?
Crandall: Yes. I actually thought we had resolved this. I promise we'll do better at getting this done.
Elena Santangelo: With recent developments in the last months, has there been any discussion on how the municipality might identify rental properties where the landlords are not licensed? Seems to me we might be missing out on a lot of revenue, plus having unknown codes violations/hazards to neighborhoods.
Crandall: Yes--one of the things I saw was a bit of "bunkerism" among our team in dealing with property issues--we're actively attacking that mindset and there's now a great deal more of a team approach among various departments in dealing with property issues--both rental and non-rental.
Grace: ...about demolition of Montgomery Hospital...This is not only in my neighborhood, I use that bus stop every morning. While I'm disappointed enough that Norristown as a Municipality took the "it's their property they can do what they want stance" on allowing them to knock it down without a proper development plan & funding in place, we're here now. What does this timeline look like and how will it impact me as a neighbor and also a SEPTA commuter?
Crandall: The timeline is pretty fluid right now. They're in the hazardous material abatement and demolition permitting phase. From our discussions, they are anxious to move forward with demolition as soon as possible. The Municipality always requires that the developer coordinate with SEPTA to insure the least possible adverse impact to riders
Grace: Follow up to that, what expectations have been set to avoid all that goes along with a vacant lot, especially one of that size. The look will do nothing for my neighborhood, but more importantly will the property owner be held accountable for security maintenance, pest control issues that could arise?
Crandall: The Municipal Council, especially Council Member Christian, has been very pointed about making sure that the vacant lot does not become an eyesore. She has named a representative committee of citizens from the neighborhood who continue to meet with Einstein representatives and staff about the intermediate and long-range plans for the site to make sure they are in line with community expectations. Yes, the property owner will be held accountable.
Nick Graff: Is Norristown going to improve on investing in parks and recreation programs, ie. the park could use some refurbishing, having a public pool open in the summer. I see all these other towns with these amazing recreation centers, I go there instead of taking my kids keeping them on their home town.
Grace: Considering what a draw Elmwood Park Zoo is, phenomenal question...the park is just so drab & ill-maintained.
Elena: Would also like to see work on Riverfront and other parks. The Dragon Boat Club is doing improvements to Riverfront at their own expense. Can the town at least spring for some trash cans there?
Crandall: Love this topic! There is lots of discussion going on among Council and staff about parks and recreation in Norristown--even discussion about how to develop a community center. We all know that will take money. We're doing some of the "not so sexy" background work--getting our financial house in order is the first order of business. We are in discussions with multiple potential partners in trying to make something happen. Recreation is now a direct report to me instead of Public Works, because I know it is so essential to quality of life.
Kathy Walsh: When is the new development to start at the old Kennedy Kendrick School ?
Crandall: Hopefully early in 2015. Our development team and I met with them earlier this week--the project is still moving forward--the banking regulatory environment today is really slowing the process
Kathy: Why not partner with Habitat for Humanity?
Crandall: We are partnering with Habitat. Council gave them money a few months back for the Cherry Street project and many of our departmental staff (Planning & Development, Public Works) are working with them routinely.
Tom McGlynn: Many people who work can't come to this meeting. many people who don't work don't use Facebook. can we have a more accessible alternative? Thank you for your time and initiative.
Crandall: Absolutely! The first one will be sometime early November--we'll let you know. Council Members Caldwell and Christian are planning it for the entire Council.
Crandall: Everyone--thanks so much for your interest and participation in this first chat--way better than I expected! You all rock for taking the time to join me.. Have a great weekend!
That's the gist of it. Facebook, because of their algorithms and because you have to keep refreshing the screen to see new comments and answers, was in my opinion, a really poor choice for this kind of online chat. A Google Hangout or something of the sort might be a better venue if the Municipality considers doing this again. Crandall's last answer refers to a Town Hall meeting being planned by Council for next month, so watch out for news of it.
I do appreciate Crandall taking the time to meet with us, though. Thanks, Crandall, for doing your best to answer our questions despite the confusion.