New Garden supervisor calls for colleague's resignation11/16/2021 03:28PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
In a bizarre introduction to the Nov. 15 New Garden Board of Supervisors meeting, vice chairman Mike Loftus and supervisor David Unger volleyed back and forth in an argument that reached its height when Loftus called for Unger to resign from the board for a recent posting that Loftus claimed was inaccurate.
In his opening comments, Loftus made reference to a campaign entry that was posted on Oct. 30 on the Facebook page of Democrats Troy Wildrick and Ted Gallivan, who campaigned successfully for supervisor posts when they defeated Republican Loftus and his campaign running mate Dinamarie Vanover on Nov. 2:
New Garden Residents! Did you know your board of supervisors never voted to oppose the takeover of CWA by Aqua? Almost every other municipality in Chester County showed courage and leadership and voted to oppose this unwanted takeover of our water by Aqua. See the list of elected officials and organizations that had the courage to stand up to Aqua here.
After listing the link, the posting ended with: This November 2nd you can elect leaders who will fight the takeover of CWA by voting for Troy Wildrick & Ted Gallivan for New Garden Township supervisor.
On the page, Unger, who spearheaded the Wildrick-Gallivan campaign, is listed as being “responsible” for the page.
“I would like it noted that we did oppose it at the September meeting, and I am curious as to why you would post that at that late date in October,” Loftus asked Unger.
While he did not address his colleague's question directly, Unger referred to a letter that was posted on the New Garden website that was sent to New Garden sewer customers in late October, addressing the concern raised by township residents and rate payers to the application filed by Aqua to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) requesting an increase in township sewer rates by 31.2 percent. The letter acknowledges an Oct. 5 letter from township Solicitor Vince Pompo to PUC Secretary Rosemary Chiavetta that echoed the same concerns about the rate proposal increase, and called for the PUC to hold a public impact hearing in the township.
The letter to township sewer customers was signed “Board of Supervisors, New Garden Township.”
“On Friday, Oct. 29, I came home from work and saw on the New Garden website a letter that I had never seen that was authorized by the New Garden Board of Supervisors,” Unger said. “I asked [supervisor] Kristie Brodowski if she had seen that letter. She had not. I asked [supervisor] Steve Allaband if he had seen the letter. He had not.”
Unger said that the next day, he noticed that the letter had been posted on the Loftus/Vanover Facebook page, “that was clearly designed to fit your narrative of the election,” he told Loftus.
Referring back to the Oct. 30 posting on the Wildrick-Gallivan Facebook page, Loftus asked Unger, “But you knew it was untrue when you posted it, because you voted for it.”
“When CWA asked for our help in their moment of crisis, we refused to act,” Unger said. “They had asked us in April of 2020 to take a stand. I asked [in private sessions with other supervisors] to take a stand. We refused, because we were still in the process of finalizing the deal with Aqua.
“We did not pass a resolution at that time. We later passed a letter of support which to my knowledge was never received by Aqua or the CWA, because it was not posted on their page, but they had a list of all of the other courageous municipalities who did take a stand in their hour of need.”
“My last comment,” Loftus replied to Unger, referring to their other colleagues on the board. “This is about public service up here, not politics. I really think you should resign and step down as a supervisor.”
“I won't be doing that, but thank you for your offer,” said Unger, who later qualified his actions by stating that the letter he made reference to was not read by three of the township's five supervisors.
“The letter was a narrative that clearly the Republican team was pushing to defend their sale of the sewer system. The link the Loftus-Vanover campaign posted on their Facebook [to the letter] was a link to the New Garden page. To me, there was someone in the campaign that was putting pressure on the township to promote their narrative.”
While Unger denied that his action was a form of retaliation against Loftus and Vanover's campaign, he apologized for his choice of wording in the Oct. 30 Facebook post.
“I should have said that the township did not pass a resolution [opposing the sale of the CWA to Aqua],” he said.
Township manager Ramsey Reiner said that she posted the letter on the township's website
and apologized for not circulating the letter to the board, mistakenly believing that the issue was information that had already been discussed over the past six years.
“I posted information from Vince Pompo and [Director of Planning and Projects] Spence Andress (two of the township's primary facilitators of the $29.5 million sale) and I believed that this was information that the board of supervisors had already known,” she said.
Loftus rejected the notion that the letter was politically motivated, and continued to support the board's decision to sell the township's wastewater system to Aqua. He said the purpose of the letter was to “clear the air” about “misinformation” that had been circulating about the sale of the wastewater system.
“We did do our due diligence, and it started way before my time on the board,” he said. “The reason it was reviewed was that the sewer system was less of an asset and more of a liability, and the discussions with everybody on the board was 'We need to get rid of it.' The [proposed rate increases] by Aqua would have been 80 percent or so if we had fixed it.
“[The letter] went out as a FAQ, [documenting] this is what would have happened had we not sold the sewer [system]. [Township residents] would have paid a lot more potentially than [they] will now.”
Zoning ordinance amendments
In other township business, township planner and architect Tom Comitta asked the board for an invitation to give a presentation at the township in December that will address, amend and finalize several proposed zoning ordinances in the township's unified districts (UD) and high rate commercial districts (HC).
These amendments include the revitalization of the Route 41 and Route 7 corridors to create a more functional and attractive environment; the promotion of mixed-use development n these districts; to enhance the streetscapes along Route 41, Route 7 and Old Baltimore Pike with street trees, street trees and sidewalks; to implement the Toughkenamon Streetscape Improvement Plan; and to promote sustainable development in both districts.
Speaking to the board, Harrogate North resident Peter Mrosinski said that he and his fellow residents Geoff Meyer and Bill Ferguson addressed the PUC last week to share their opposition to Aqua's proposed rate increase for township residents using public water. He told the board that he and his colleagues researched Aqua's filed document that requests the rate increase, and found several discrepancies that they disclosed to the PUC.
Mrosinski then addressed the board on an additional discrepancy, one that was stated in the first sales agreement between Aqua and the township in 2016.
“The summary clearly points out that Aqua agreed to a two-year rate freeze, as well as a ten-year cap of four percent on compounded annual growth rate,” he said. “Attached to that document was a list of frequently asked questions, and one question asked, “Will existing users of the sewer system receive any of the proceeds?
“The answer was, 'A reserve fund will be established out of the proceeds of the sale to financially secure the contractually capped rates. The fund will be used to reimburse existing users should contractually capped rates be exceeded.'”
Mrosinski requested that the township hold an “open and well-publicized public meeting in the near future” that invites current and future supervisors as well as Pompo and Andress, who served as the primary brokers of the wastewater sale.
“The township received $29.5 million for the sale of its wastewater system,” he said. “Hopefully, that money will be used wisely and carefully to improve services and infrastructure, but any use of the money will benefit all New Garden residents, with only Aqua ratepayers paying the bill. This is a hard pill for us to swallow, which is why this issue is not going away. We need explanations of many things. That's the very least you can do for us.”
The board also approved the hiring of Natalia Santiago Vazquez as township secretary and Michael Buck as the township's Parks and Open Space superintendent.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].