Kennett Square Borough officials seem cautiously optimistic about budget situation
By Steven Hoffman
During a Finance Committee report at the Sept. 8 council meeting, Kennett Square Borough officials expressed some optimism that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the borough’s budget could be less than what was initially feared.
Council member Ethan Cramer offered a year-to-date comparison of earned-income tax collections for 2019 and 2020. This year, the borough’s revenues from earned-income taxes amount to approximately $500,000 so far, while at the same point in 2019, the total was about $525,000. While that’s a significant decline—about 5 percent—borough manager Joseph Scalise noted that it’s less than a 15 percent decline that had been feared for the second quarter, and a 10 percent decline that had been projected for the third quarter. Scalise cautioned that no one knows whether revenues will dip more as the year progresses.
“There are way too many variables,” Scalise said. “All we can do is keep an eye on it.”
Cramer said that borough officials were hoping for the best. He noted that diversity is a strength of Kennett Square, and a diverse workforce might be one reason that the borough is navigating its way through the pandemic a little better than was expected.
“We’re not a typical Chester County economy. We’re not a typical anywhere economy,” Cramer said.
Bo Wright, the executive director of Historic Kennett Square, said that businesses in Kennett Square are doing their best to move forward. To help with that, Wright said, Historic Kennett Square is planning some special events in the coming months that will hopefully boost local businesses.
Memorandum of understanding
Borough officials have now started the process of considering an extension of the agreement between the borough, Kennett Township, and Historic Kennett Square on a collaborative approach to economic development, including the funding of a economic development director position that works under the umbrella of Historic Kennett Square.
The initial agreement is set to expire at the end of this year. The memorandum of understanding that was discussed briefly at the Sept. 8 meeting would be for an additional two years.
Bob Norris, who serves on the board of Historic Kennett Square, outlined how the new memorandum of understanding will incorporate some needed changes based on the experiences of the three parties during the first three years of the agreement.
Norris said that the economic development office’s purpose is to meet the objectives of both Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township, and the memorandum of understanding should clarify those objectives.
“The accountability and the measurements are important to us,” Norris said.
Norris emphasized that economic development doesn’t simply refer to adding new businesses or building up or out on the limited land that remains open for development. Economic development could also pertain to things like the need for more affordable housing or the need for more support for black-owned businesses.
Wright talked about some of the objectives of the office of economic development. They include working on business retention efforts and identifying and attracting new businesses to the area, and offering recommendations on existing zoning regulations to ensure that the zoning is appropriate for what the borough’s objectives are. The office of economic development would also provide an analysis of proposed developments, create stronger relationships among the staff, help borough council determine its priorities, and work with the Chester County Economic Development Council to create a plan for borough-owned properties that are under-utilized. The office of economic development could also provide direct support to small businesses and secure and manage grants for the borough.
Wright said that the mission of Historic Kennett Square as an organization continues to evolve, and moving forward, he thinks Historic Kennett Square will work to support the entire borough, not just the businesses in the commercial district.
Borough council opted to ask the Finance Committee to provide a review of the Memorandum of Understanding. This will be the first step in the process to extend the memorandum of understanding.
Borough council also authorized the filing of an application to the state’s multimodal transportation fund program for a grant. Kennett Square Borough is collaborating with Kennett Township on this grant, and the funding would be used for improvements to Birch Street and an underpass to connect the trail under the railroad tracks at the Pennock Park.
Scalise explained at the meeting in July that the Birch Street project would include streetscape, traffic calming, roadway and stormwater improvements. The borough is utilizing $500,000 it received through the county’s Community Revitalization Program as partial matching funds for the state grant. The borough most likely won’t find out if the grant application was approved until the spring of 2021.
A public hearing was held regarding an update to the borough’s MS4 stormwater permit application. Scalise explained that the borough is seeking to get credits for some of the improvement work that has taken place. This could offset the need for a larger project to meet MS4 stormwater requirements.
Borough council accepted the resignation of Human Relations Commission member Franco DiCarlo, who is stepping aside to focus more on his work with parks and the library. Additionally, borough council approved the appointment of Nancy Ayllon- Ramieez to the Kennett Area Parks Authority board.
Council president Dr. Brenda Mercomes said that there are currently three vacancies on the borough’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, one vacancy on the Human Relations Commission, one vacancy on the Property Maintenance Appeals Board. An alternate is also needed to serve on the Civil Service Commission. Mercomes said that anyone who is interested should submit a letter of interest, a résumé, and a completed form to Rachel Berkowitz, the borough secretary, at [email protected]