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Delaware County Holds Ceremony to Honor Fallen Firefighters

From a press release

Delaware County Council Vice Chair Elaine Paul Schaefer, Councilman Kevin Madden, and District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer were honored to attend an Inclusion Ceremony on November 12 at Rose Tree Park. The annual ceremony, hosted by the Delaware County Fallen Firefighter and EMS Memorial Committee, honors the lives and legacies of fallen firefighters.

This year, the ceremony honored Morton-Rutledge Fire Company Captain Michael Malinowski.  Captain Malinowski died on December 3, 2019, after responding to a call for downed wires and trees. Following the call, he reported to officers that he was feeling ill. At work the next morning, he had tightness in his chest and was taken to the hospital, where he later passed away.

Captain Malinowski was a 1997 graduate of Gloucester City Junior-Senior High School, where he played football, baseball, and ran track. He began volunteering with the Gloucester City Fire Department as a teenager and then became Captain of the Morton-Rutledge Fire Company Station 13 in 2019, where he also served on the Board of Directors. Captain Malinowski is survived by his wife, Melissa, and his five children, Bailey, Michael Jr., Matthew, Cooper, and Harper.

The ceremony paid tribute to Captain Malinowski and honored his heroism and selfless dedication to the community. His name was added to the Memorial Wall as family, friends, and members of the Firefighter and EMS gathered to celebrate his legacy.

Council extends its heartfelt sympathy and gratitude to Captain Malinowski’s family, friends, and the firefighter and EMS community.

Delco Dollars: The County’s Budget-Busting Run Means Tax Hikes Likely

Delaware County’s budget is under extraordinary upward pressure, an analysis conducted by Broad + Liberty shows. The general fund total spending spiked from $251 million in fiscal year 2019, the last year a Republican Administration managed county operations, up to $284 million in the adopted 2022 budget — an increase of thirteen percent.

Yet as large as those numbers are, they have been adjusted upwards again since the budget was adopted, and the general fund doesn’t capture large budget edits happening in other departments.

In a special budget meeting in June, the $284 million in spending for the 2022 general fund budget was adjusted upwards by another $6 million, bringing this year’s total budget to $290 million, pushing the aforementioned increase up to an eye-popping sixteen percent. Despite the many revisions to the budget at the June meeting, the county conceded that still more budget revisions were forthcoming, including a review of unanticipated costs associated with de-privatizing the prison in the fourth quarter, as well as requests from the county elections director and the Fair Acres Geriatric Center.

The fact that county Democrats are spending significantly more in 2022 than county Republicans did when they were in the majority in 2019 might be expected. Democrats are ideologically predisposed to tax their constituents to fund expanded government services. Indeed, most members of the current council campaigned on the creation of a county-run health department as far back as 2017 and had actually begun parts of the process as early as 2019, despite the fact that a previously commissioned study conducted by John Hopkins University concluded no such bureaucracy would substantially improve public health outcomes.

As a practical matter, the county received more than $200 million in federal Covid-19 stimulus between the Trump Administration’s CARES Act and the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act. So, the obvious question for Delaware County taxpayers is: What are they getting for their money? Where is all that stimulus money going?

Broad + Liberty’s analysis of the county budget and subsequent spending revisions is likely to alarm many taxpayers.

For instance, 2019 was the last year the Republicans controlled spending on core government operations funded primarily by real estate taxes. Total departmental expenses that year were $156 million.

In 2022, the Democratic majority adopted a budget that called for $189 million in spending. General Administration spending increased from $16 million to $26 million. Community Health spending, the line item that accounts for the newly created Delaware County Health Department (DHCD) in Yeadon Borough, increased from $377,000 to $8.5 million. In aggregate this represents a 26 percent increase in spending on core operations since the change in partisan control.

Additionally, at the June budget meeting, the county revealed it will adjust the health department budget for fiscal year 2023 from $11.8 million up to $18.2 million. That $6.4 million increase represents a 55 percent increase in its initial projection for next year and a 114 percent increase overall. It’s important to understand that because DCHD is its own category of spending, these increases are not captured in the previously discussed sixteen percent increase to the general budget.

For now, Covid-19 monies from the federal government have helped smooth over most of these costs. By law that money must be completely spent by 2024. So, the issue for taxpayers is whether the county’s operations and current spending trajectory can continue without substantial tax increases — or service cuts — when federal money is no longer available to subsidize a vastly expanded county government.

In the 2022 adopted budget alone, county council used $19 million in federal reimbursements and $6 million in cash reserves to balance a budget they have been unable to adhere to. The general fund and the DCHD, taken together, have seen a total of $12.2 million of edited, post facto spending that the original budget missed.

County officials attribute much of the increases to the creation of a county-run health department as well as the county assuming the management of the George W. Hill prison, which had been privately run for three decades. Budget documents also show the county aims to greatly increase salaries at the county prison, possibly revealing that officials underestimated those costs. At the June budget meeting, Howard Lazarus, the county’s executive director, said the county still intends on raising salaries for prison guards by 50 percent.

Records reviewed by Broad + Liberty show substantial increases to the county’s payroll, well beyond the mere addition of employees to the Department of Corrections or DCHD. Salaries, in general, appear to be a red flag. Using data obtained via a Right to Know request, the Delaware County Republican Party found that in 2020, the first year that the Democrats-controlled County Council, the county employed 832 people making more than $50,000 a year. Those salaries totaled 56.7 million annually.

Two years later in 2022, the county had 1,121 employees earning more than $50,000 which brought the annual total up to $77.9 million — an increase of $21.2 million. A similar analysis by Broad + Liberty largely confirms that thrust from the county Republicans.

Furthermore, every new dollar in salary comes with an additional cost of benefits. When queried by Broad + Liberty, the county said it has a 70 percent “total employee benefit cost,” meaning for every dollar paid out in salary, the county is on the hook for another 70 cents in benefits. For a county employee that earns $100,000, there is an extra $70,000 in benefits costs. That 70 percent benefits rate is far above nearby counties, like Bucks, which says it has a 41 percent total employee benefit cost.

New departments. New operations. New hires. These are not one-time pandemic-related costs, rather, they are long term obligations for which the taxpayer is on the hook in perpetuity, or at least until there is a change in the administration.

Also, these expenses are funded — almost exclusively — by property taxes and fees levied on residents and businesses in need of government services. So, what lingers as a question is: what percentage of federal monies spent to date have been used for one-time government expansion costs versus what percentage is earmarked for multi-year operational costs? How will these operational costs be covered going forward? Are Delaware County homeowners on a similar path as those in the City of Philadelphia?

From the publicly available budget documents, the answers to those questions are unclear. Perhaps intentionally so. Which is why it is worth noting that in May 2022, Philadelphia’s Office of Property Assessment created an uproar when it announced that residential property assessments for tax year 2023 are going up by an average of 31 percent citywide. In some neighborhoods, real estate taxes have doubled. According to the Mayor’s office, the increases are highest in low-income black and brown neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are already grappling with high inflation and even higher crime.

In response to multiple queries on these matters, executive director Lazarus told Broad + Liberty, “The sound financial management practices put in place have resulted in a greater degree of revenue and cost realism and alignment, transparency in the sources and uses of funds, and a decreased reliance on General Fund reserves to balance the budget.”

We hope he’s right. Our analysis, however, tells a very different story about the county’s likely fiscal position when the federal money runs out by 2024. Using Lazarus’ own methodology for the how the tax revenues were calculated for the 2022 budget as a baseline — and assuming the county still leveraged approximately $25 million in federal subsidies and cash reserves — the large incremental cost increases hitting the general fund such as the budgeted county contribution for DCHD and the $6 million mid-year budget adjustment would result in a 21 percent property tax increase. Without subsidies and reserves, the increase could exceed 25 percent.

As the old saying goes, elections have consequences. And as former Chief of Staff to President Obama Rahm Emmanuel once said, you should never let a good crisis go to waste. The strange and unanticipated confluence of those two political realities have left the county — its government, its taxpayers, its voters — in a set of circumstances unlike any in its history. The policy merits of the CARES and American Rescue Plan Acts notwithstanding, county officials are without question in a cash position to make historic investments in county infrastructure and strengthen the balance sheet for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, reckless spending, and poor financial planning in pursuit of fashionable ideologies over functional governance could have devastating socioeconomic effects for generations to come.

The county is at a crossroads. Let the data inform which road is taken.

 

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

GALLUCH: Safe Streets Require Leadership Changes

Imagine for a moment that you are done shopping and walking back to your car. You get there, hands full of shopping bags. You fumble for your keys to unlock your car. As you unlock it and get in, two men jump in with you. One gets in the front seat and the other in the back. The man in the backseat puts a gun to your head.

Now stop imagining. That happened last Monday night in the parking lot of a Target in Wayne to a teenage resident of Radnor Township at approximately 5:30 p.m. Fortunately he was not harmed. But the car was stolen and found running in West Philly. The perpetrators have yet to be apprehended.

Anyone can be a victim of crime in the Philadelphia area. Earlier this month on September 8th and September 11th, armed carjackings took place in Upper Darby, both targeting women. Furthermore, just last week three robberies occurred in Haverford between Thursday and Friday evening.

This all begs the question – what is being done? The answer: Nothing.

Nothing will be done as long as we continue to elect people like U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon and Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner who support defunding the police and openly admit they do not believe that arresting people and convicting them for illegal gun possession is a viable strategy to reduce shootings.

Those soft-on-crime policies have enabled lawbreakers and made our communities and families less safe. Public safety is the good upon which all others rest. As congressman, combating violent crime will be one of my top priorities.

It starts with protecting and supporting our police, law enforcement, and first responders. Fully funding them and equipping them with the resources they need to serve the public should not be a partisan issue. Unlike Mary Gay Scanlon, I will always oppose defunding the police, irrespective of how it polls.

I oppose DA Larry Krasner’s failure to aggressively prosecute violent offenders. I disagree with his contention that arresting people and convicting them for illegal gun possession will not reduce shootings.

Furthermore, I will never endorse policies like the elimination of cash bail, as DA Larry Krasner and Mary Gay Scanlon have, that will lead to rising crime. Second, it is imperative that we hold violent and repeat offenders accountable – the opposite of what DA Larry Krasner has done and Mary Gay Scanlon have demanded.

This year alone, Philadelphia is on pace for 3,000 illegal gun arrests. Those caught are less likely to be charged and those charged are less likely to be convicted than ever before. In 2021, there were over 2,300 incidents of gun violence, yet 61 percent of illegal firearms cases were dismissed by the district attorney’s office.

Third, I am committed to making the much-needed enhancements to our law enforcement community to be better equipped to process evidence and convict offenders.

One solution is mobile crime labs. Oftentimes, families in PA-05 are left waiting while evidence sits and while a loved one’s killer goes free. By bringing a forensics team to a crime scene, evidence is processed more quickly and there is a greater likelihood of tying an offender to the crime within an optimal 48-hour window. Speedy, accurate processing of evidence leads to more solved crimes and fewer violent offenders on the street.

In addition, the presence of mobile crime labs acts as a visible deterrent. Their physical presence in communities will make criminals think twice about committing crimes. A greater chance that someone is linked to a crime also acts as a deterrent – current backlogs give criminals the idea that they will never be convicted. Last, resources for youth intervention and mentorship programs are essential. Strengthening the relationships that law enforcement have with the community ensures that families will be safe and that the rule of law will be enforced in a just way. These relationships can be maintained without denigrating the men and women that keep our communities safe.

We can and must find ways to work together to make our streets safe again. It is time to stop emboldening criminals and start protecting innocent people. As long as violent and repeat offenders go without consequences, innocent people across PA-05 in Philadelphia, Delaware, and Montgomery counties will continue to suffer. The crime and violence we are experiencing are simply not acceptable and stopping it will be a top priority of mine in Congress.

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Sources: Delco May Settle With Aqua on DELCORA Sale Litigation

Two judges in separate courts issued rulings this week in cases involving DELCORA (Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority).

The litigation involves an agreement with Aqua PA to buy DELCORA which had been approved by a previous county council but has been publicly rejected by the current Democrat-controlled county council. The new council went to court in May 2020 to block the sale by terminating DELCORA’s existence.

However, DVJournal learned Delaware County officials are talking with Aqua about settling the litigation.

Asked about whether the county was in settlement discussions with Aqua, County Councilwoman Christine Reuther was noncommittal.

“It’s possible we’ve had some conversations and these may continue,” said Reuther. “I will always take Chris Franklin’s call.” Franklin is the CEO of Essential Utilities, Aqua’s parent company.

Common Pleas Judge Barry C. Dozor held Delaware County does have the right to undo DELCORA but must go forward with a $276.5 million sale to Aqua PA or be in breach of contract. The Commonwealth Court ruled the Public Utilities Commission has authority over the matter, something that Dozor also stated in his decision. It also quashed a Delaware County’s petition asking for review.

William F. Martin, county solicitor, said, “The county has not yet decided whether to appeal the Common Pleas decision. In any event, no transfer of DELCORA’s assets can occur until the PUC has approved the transaction. And that approval is no closer to being received than it was in 2020.

“As to the Commonwealth Court order, it merely stated that now is not the proper procedural time to present the many issues the county has posed for review. The county will still have the opportunity to make its arguments before the PUC and if needed, the Commonwealth Court,” said Martin.

Dozor also ruled if it takes over DELCORA, the county would be bound by the terms of the asset purchase agreement and that settlement on the agreement must happen before the county dissolves DELCORA.

In a separate case that is still pending, the Chester City receiver also filed suit to be sure that the city garners its share from the sale or regains control of its infrastructure.

An Aqua spokeswoman said it has not publicly commented on the court’s decision.

Frank Catania, the lawyer for the Chester Water Authority, which is also an Aqua target, praised the Bucks County Board of Commissioners which recently rejected Aqua’s planned $1.1 billion purchase of the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority. Catania also praised Chester County officials for their support of CWA and its ratepayers.

“The Bucks County commissioners made their decision in two months and made it publicly,” said Catania. “Delaware County is doing something different, having private conversations. I don’t understand what they’re trying to do here. Their stated strategy is to try and stop the purchase from going through. If there is something else going on they should state it publicly.”

Recently, outside counsel representing Delaware County filed a motion with the Supreme Court to stop Chester Water Authority’s “attempt to protect its natural resources,” said Catania. “They raised an issue that’s not even before the court.” Delaware County took this action without public discussion or notice in the minutes that Council had discussed it in executive session, he said.

As part of its bid, Aqua has offered to place the proceeds from the sale into a trust used to offset rate increases for DELCORA customers. However, residents of other Delaware Valley areas where the sewer or water utilities have been sold have seen rate increases. Residents in Cheltenham Township experienced sticker shock this year after Aqua received PUC approval to raise their sewer rates, with an average residential bill up 69 percent. Township officials sold the sewer system to Aqua in 2019.

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Delco’s Outside Legal Bills Top $2 Million for Second Consecutive Year

Delaware County’s legal bills for the use of outside attorneys and law firms totaled just shy of $2.3 million in 2021, marking the second year in a row that the county has topped the $2 million figure in that spending category, according to a data analysis by Broad + Liberty.

In 2020, the bill for outside legal help tallied about $2.2 million.

Both of the years mark a sharp contrast from 2019, when the last year of the Republican-controlled board of county council spent only $402,000.

The top recipients of the 2021 spending include:

 

EASTBURN AND GRAY 564,942.52
MCNEES WALLACE & NURICK 529,451.02
DUANE MORRIS, LLP 172,794.49
CAMPBELL DURRANT 172,108.38
ARCHER & GREINER 138,130.97
SCOTT, ROBERT 121,678.87
FRANK W DALY & ASSOC. 88,400.00
ANDERSON KILL P.C. 68,938.80
PRESSMAN, & DOYLE 67,000.00
BALLARD SPAHR LLP 56,590.64

(source: two Right to Know requests filed by Broad + Liberty)

By that analysis, two law firms, Eastburn and Gray, as well as McNees, Wallace & Nurick, both billed more to the county in 2021 than the county spent in total on outside legal help in 2019.

The county blames the escalating costs on new projects.

“Since January 1, 2020, Delaware County, and its Solicitor’s Office, have been involved in a wide ranging set of issues, most of which had not been addressed by the previous administration,” said County Solicitor Bill Martin.

“These matters include the acquisition via eminent domain, of the largest new County Park in history (Marple), a county-wide reassessment with associated litigation, litigation to block Aqua’s attempt to acquire DELCORA’s assets at bargain-basement prices, unprecedented litigation relating to the 2020 election, restructuring of close to a dozen union contracts, de-privatization of the GW Hill Jail, and addressing a crisis at the County’s Juvenile Detention facility.”

At least two of the top-ten billers have solid histories of giving to the Democratic Party in the region.

Ballard Spahr, for example, was a reliable contributor to Democratic candidates for the Pennsylvania House and Senate in 2020, though there were a couple outlier donations to Republican candidates.

Spahr is also deeply politically connected in Delaware County because U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon is a Ballard Spahr alumna, and her husband, Mark Stewart, is chairman of Ballard, according to a Bloomberg report. Scanlon’s district is largely based in Delaware County.

Frank Daly, of the eponymous law firm, has been a regular contributor to the Delaware County Democratic Party for years, usually making a donation of $84 at the end of every month.

Requests for comment to Ballard Spahr and Frank W. Daly & Associates were not returned.

The appearances created by political donations followed by contracts for county work for the donor was a hot topic to some of the new Democratic members of the board.

In a 2019 article in the Inquirer, Brian Zidek, the former chairman of the council who opted not to run for re-election last year, said residents in Delaware County paid directly from their own pocketbooks for political back scratching.

Councilor Brian Madden, still on the council, was included in the Inquirer story as well.

“Taxpayers in Delaware County pay a corruption tax,” Zidek told the Inquirer. “[Taxes] are too high, and the waste of money is the offshoot of the way this machine does business, with insiders, patronage, and no-bid contracts.”

Former state senator and Delwaware county councilor Tom Killion said he’s not buying the solicitor’s line.

“County Solicitor Martin’s skillful attempt to obfuscate the issue — which is the out-of-control spending of County Council — does not hold water,” Killion told Broad + Liberty. “The legal bills are the tip of the iceberg. When the bills are totaled up for all the new spending that County Council has implemented and the federal Covid money is spent, the public will be handed a massive tax increase.”

“As to the money being handed out the law firms, every other word out of Councilman Madden’s mouth during his election campaign was ‘corruption.’ He contended that County Council was rewarding its friends with contracts. Is Ballard a friend of the County Democrats? Congresswoman Scanlon’s husband is the chairman of the firm. Is Duane Morris a friend? The former Chairman of the Democrat party is of counsel. Hypocrisy is apparently acceptable conduct in the DELCO Democrat party.”

Still, Martin suggested that outsourcing some of the labor was a potential cost-saving move.

“It is also important to note  that the Solicitor’s Office has been streamlined,” he said. “In 2019, eighteen different individuals were on the County payroll as attorneys working in the solicitor’s office, receiving benefits, including the accruing of pensions. By 2022, this number had been reduced to seven.”

The numerous changes to the county’s governance have no doubt roiled the checkbook.

For example, the council voted recently to extend a contract to a firm recruiting new prison guards in the wake of the county moving the prison back to government management after being run privately for more than three decades.

“If the contract runs its full course, the county will have committed just shy of $1 million dollars — $925,425 — to help staff up the prison in the transition to deprivatization,” Broad + Liberty reported last month.

Yet at the same time, the county is also boasting it is implementing other cost-saving efficiencies.

“Delaware County officials anticipate saving at least $3.4 million as employees look to participate in the first active benefits enrollment recent officials can recall,” the Delco Daily Times reported.

But at the same time, that announcement was coupled with the news that, “Employees will be asked to contribute monthly towards these benefits, as officials explained this is in line with practices in surrounding counties.”

Update: This story was updated with a quote from Tom Killion.

This story first appeared in Broad + Liberty. 

New Suit Filed in Maze of DELCORA Litigation

The sale of DELCORA remains snared in litigation. The latest salvo was by Chester City receiver Michael Doweary to make sure the city receives its share of compensation if the pending $276.5 million DELCORA sale to Aqua PA goes through.

The suit argues that a previous contract signed in 1973 says Chester must agree to a sale and the city should also be paid a portion of the proceeds. DELCORA (Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority) is also required under that 48-years-old agreement to return the city’s sewer system to the city. A later agreement said DELCORA must pay the city 10 percent of any sale, the complaint said.

DELCORA serves 46 municipalities in Chester and Delaware Counties.

Doweary asks the court to impose a declaration of judgment and an injunction.

Doweary tried to intervene in the sale before, but the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) refused, telling Chester it was too late. The DELCORA sale to Aqua had been approved by Delaware County’s former Republican-controlled council. The Democrats now in control are fighting the deal and passed an ordinance to permit the county to take over the utility.

Vijay Kapoor, Doweary’s chief of staff, said the new complaint is to make sure that Chester is protected if a sale goes through or DELCORA stops operations.

“There are assets that used to belong to the city,” he said. “These would revert back to the city or the city would receive adequate compensation.” The suit will “preserve Chester’s rights.”

A spokeswoman for Aqua PA said, “Although the action was filed/dated Aug. 17, Aqua only recently received a copy and has not had the chance to thoroughly review it in order to make substantive comment. Aqua is not a named party in the action. We are aware of similar relief the receiver sought before the PUC but the PUC determined he was not permitted to participate in that process. We previously asked the receiver several times for a list of the supposed assets potentially subject to the old agreement, and the supposed valuation of those assets. To date, we have not received a response.”

Kapoor said the PUC ruled they were too late to file but did not rule on the merits of their claims.

“It’s like watching a medieval castle siege,” said Frank Catania, a lawyer for the Chester Water Authority. “If they just starve them out they will eventually yield and sell to Aqua. Harrisburg has a $4 billion surplus. Delaware County has $100 million. It’s disappointing that nobody can use some of that money to help the City of Chester.”

CWA is also a litigant because Doweary may sell that entity to Aqua for $410 million, which would help with the city’s pension obligations. However, that case is pending before the state Supreme Court.

CWA serves 49,000 customers in 33 towns in Delaware and Chester counties.

Samantha Newell, with Rudolph Clarke, the law firm representing DELCORA, did not reply to a request for comment Thursday. The politically-connected law firm has Democratic state Reps. Mike Zabel and Benjamin Sanchez and Democratic state Sen. Maria Collett and Steven Santarsiero as “of counsel” lawyers.

The Common Pleas court has scheduled a hearing on September 7th to hear arguments regarding the Order the Court will issue, in response to the Commonwealth Court’s decision on this matter.

Delaware County Solicitor William Martin could not be reached for comment.

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DELCO Council Approves Upgrade of Public Safety Radio System

Delaware County Council recently unanimously voted to spend $38 million to improve its emergency radio system.

The upgrade by JVC Kenwood and will include an extensive review of various design approaches.

“This is a great purchase by the county council and one of the most important public safety initiatives in Delaware County for the last 50 years,” said Ridley Park Chief of Police, Robert M. Frazier.

The three-year upgrade, which includes purchasing of 3,700 new radios and moving the county’s system to a 700 MHz radio spectrum, will increase the ability of various agencies to work and communicate together. It will be the first significant radio upgrade since the 1970s. The county will deploy new, higher frequency radios that increase reliability and coordination among first responders and expand the coverage area.

In 2019, the county council commissioned a study of the needs of first responders and the capabilities of Delaware County’s current radio system following reports that there had been multiple situations when emergency personnel could not reach the 911 system due to problems related to the use of lower 500 HMZ frequency radios.

The new radios will use new frequencies and updated technology that should reduce interference issues. The radios that relied on older technology sometimes experienced a problem referred to as troposphere propagation, sometimes interfering with the ability of a first responder to communicate with the 911 Center.

“This investment in upgrading our public safety radio system will have an immediate effect and help keep our first responders safe and allow them to work together to protect the public more effectively,” said Delaware County Councilman Kevin Madden. “An integral piece of our commitment to the public’s safety is ensuring that first responders across the county have the tools and resources they need to communicate with each other in real-time to respond effectively to crises and deploy critically needed emergency services effectively.”

The upgrade will increase the capacity of the county’s emergency system and its reliability by moving from a 500 MHz radio spectrum to 700 MHz, purchasing and distributing 3,700 radios to ensure that first responders have access to the capabilities and features of the system. It will also increase the security of the system to prevent hacking. Local officials can also buy new radios at a significantly reduced price under this contract. The improved design does not require building new towers and will use the 20 existing radio transmission towers.

“Council has always been and will remain committed to ensuring that we are careful stewards of taxpayer money, even as we make critical and long-overdue investments in our county and its future,” said Madden. “Council commends the Department of Emergency Services, under the leadership of Director Timothy Boyce and project consultants ACD Telecom and JVC Kenwood for their diligence in improving service and reliability across the county.”

Springfield Township Chief of Police, Joseph J. Daly praised the emergency radio upgrade.

“County Council committed to replacing the current radio system with a technologically advanced and sophisticated system,” said Daly. “County Council and staff worked tirelessly with all system users to qualify and quantify their individual and collective needs, which were incorporated in the comprehensive planning stage.

“In the interim, county communications personnel assigned to maintain the network made equipment upgrades to maintain the existing system,” he said. “Spending 40 million in taxpayers’ money is not an undertaking that is done lightly.  Under the leadership and direction of the county council, all the prerequisites and tedious planning have been completed. As a result, soon, the citizens of Delaware County and all emergency services will be operating under a state-of-the-art communications network that will serve the community for many years to come.”

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Philly Crime Hasn’t Crossed Into Suburbs; These DAs Think They Know Why

As Philadelphia’s crime crisis makes headlines every day, fears grow that the violence will spill into the suburbs. However, two years since that crime surge first started, those fears remain unfounded. For example, homicides in Montgomery County actually declined in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.

And despite a rise in homicides in Delaware County in 2020, crime is falling in its most-violent municipality, Chester.

With the streets of Philadelphia engaged in what sometimes appears to border on open warfare, why has the violent crime problem crossed over into the Delaware Valley suburbs? Local district attorneys say it is because preventative efforts have slowly gained favor in law enforcement.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele is a career prosecutor who has been in law enforcement for more than 30 years.  During that time, he watched law enforcement evolve from reacting to crime after it happens to proactively trying to prevent it.

“The role of a prosecutor has expanded from kind of looking back at that law-and-order type of thing,” Steele said. “I think where we’ve moved to is looking at prevention.”

Jack Stollsteimer, district attorney for Delaware County, cites the city of Chester’s fall in crime as a perfect example. He credits an initiative between the district attorney’s office and Chester’s mayor and police. The program looks to identify those who are committing crimes and then intervenes by giving them a choice.

“You go to them and you give them the opportunity to say, ‘We will help you if we can, but we will stop you if we must,’” Stollsteimer said. “You remove those people by getting them to stop killing, or you put them in jail.”

But the program does more than that. It establishes relationships within the community and involves every aspect of it as part of the effort to reduce crime. That includes the local basketball association, which helps create programming to keep kids out of trouble, Stollsteimer said.

It is all about a holistic approach to combating crime. “Everybody has a role to play in this story,” Stollsteimer explained. “It’s not even just getting law enforcement and (the) community to work together. It’s to get other government agencies, businesses.”

Steele points to Pottstown as another success. When he came into office in 2016, he said the town had a lot of unresolved shootings. The office used many different tools to eventually discover the suspects causing the violence and prosecuted them successfully. However, the story did not end there.

“We embedded a group of prosecutors in Pottstown to work with the police, with community leaders, with schools, with elected officials,” Steele said. These ‘community justice’ units stayed after the crime was solved to work to rebuild. “Now, if you look at a community like Pottstown, you hear about economic development, about the rising prices for housing in the area. It’s an area to go after.”

Despite the good news, Steele said Montgomery County still has problems. Those most important to him involve the preservation of life: Overdoses, violent crime, domestic violence, and child abuse.

On overdoses, Steele supports initiatives like drug take-back days to get pills out of medicine cabinets, where they might be readily available to addicts. There’s also a year-round effort like take-back boxes in every police department. And having Narcan in every police car to treat overdoses immediately can also prevent deaths.

With overdose deaths in Montgomery County falling last year even as ODs rose nationally, Steele sees evidence these efforts are paying off.

Guns remain the biggest issue in violent crime and straw purchasers–those who purchase firearms for others who legally cannot–are one of Steele’s greatest concerns. It is why Montgomery County is working collaboratively with neighboring counties to go after these purchasers, trying to get those guns back before they can be used in other crimes.

Montgomery County has a close relationship with local victim agencies, like the Laurel House, a domestic violence shelter, and Mission Kids, a child advocacy center. They work with experts collaboratively to prevent abuse while also accommodating crime victims.

“The saves are hard to quantify,” he said. “But if you look at what’s going on around us, and the direction that other places are going that aren’t doing the things that we’re doing, I think that that’s a very important thing to look at.”

In Delaware County, Stollsteimer said challenges depend on the specific community. There is an increase in car thefts in more affluent Swarthmore, but violent crime appears to be rising in Upper Darby.

Some of it may be due to a spillover from Philadelphia, Stollsteimer said, with many Delaware County municipalities bordering the city. However, years of neglect and rises in poverty in some areas may also play a role.

“There are people who have been predicting now for a generation if you don’t invest in the housing stock and businesses (in the first generation suburbs),” he said. “You’re going to see the same problems you’re seeing in urban neighborhoods.”

But initiatives like that of Chester may be the guide to successfully turning back the tide.

“The roadmap is there,” Stollsteimer said. “We just have to follow the plan.”

Delaware County also has not been shy about criminal justice reforms similar to those blamed on the increase in Philly crime since progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner took office.

Stollsteimer supported the de-privatization of the county prison and recently started a central arraignment process involving his office, the courts, and public defenders, where bails are actively reviewed.  And defendants are given access to lawyers early in the process.

His office last year also created a program with state Attorney General Josh Shapiro known as the Law Enforcement Treatment Initiative, where individuals can contact law enforcement to seek treatment for addictions without any fear of prosecution or arrest.

Stollsteimer called that a more long-term investment than policy changes, but says he hopes it will allow the office to help communities more.

“If we have only the maximum number of people incarcerated for as long as required for the conditions of justice, then we can use some of those savings to reinvest in people,” he said, about not solely relying on incarceration.

But the most important key to success, said Steele, is the level of trust his office has built between residents and law enforcement.

“That’s earned. You can’t just say, ‘trust me,’” Steele said. “You have to earn it, every day. And you earn it by making a difference in people’s lives.”

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Delaware County Senior Games Winners Honored at Awards Luncheon

From a press release

Delaware County was proud to congratulate the nearly 500 athletes who participated in the 32nd annual Delaware County Senior Games during the Winner’s Circle Luncheon held at the Drexelbrook Banquet Center in Drexel Hill on July 19.

Delaware County Senior Games Committee Co-chairs Marc Manfre, director of Parks & Recreation, and Barbara S. Nicolardi, director of the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging (COSA) joined County Sheriff Jerry L. Sanders Jr. and over 200 Delaware County Senior Games participants and volunteers to celebrate another successful year of the games.

The games, held from June 13 to June 24 at venues across the county, concluded with the traditional final day of track and field events held at Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills. This year’s games featured 471 athletes, ages 51-94, competing in 12 different sports, including Bocce, Bowling (singles, doubles, mixed doubles, and team), Corn Hole, Golf (9 and 18 holes), Mini-Golf, Pickleball, Swimming, Shuffleboard, Table Tennis, Track and Field, and Wii Bowling.

“The Senior Games provide a healthy and fun experience to our residents, and Council commends Barb Nicolardi and Marc Manfre for another great year,” said Delaware County Chair Monica Taylor Ph.d.

The total of 471 athletes represents a significant increase from last year’s total of 331, a reduced number due in part to the limited nature of the 2021 games that were pared down to comply with COVID-19 guidance. “I think this shows the staying power and value of these games,” said Nicolardi.

“Congratulations to this year’s participants. It was wonderful to attend the games and witness the camaraderie, athleticism and competition!” said Delaware County Vice Chair Elaine Schaefer.

The resident athletes in attendance at the luncheon were eager to thank the County for the popular event. Eighty-two-year-old Upper Darby resident Esteban Abarintos, a gold medalist in multiple sports including mixed doubles table tennis, was thrilled to participate in the games. “I’m so grateful to the County and the people who planned these games,” he said. “I was suffering from diabetes, but I began playing sports, and now no more diabetes! These games are the best medicine.”

Delaware County Council thanks the many residents, competitors, volunteers, staff members, and host locations that made the 2022 games a success. A list of winners, along with pictures and information about the 2023 games, will be made available on the Senior Games website at www.delcoseniorgames.org.

 

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Delaware County Seeking Volunteers to Help Develop Don Guanella Master Plan

From a press release

For the first time in more than 30 years, Delaware County is getting a new County park. The county’s newest and largest county park will be located on the former Don Guanella site in Marple Township. The 213 acre park will be focused on the woodlands that now serve as one of the county’s largest forests.

Public input is a cornerstone of the project and will guide key elements of the plan. Delaware County is seeking fifteen community leaders to join the new Master Plan Advisory Committee for the former Don Guanella property. The new committee is part of a public planning process that began earlier this year in order to engage the public in the planning process for the conservation and public use of the 213-acre property.

The committee will meet an estimated six to eight times with the consulting team and key stakeholders from Delaware County through March 2023. Members will provide information, ideas, and perspectives to help develop a plan for the new park. The master plan, to be completed in the Spring of 2023, will be the guiding document that identifies long-term conservation, woodland protection, infrastructure, and recreation improvements for the future county park

“We are thrilled to begin planning work on the former Don Guanella site and we’d like to hear the community’s vision for what our newest and largest County park and forest could be,” said Elaine Schaefer, county Council vice-chair and liaison to the County’s  Parks and Recreation Department. “The property is already a cherished regional destination for many residents and we are excited to think big and expand opportunities for park users that are inclusive and forward-thinking. We want people of all ages, abilities, and cultural backgrounds to feel welcome in our parks. That starts with hearing from the public.”

The future park consists of 213 acres and is home to woodlands, wetlands, grassland, and many wildlife species. The creation of a park on the Don Guanella tract is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create an open and accessible public space that will provide immediate and ongoing economic, environmental and quality of life benefits to Delaware County.

In June 2021, the County announced its intention to acquire the 213-acre Don Guanella parcel after its development into housing and institutional use was unanimously rejected by the Marple Township Board of Commissioners and opposed by the planning commission. In March 2022, Delaware County Council approved and funded a proposal to create a plan to transform the property into the largest public park in the county.

Members of the public will also have a chance to share their input and opinion through surveys, public meetings, and events even if they are not serving on the advisory board.  More information regarding ways to participate will be posted on the county’s website.

 

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