Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Happy Birthday, Norristown !

Just a short Diary entry to commemorate Norristown's 203rd birthday. The town was incorporated on March 31, 1812.

At the time, it was a mere handful of square blocks downtown between Stony Creek and about Green Street. But there was already a courthouse and the Public Square, and a lot of enthusiasm and town pride.

We've grown both in area and population in the last 2 centuries.  It wasn't that long ago--just a few decades--that we still had enthusiasm and town pride. Time to reclaim that. We can give it to ourselves as a birthday present.

Happy Birthday, N-town!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Please Report Potholes (for all the good it seems to do)

Saturday I had to give my brother a ride. His car had 2 flat tires and bent rims from an encounter with a pothole. It was a West Norriton pothole. Not sure what their excuse is for not fixing theirs. Norristown is always crying broke, though we seem to find money when developers come around begging.

Anyway, as I drove to my brother's place on the other side of the West End, I had more than a few encounters with potholes myself. Remember all those spots I talked about on Hamilton Street last year? For the second time, all the patches on those potholes are gone. Whatever N-town uses to patch potholes seems to dissolve over each winter. Sometimes you see small hunks of macadam littering the street, but more often the patches just seem to vanish, leaving even bigger holes behind them every time.

I'll say it once more. If we'd take what we usually spend patching and repatching the same holes over 5 or 10 years time, and just spend it on cutting out those lengths of damaged road, rebuilding them and sealing them properly, we'd save money in the long run. But we never were good at long-term thinking in Norristown.

Since no one is listening to sense, can we at least get the holes fixed soon? The municipality has been bragging about their new way to report potholes on the mobile app for their website. You can find it by looking for "Norristown" in Google Play or Apple store.

If you don't have a smart phone, you can still report potholes by email at streets@norristown.org , or by phone at 610-270-0437. I sent in my report on the potholes that I encountered this weekend by email. We'll see how fast they get fixed.

The Times Herald has a map of potholes for Montgomery County at this link. You can also report potholes not on the map by emailing acampbell@timesherald.com. I don't know if the TH actively shares this info with N-town Public Works or just expects Public Works to check their map. Still, worth a try.

If we all report all the potholes we encounter, maybe it will help. We can at least say we did our part before complaining. If that doesn't work, we have something to complain about.

Friday, March 27, 2015

FOURTH FRIDAY, Spring Break Events

I have to say I'm disappointed in both the town calendar and OIC community calendar. I sent in complete information for Fourth Friday more than a week ago to both and neither listed it. Norristown.org listed Jazz on Cherry Street, but not the rest of the information. I have to imagine that they're also missing events sent in by other people. We all know how difficult it is to get the word out about events in Norristown. It doesn't help when 2 of our main tools don't work. I don't blame the OIC as much--that's a volunteer effort and I'm grateful that they do it at all. But Norristown.org is funded with taxpayer money.

Tonight is Norristown's very first FOURTH FRIDAY DOWNTOWN. Now through next fall, each 4th Friday of the month will feature concerts and other events on Main, Swede and Cherry Sts downtown. This month will introduce Jazz on Cherry Street, a new music venue at 216 Cherry. From 5:30-7:30 pm next Friday, you can hear jazz pianist William Morris absolutely FREE while you mix and mingle after work. Buy a souvenir wine glass and get 2 drinks. Contact 610-277-9125 ext. 307 or jadelman@vance.us.com for information.

Also part of FOURTH FRIDAY, tonight from 8-10 pm, Open Mic at Jus' Java (317 Swede). Also FREE. Food and drink for sale. BYOB. Come downtown for dinner at one of our restaurants, jazz on Cherry St, then wind down at Jus' Java afterwards.

Saturday from 10:30 am-2 pm, the Easter Brunch at Elmwood Park Zoo begins. EPZ's annual Easter Bunny Brunch & Egg hunt features a delicious brunch buffet, photos with the Easter Bunny and an egg hunt in the Zoo. $14.95 - $30.95. Sunday's brunch is sold out but there are still tickets of Saturday available. See this link for details or contact 610-277-3825, jcarter@elmwoodparkzoo.org.

Also Saturday from 11 am to 1 pm, ACPPA Community Art Center (Haws Avenue) hosts Community Creation Day. The community is invited to explore the cultural imagery of the play Asian Cinderella: The Story of Pear Blossom, by helping to create, props, sets and costumes. Students from Cabrini and Bryn Mawr College will be on hand to help lead the many activities such a origami folding, dragon mask decorating, papier mache koi, and of course, a large dancing dragon. Free to the public.

Sunday from 3 to 5 pm at Scagg Cottman Park (Basin and Violet Sts), Easter Egg Hunt for toddlers-12 years. Presented by Montgomery Temple #250.

Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 3 pm, ACPPA will host their Spring Break Camp Cook-A-Thon for children ages 5-12. Campers must provide their own lunch. Register by the day: $15 per child ($10 discount applied when registering for 4 days) online, in the office, or over the phone at 610-277-2270.

On Tuesday from 6-8:30pm at Dekalb Laundromat, 807 Dekalb St. Mercy Suburban Emergency Room Presents Free Laundry Services. Quarters and detergent provided while you do your laundry in a clean and safe environment. For more details email laundrymercy@gmail.com.

Next Saturday from 11 am-1 pm at the bandshell in Elmwood Park is the Easter weekend celebration. The Norristown Recreation Committee invites you to join them. All participants will get a prize. Bunny hop, bean bag toss, dart game and so much more.

Also next Saturday at the Norristown Library from 2-3 pm, Cube Sleuth Comedy Show. Dave Terruso, author of Cube Sleuth and stand up comedian, will be on hand to sign copies of his book as well as present a short comedy sketch. Cube Sleuth is a dark comedy and amateur-detective murder mystery. Books will be available for sale. Please sign up for your copy at the circulation desk. Free program. More info at this link or contact hlackeymnl@gmail.com .

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Education Rights Workshop Tonight

I apologize that the Diary's been spotty this week. Between meetings, work, my other writing and braiding palm for church, I haven't been able to do much more than eat and sleep. But I did want to pass along an event happening tonight.

Pennsylvania Lawyers for Youth will present a FREE Education Rights Workshop from 6 to 8 pm at 216 Cherry Street.

Also, don't forget  that tomorrow night is Norristown's 1st Fourth Friday Downtown. More info on tomorrow's Diary.

Monday, March 23, 2015

No Zoning Agenda, but Come To The NBA Meeting

Short and sweet today. 

As of this morning, there is no Zoning Board agenda listed for tomorrow night. So, as of this minute, I'm assuming there are no items for the hearing this month and therefore it won't be worth anyone's time to go to the meeting. If I hear of that changing, I'll let you know if I can.

The reason I might not be able to is tomorrow morning's Norristown Business Association meeting at 8:30 am. No Diary entry tomorrow. But I did want to remind all interested parties about the NBA meeting. You don't have to be a member to attend. It's at Stony Creek Office Center, Building #2, upstairs. Enter by the side door. Tomorrow's speaker is Altoro Hall from the County and he'll talk about Montco job opportunities.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Brings FOURTH FRIDAYS and other Events

Spring begins today! To celebrate, from 1 pm to 8 pm, Joe's Water Ice & Ice Cream (310 E Johnson Hwy) is offering FREE water ice to anyone who'll brave the snow to get there. Joe's is run by a family with a long history in Norristown, so if you can't go show your love today, get out there this summer sometime. Support a local small business.

Tonight from 6:30 to 8 pm at Greater Norristown PAL (340 Harding Blvd), it's "Family Science & Technology Night" for students K-8. A full night of hands-on experiments with James McCrudden. All students must be accompanied by an adult. More information at 610-278-8040 or email info@norristownPAL.org.

Also tonight from 6-9 pm and on Saturday from 1 to 4 pm, Free Prom Dress Giveaway directly behind NAHS. Sponsored by First Baptist Church of Norristown, 445 Burnside Ave. The Giveaway is open to all students: no student ID required.
Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm at the George Washington Carver Community Center (249 E Jacoby), a "Save Our Pool Rally." Information at 610-272-7480, or email gwcarvercenter19401@gmail.com.

Saturday from 11 am-12:30 pm, outside the main entrance of the Norristown Library (1001 Powell St), "Grow Food in The Shade" presented by Feed The Burbs. The shade from trees and houses make it difficult for many types of flowers to blossom, but after this workshop you’ll know all about how to grow edible plants in the shade. Only $5. Please register in advance. Info at this link.

Sunday from 2 to 4 pm, the Historical Society of Montgomery County (1654 Dekalb) presents Ukranian Egg (pysanky) Decorating Workshop with Chrystyna Prokopovych, Curator of Ukrainian Heritage Studies Center, Manor College. Registration is required. $5 admission. To register, contact Karen Wolfe, 610-272-0297 or email contact@hsmcpa.org

Monday from 5:30-8:30 pm, at the Norristown Public Library (Powell & Swede), the Norristown Police will hold a public COMPSTAT meeting where they'll discuss their crime reduction strategy and their effectiveness in implementing the strategy. For information: Kristi DeLorenzo, 610-270-0470, kdelorenzo@norristown.org

Tuesday morning from 8:30-9:30 am, the Norristown Business Assn will hold its March breakfast meeting at Stony Creek Office Center, 151 W Marshall, Bldg #2, upstairs (enter by the side door). You don't have to be a member to attend. Featured speaker is Altoro Hall, Recruitment Supervisor from the Montgomery County Commerce Department Human Services Center, who'll talk about job opportunities in the county. Please RSVP to info@norristownba.org

Tuesday at 7 pm at Municipal Hall, Zoning Board Hearing. No agenda yet.

Next Friday is Norristown's very first FOURTH FRIDAY DOWNTOWN. Now through next fall, each 4th Friday of the month will feature concerts and other events on Main, Swede and Cherry Sts downtown. This month will introduce Jazz on Cherry Street, a new music venue at 216 Cherry. From 5:30-7:30 pm next Friday, you can hear jazz pianist William Morris absolutely FREE while you mix and mingle after work. Contact 610-277-9125 ext. 307 or jadelman@vance.us.com for information.

Also part of FOURTH FRIDAY, from 8-10 pm, Open Mic at Jus' Java (317 Swede). Also FREE. Plan to come downtown for dinner at one of our restaurants, Jazz on Cherry St, then wind down at Jus' Java afterwards.

Happy Spring! Warm weather is coming. Honest.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Best Kept Secret

Back in 2011, someone made a 21-second video called "Norristown, Best Kept Secret."  On YouTube, the video got a mere 6 views, so it's safe to say even that little ad was kept secret.

Why is it so hard to get the message out that we've got restaurants, attractions and festivals that make Norristown worth the trip? The main answer is, WE DO IT OURSELVES.

When I started working for the Norristown Business Association, I looked around the internet to see how and where our businesses were promoting themselves online. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram give small businesses a free tool to reach their local community. I was surprised to learn how many of Norristown's small businesses don't use social media at all, or do it so half-heartedly, they might as well not be there.

We have nearly 60 eateries in Norristown. About half have a Facebook page. Maybe 5 of those actually post to their page regularly and do a decent job promoting their businesses. The rest apparently assume that because the page exists, people will somehow magically see it. Having a Facebook page that's not set up right and/or ignored after you set it up is like having no Facebook page at all.

So last night at Jus' Java, I led a business seminar for the Norristown Business Association called "Using Facebook to promote your business." When we posted news of it at various places online in the last few weeks, we got a great response. Everyone thought it was a great idea. Twelve people on Facebook alone said they'd come to it. In the end, 3 people showed up. And they weren't the businesses who needed it.

Meantime, I can't turn on TV without seeing McDonalds or Sonic or Dunkin Donuts ads. So people go to them instead of our family-owned restaurants, not because they have better food, but simply because people know about those chains and not about our small places. They have better promotion.

It takes maybe 5 minutes a day for our restaurants to post a photo of something on their menu. I guarantee, when I see photos of food from places like Zachary's (the cookie above is from their page), Jus' Java, La Michoacana, etc., I don't crave a pitiful burger from Mickey D's. Click on the links for those pages and tell me those photos aren't effective.

So here's the deal, pass this on to your favorite Norristown small businesses. Tell them I'll repeat this seminar at a time and place convenient to the most people. All they have to do is leave a comment here, or on Facebook or Twitter, or send an email to info@norristownba.org and say they want another Facebook seminar.

But let's not keep Norristown as the Best Kept Secret anymore. It's killing our economy. Let's get the word out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Council's Agenda, Blarney and All

Tonight is the Norristown Municipal Council Workshop at 6:30 pm in the 1st floor conference room at Municipal Hall. You can read the agenda at this link. 
It's also St. Patrick's Day and the first item for discussion is blarney if I ever heard it -- developer Sarah Peck's request "to discuss the interpretation of the permit fees assessed to the Arbor Mews Project." I'm guessing she's asking because she doesn't want to permit fees. I'm guessing that because, frankly, that's Ms. Peck's M.O. Every time she does a project in Norristown, she either asks for money or asks that fees be waived. And for the most part, Council has given her what she wants. Would someone please explain to Ms. Peck, and to Council, that there's such a thing as "the cost of doing business?" Her solution to all the complaints from neighbors around the Arbor Mews Project (aka 1202 Dekalb) was to extort Council for more money. And I don't use the word "extort" lightly. She stood up in front of council and essentially told them, "If you want to keep the neighbors happy, you have to give me more money." It's time to just say NO to her.

Another interesting item for discussion: a dog leash law and a dog park in Norristown. No other explanation on the agenda, so I don't know where the park would be. This may end up being one of those ideas that everyone loves but no one wants in their neighborhood.

And finally, under "Items for Action" -- Council will vote on whether or not "to advertise a public hearing for the purpose of establishing a LERTA designation for the Curren Terrace II Project, located at 1011 New Hope St." (LERTA stands for Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance.) The wording seems strange. I was under the impression that Council was required to advertise all public hearings, so they can't vote NOT to advertise if a public hearing will be scheduled, can they? Perhaps they're voting whether or not to have a hearing? I don't know.

Those are the main points. As I said, you can read the rest at the link above.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Commissioners Town Hall-Late Notice

Thanks to Linda Christian for sending out information about tonight's "Conversations with your Commissioners" at 7 pm at Norristown Borough Hall (235 East Airy St). So the holes in the information on the Norristown.org calendar have been filled in the nick of time.

This is the 3rd in a series of 6 town hall meetings by the Montgomery County Commissioners, supposedly to give residents of the county the opportunity to discuss a wide range of subjects. However, they publicized this one so late, I'm not sure how big their audience will be.

The Commissioners came to Norristown last year for a similar town meeting.  At that time, they set it up so that residents who couldn't attend in person could send their questions in via the internet. No place that I've checked (the County website, Facebook) says anything about an email or live streaming connection this time, so I guess they aren't doing that again. Disappointed because I probably won't be able to get to the meeting due to not hearing about it in time.

This meeting was very poorly advertised. It wasn't posted on Facebook until just last Friday that I could find. The press release on the County site (link above) was also dated March 13. The first place I saw it listed was on the Norristown.org calendar on Friday, and as I said in that day's events blog, no time was included.

So if you can get there tonight, please go. Ask them why this meeting was a big secret until last Friday. If I can't get there and you want to send me a summary of what goes on, I'd be happy to post it here on the Diary later this week.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Events for the Coming Week

I'll get to events in a minute, but first another word about TRASH. It's trash collection day in neighborhood. I came home from teaching and went out back to take in my trash and recycling containers. The recycling had been picked up. All my neighbors' trash had been picked up, in fact next door's cans were lying in my driveway instead of in front of their garage. The lid to my trash can was off, ALL MY TRASH WAS STILL IN MY CAN. This is the second time this has happened in as many months and it's happened several times before. Really, Mascaro? Aren't I the LAST person you'd want to annoy after my blogs and the tremendous community response to them? Do you understand why residents are so frustrated with the poor service we're getting?

My second rant is about the calendar on Norristown.org. Don't believe all the listings. I don't know if it's a glitch in the system or human error, but it's repeating events that are over, like Theatre Horizon's run of "Into The Woods," listing wrong days--for instance for the Easter Bunny Brunch at the Zoo, and listing all events as free whether they are or not. Check EVERY listed event on the organization's website. Frankly no community calendar would be better than what we've got now.

Okay, on to the upcoming events:

Saturday from 3 to 7 pm at Almaz Cafe, 210 W Main, the Norristown Youth Eagles Football & Cheer teams will host a Beef & Beer as a fundraiser. Music, raffles, 50/50. Tickets are on sale now. Contact Rowan Watson,  484-213-0744 or Percy Jones at 484-714-7666.

Saturday at 8 pm, Crying Sam Second Saturday Jazz at August Moon, 300 E Main, will feature The Barbara Walker Story. $10 fee, 2 drink minimum.

Monday is Conversation with your Commissioners at Municipal Hall. A town-hall type discussion with Montco Commissioners. No time was given on the calendar so I'm not sure how they expect people to show up.

Tuesday 6:30 pm at Municipal Hall, Council Workshop Meeting. No agenda yet.

Wednesday from 5 to 7 pm at Jus' Java, 317 Swede, the Norristown Business Association presents the first in a series of business seminars. The topic is "Using Facebook to Promote Your Business." Find out how to create a page for your business. If you already have a page, find out ways to get the most effective promotion from it. Bring a laptop if you have one. Free to NBA members, $5 for non-members. (I personally listed this on the town calendar. I did NOT list it as free but it's coming up that way.) You must RSVP to info@norristownba.org.

Wednesday, 6:30 pm at Norristown Library (Powell and Swede), "Finances for Women." Star Alfriend, of New York Life, presents a seminar which covers a subject matter that is on the minds of many women: the importance of building a financial foundation. Those who attend will leave with a greater understanding of the topics discussed as well as Star's promise to help them further, should they need it.

Wednesday, 7:30 pm at Jus' Java., Open Words Norristown. $10 at door, $5 online. http://www.poetry247.com/openwords/
Next Saturday, March 21 from 11 am-12:30 pm at the Norristown Library (outside the main entrance on Powell St). "Grow Food in The Shade." The shade from trees and houses make it difficult for many types of flowers to blossom, but after this workshop you’ll know all about how to grow edible plants in the shade.  $5 per workshop. You must register for these programs ahead of time. Information at www.mc-npl.org.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Let's Talk Trash 2: from Mascaro & Sons

Sam Augustine of Mascaro & Sons left a comment on the blog I posted last week about trash. I figured many of you might not see it, so I'm reposting it today. It answers some of the questions I had. I should add that if you have problems on your block with trash piling up and you suspect it's one of the cases mentioned below that isn't covered in Mascaro's contract, you should report it to the Codes Department at 610-270-0441or file a complaint online at this link. The more people who complain about a property, the more likely the complaint won't be ignored.

Mr. Augustine's letter:

My name is Sam Augustine and I am Director of Sales and Marketing for J. P. Mascaro & Sons and, as such, I oversee our company’s municipal bidding. I have been with the company for over 30 years and have been involved in every one of Norristown’s trash bids and contracts during that time.

I wanted to clear up any confusion on the new contract that we will be starting on April 1, 2015. You are correct that there will be two (2) sixty-four (64) gallon toters, one for trash and one for recyclables. The toter for the recyclables will have a different color lid to distinguish it from the toter to be used for trash. In addition, every household will be able to put out two additional 35-gallon containers of trash. This will definitely help clean up Norristown. But you are right that our company, along with Norristown, will have to educate the residents on this new program. We plan to go to the elementary schools, community and civic groups to present an educational program on this new contract.

As for items left at curbs, such as televisions and larger items, we are unable to collect electronic devices (TVs, stereos, microwaves, etc.), and by law they cannot go into a landfill. Homeowners have to make special arrangements to get those items collected. The best thing for homeowners to do is to take those items to big box stores (like Best Buy) that are required to accept them for recycling purposes. But when you see them at the curb, it is not because we missed collecting them, but rather residents are not following the proper procedures. In fact, the collection crew tags a TV (or other electronic device) every time it is put at curbside, informing the homeowner that we do not pick the item up and telling how and where they can dispose of the TV (or other electronic device).

We also do not collect household clean-outs where residents clean out a garage or basement or when they move in or move out. Our current contract requires us to pick up four 35-gallon containers of trash per household. We don’t hold Norristown to the letter of that contract and often pick up five, six or seven containers. However, when the amount of trash placed at curbside is so voluminous that it is not just routine weekly-generated trash, we tag it with a note for the resident and they have to make special arrangements to have it removed at an additional price. Norristown Administration is aware of this as well, as we inform them if there are excessive amounts of trash put out by homeowners. So, when you see those large volumes of trash at the curb, again, it is not because we missed it, but rather that it is not our responsibility to collect.

We also are not required to collect multi-unit establishments. When a house is converted into multiple apartments (more than four units), it is not considered a residential stop, and the owner is required to contract for separate service with a company of its choice. So, oftentimes when you see items left at curbside, it is not necessarily because we missed it or failed to pick it up, but rather because we are not supposed to pick it up for the reasons above.

I hope this clears up any confusion. The Administration and Council worked very hard on this new program that is to take effect April 1st and we are confident that, together with a properly rolled out educational program, it will be a success, especially since under the new contract, there is a recycling incentive program where all residents will benefit by increased recycling. More information on that will be supplied to each household later this month.

Thank you for your interest in Norristown’s contract.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Events (which I hope include melting snow)

Not much going on this week, which is probably just as well as we dig out from under the blizzard. I added some N-town snow photos at the end, stolen from Facebook, thanks to Aleks Eigen, Shae Ashe and Trejo Mexican American Restaurant.

Tomorrow from from 9 am-3 pm, the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety will host an Open House at the Emergency Operations Center (50 Eagleville Rd, Eagleville) as part of the current recruitment drive for a new class of telecommunicators that will begin training in 2015. You can take a tour and even fill out an application. More info at this link.

Tomorrow from 10 am to noon at Zachary's BBQ (1709 Markley), Feed The Burbs presents part 3 of their gardening series, this one on tree pruning and sustainable site clearance. Professional arborists will discuss the right tools for the right job and coach you as you try them out on-site. $20 includes workshop and lunch, $30 includes workshop, lunch and a $50 Feed The Burbs landscaping coupon.

Montco OIC Building on Arch
Sunday at  9 am at Elmwood Park Zoo you can "Go Green" at Breakfast With The Animals at Elmwood Park Zoo. Guests are treated to a continental breakfast buffet, a uniquely-themed educational program featuring live animals, craft making and more. $10.95 per member child/ $14.95 per member adult, $18.95 per non-member child / $22.95 per non-member adult.  Reservations must be made in advance. Space is limited. For more information or to reserve by phone, call 610-277-3825 ext. 222 or visit this link

Swede St.

Don't forget Jus' Java's Sunday Music Series, Sunday from noon to at least 3 pm.

Tuesday, at 6 pm at the George Washington Carver Community Center (Jacoby and Arch), it's Carver Center Volunteer Registration Night. Come to volunteer your time and talent. Free food and refreshments. Contact 610-272-7480 to RSVP or email gwcarvercenter19401@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 7 pm, Planning Commission Meeting in Council Chambers, 1st Floor, Municipal Hall, 235 East Airy Street. No agenda yet.

West Marshall
Next Saturday from 3 to 7 pm at Almaz Cafe, 210 W Main, the Norristown Youth Eagles Football & Cheer teams will host a Beef & Beer as a fundraiser. Music, raffles, 50/50. Tickets are on sale now. Contact Rowan Watson,  484-213-0744 or Percy Jones at 484-714-7666.

Stay safe out there.
Astor St, West End

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Let's Talk Trash

Some of you might have heard this week that Council awarded J.P. Mascaro & Sons Norristown's next trash collection contract. They were the lowest bidder. One reason I can think of WHY they were the lowest bidder was their level of service in the last few years. In our alley, I've seen them mix recycling in with the regular on one more than one occasion, skip some trash entirely, and if they drop trash while dumping it in the truck, they leave it. Though, to their credit, if you call to complain, they send someone out to clean it up. But we shouldn't HAVE to call to complain.

This new contract is different in that Mascaro will provide two 64-gallon toters to each of 9,640 dwelling units in town. I'm hoping this means we're switching over to automated collection, in which hinged trash cans that are hooked up to the truck and emptied at the push of a button. If the lids are kept closed by the residents, animals can't get in so easily. I hope that means cleaner alleys and streets. If you need extra trash cans, homeowners will need to provide 2 35-gallon containers. It isn't clear if one of the toters is for recycling or not.

Mascaro let this pile sit for months.
Having observed the trash habits of some of our residents, I'm pretty sure these changes won't solve our problems. For one thing, I've observed all around town that people constantly disregard trash collection instructions. They put out large objects all the time without contacting Mascaro, who will just let them sit indefinitely. One house on my alley has had the shell of a huge TV sitting outside their garage since summer. The pile at the left was in the West End for months. Other neighbors always leave the lids off their cans so we have animal problems. Others leave their receptacles in the alley all week long. A big percentage of residents completely ignore recycling and put everything in the trash and even use recycling cans for trash. These behaviors aren't going to change without incentive.

Residents use borough receptacles in business districts.
I also have to wonder where a lot of us who live on small properties will store 2 huge rolling trash cans. This kind of receptacle was devised for use in the wide-open suburbs, where people have driveways that the toters can be rolled down. For our rowhouses that have streetside collection, trash cans usually have to be carried through the house and down steps. Even our little backyards pose storage challenges. You can't put trash cans close to your house or you'll have ant infestation. I think we may see people leaving their cans on the street or in the alley more often, or using borough litter receptacles.

About 9% of our population are over 65 years old and others have physical disabilities. That's more than 3000 residents who might not be able to handle a 64-gallon can. It would be nice if there was some special provision for them.

A large percentage of our residents live alone and don't produce that much trash. Today's the day I'm supposed to put my trash out. If I can do that in the snow, my little 20 gallon can won't be more than a third full.

Not picked up for weeks.
Then there's the question of the number of the dwelling units. The last census says we had 13,420 units in 2010. We've grown since them. Mascaro's contract covers 9,640 dwelling units and I'm not sure how that's defined. One of my brothers lives in a house with 3 apartments in the West End. The renters share 2 large trash cans, which works for them. So is that considered one dwelling unit or 3? Will Mascaro give them 6 toters? That seems like a waste of money (a 64-gallon toter isn't cheap, even at wholesale prices).

I guess I need to know more about the details, but this seems to me to be a very one-size-fits-all deal. In my other brother's neighborhood in Malvern, trash is automatically weighed and the residents charged accordingly. With an automated system you can do this. It's incentive for people to recycle and compost, and not put everything in the trash. Single residents who don't produce much trash don't end up paying more than their share. Big families and people who trash recyclables pay the brunt, which is how it should be.

Still, Crandall Jones says our trash fees will be coming down and the neighborhoods will look better. I'll believe it when I see it. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Council's Agenda for Tonight

The weather has completely rearranged my work schedule, so I don't have time today for my usual analysis of tonight's Council agenda. Instead, I'm just going to reproduce it here. You can also read the original at this link.

One other note: The Town Calendar on Norristown.org has been reorganized and seems MUCH more useable. Yay!

Council  Meeting 
Tuesday, March  3,  2015  7:30  pm  (at Municipal Hall)

  I. Call  to  Order,  Linda  Christian,  Council  President
 II. Moment  of  Silence/Pledge  of  Allegiance
III. Roll  Call
IV. Motion  to  approve  Minutes  of  the  Council  Workshop  meeting  held  on February  18,  2015
 V. Executive  Session  Announcement
VI. Presentation
    a. Public  Safety
    b. Motion  to  approve  Resolution  15-­111  appointing  Joshua  Keenan  and  Joshua  Samuels  as  Police  Officers
    c. Motion  to approve  the  Civil  Service  Resolution  certifying  Richard  C.  Clowser  as  certified  for  promotion  to  Captain
    d. Motion  to  approve  Resolution  15-112  appointing  Richard  C.  Clowser  as  Police  Captain
VII. Oaths  of  Office  – entry  level  Police  Officers  – Police  Captain 
VIII. Announcements
IX. Public  Comment
X. Communication

XI. Items  for  Action

Public Safety
a. Establish   an   Ordinance   Requiring   the   Licensing   of   Pawnbrokers. Request  Municipal  Council  to  approve  final  adoption  or  disapprove  Ordinance  15-03  pertaining  to  licensing  of  pawnbrokers  and  dealers  in   precious   metals,   antiques,   and   secondhand   goods;   establishing  registration   and   enforcement   procedures   and   reporting  requirements;  providing  for  penalties  for  violations  to  assist  in  the  crime  reduction  and  investigation  efforts  of  the police.

b. Civil   Service   Commission   Resolution   certifying   6   candidates   on   the  eligibility   list. Motion   to   approve   or   disapprove   accepting   the  eligibility  list  for  Entry  Level  Police  Officer.

c. Civil   Service   Commission   Resolution   certifying   4   candidates   on   the  eligibility   list. Motion   to   approve   or   disapprove   accepting   the  eligibility  list  for  Entry  Level  Firefighter.

Code  Department
a. In   Accordance   with   the   HARB   rules   and   regulations   all   Certificates   of  Appropriateness   are   required   to   be   certified   by   Municipal   Council. Request   Municipal   Council   to   approve   or   disapprove HARB  Certificates  of  Appropriateness  for  246  East  Jacoby  Street  and  630  West  Main  Street.

Finance  Department
a. To   have   Council   consider   updating   authorized   users   for   the   E*Trade  account. Request   Municipal   Council   to   approve   or   disapprove  Resolution  15-113  updating  the  authorized  account  users  to  remove  the  currently  listed  authorized  user  and  add  the  staff  currently  in  the  position  of  Finance  Director  and  Assistant  Finance  Director  as  authorized  users.

Public  Works
a. To   have   Council   consider   authorizing   the   Municipal   Administrator  negotiate   the   trash/recycling   hauling   contract. Request   Municipal  Council   to   approve   or   disapprove  awarding   the   Municipal   Trash  Collection  and  Disposal  to  J  P  Mascaro  and  authorizing  the  Municipal  Administrator  to  negotiate  the  trash/recycling  hauling  contract  with J P Mascaro.

There you have it. Hopefully they'll be able to get it in before the worst of the next storm hits.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Live Chat With Crandall Jones

For an hour last Friday morning, our Municipal Administrator, Crandall Jones, answered questions from residents in a live Facebook Chat. For those of you who couldn't participate, either because you're not on Facebook or had to do something else like work, here are the questions and replies. 2 other questions came in too late for Crandall to answer in the allotted time. The questions below aren't necessarily in the order they were asked. I corrected spelling but otherwise, the conversation is verbatim.

Nick Graff: Demolition of Mont hospital still on schedule. Really happy that it has not been a noise, dust or traffic issue

Crandall Ortiz Jones: Yes, the demolition is still on schedule. I think Council and particularly, President Christian has made great efforts to ensure that the disturbance to the community will be kept at a minimum. The developer has been really responsive.

Schannon Hadley Stoudemire: Can you tell us about upcoming projects in Norristown?

Crandall Ortiz Jones:  We have a micro distillery being developed now, luxury condos being developed now--both downtown. Last night Council approved a project bringing Diva's Restaurant downtown, luxury apartments coming to Sandy Street, other projects we can't discuss yet

Ernie Hadrick: How do you feel the Lafayette Extension will impact Norristown economically?

COJ: The Lafayette project is a great boon for Norristown! Think of Conshohocken before they got access to the turnpike. The same possibility now exists for Norristown. I think our potential is greater because we have are a transportation hub. Development activity is already increasing.
     There is so much development conversation going now. Property is beginning to move consistently and our Planning Department is getting a good number of calls. Ultimately, as business begin their development, our tax base increases, property values increase, individual taxes should begin to go down and you'll see more jobs and increased infrastructure development in town.

Elena Santangelo: Can you tell us about the new parking kiosks that go into effect Sunday?

COJ:  The weather is not cooperating with us in letting us get to some areas where we need to do some electrical work--ice is still on the ground. Looks like we're going to be delayed a few weeks until it warms up. We're finally migrating to credit card usage; pay and display instead of numbered spaces; reducing the hourly rate to $1.50 and allowing for incremental parking instead of mandating $2 only. The goal is to support businesses, commerce and movement in the downtown

Ernie Hadrick: Folks are concerned about funding for youth recreation/after school programs. Is the Municipality pursuing funds for this purpose?

COJ: Yes. Council identified youth programs as a priority in their retreat last year and we've been working on it. A week ago, Council approved us adding an additional full-time staff member to our Recreation Department. There are also multiple discussion going on about different approaches we can take at implementing some youth projects. More to come

Cory Steeley: While all the development of new/luxury condos is great, is there any plan to provide some incentive to developers to do more with existing blighted/abandoned properties?

COJ: The reality is that the current national development trend is not for single-family development; rather, it is for apartments. The current demand for housing shows that there significant shortage in the area nationally. Developers are responding to that--after all, they're in it for profit, not necessarily community development. On the other hand, the Municipality is doing other things to help with blighted properties--we have, through grant programs, put hundreds of thousands in improving blighted properties all over Norristown. Also, our New Horizons Collaborative project is targeting blighted and distressed neighborhoods in Norristown.

Nick Graff: Any new updates on public pool being available this summer and any upgrades to the parks in the area for Spring and Summer?

COJ: The Municipality does not have any control over what's happening with the Carver pool; however, we have been assisting them as we can in trying to resolve the pool issue--their board is in the drivers seat on that. As I mentioned earlier, we are looking at alternative ways we can impact youth activities through beefing up our recreation activities. We've had a one-man operation in the Rec department for 3 decades, we've got some catching up to do and things are underway.

Linda Thomas Smith: What is being done to reduce property tax?

COJ: Good question! Development is going to reduce property tax, by bringing in businesses that help share the load. That's a really exciting opportunity coming from the Lafayette Street project. Also, we're doing business smarter in order to reduce government spending--$100K reduction in phone expenses, effective reduction in staff to eliminate waste; restructuring to do the same; your trash bills will be coming down.

Linda Thomas Smith: What is being done about quality of life issues, i,e absentee landlords, late noisy late night basketball games (not really a problem in this cold weather, but a regular occurrence in the warmer weather), trash/litter, over crowded rental properties, etc.

CJ: Great question. We created the New Horizons Collaborative (info on my page of the website) to deal with quality of life issues. it's modeled after the Philly Rising Collaborative. Staff and I are currently working on several quality of life issues, which include an upcoming series of meeting with landlords and their reps on their responsibilities, tenants rights and responsibilities and our "new normal" in how we are holding everyone accountable for quality of life issues. A big quality of life change is our new trash contract--we're moving to 64 gallon rollers for trash and recycling. Also, our new policing strategy in Norristown is exceptional. You should come to the next public Police COMPSTAT meeting to listen, ask questions and get a picture of how we're policing in a positive way that directly impacts quality of life in Norristown. By the way, crime is Norristown is down 23% from 2013.

Donna Malin:  Do you think there will ever be an affordable gym in Norristown?

CJ: Over the last year, Development staff actually spent time working on attracting a major gym to the downtown. At the time our demographic/economic profile wasn't as attractive as it needed to be. I think the Lafayette Street project is a game changer, so there is the possibility that it can happen--in a variety of ways

Elena Santangelo: Any thoughts on how Council & municipal government can help to improve the appearance of Main St, to help attract visitors to our restaurants downtown?

CJ: We're doing several things on main already. Police walking beats; a new lighting improvement project is underway to brighten main street and West Marshall Street at night; we're partnering with the Elmwood Park Zoo with putting up attractive banners about the giraffe season there and are seeking other partners who want to likewise put skin in the game; working on night market and food truck activities for downtown; we've already invested millions in streetscape improvements. With our new trash and recycling program, we're going to be much more aggressive about businesses providing for residential and commercial trash collection downtown in order to keep our downtown and Marshall Street clean.