Mayor Kearney: Borough in ‘Very Good Shape,’ But Hurting, Too

Swarthmore Borough Council
By Katie Crawford

At Borough Council’s legislative session on Monday, Finance committee chair Michael Carey reported that Swarthmore revenue was up roughly $200,000 in 2016 (over 2015), driven mostly by the surge of construction, increasing home sales, and an increase in parking revenue. Expenditures were up as well, but Carey noted that most of the increase was for one-time costs, including $92,000 in loan prepayments and the movement of $50,000 to the capital reserve. He summarized that financially speaking, “the borough is in very good shape.”

Mayor Tim Kearney echoed this assessment in his State of the Borough address, noting that the borough will not be raising taxes this year. Among significant 2016 events, Kearney noted the opening of the Inn at Swarthmore, which draws together all types of Swarthmoreans whom he described as “responsible drinkers,” given the low number of reported incidents. Kearney again praised all involved in the creation of Central Park Swarthmore, and pointed to events Town Center will make possible, including a planned Thursday night music series featuring Swarthmore musicians.

Another highlight from the year was the introduction of the Swarthmore One Card, which facilitated Swarthmore College students’ eating and shopping at borough establishments, to the tune of $326,000 in sales.

Loss and Division

Kearney spoke of the tragic loss of three young Swarthmore men in 2016. Schoolteacher Robbie Payne, kayaker Jamie Page, and college student Noah Arnold all were, “doing what we as a community would want them to do,” when their lives ended. Kearney stressed that, “Grieving for them and empathy for the people they left behind are important aspects of community.”

In noting the divisiveness of the past election season, and the ensuing rhetoric, Kearney stressed that alongside everyone’s First Amendment rights to free speech, is people’s right to “freedom from fear.” He encouraged all community members to continue to denounce “hate speech, hate crimes, harassment, racial bias, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant activity, and harmful bias and discrimination in all forms.”

For 2017, Kearney looks forward to working more on the Aging-in-Place recommendations as well as continuing to make Swarthmore more pedestrian-friendly. He anticipates the borough exploring more difficult zoning issues this year as well as a “spirited” discussion regarding a possible liquor referendum. In closing, the mayor highlighted the vitality of the Swarthmore community, a place he is proud to call home.

Public comment during the session once again focused on aggressive tree and shrub removal by the National Realty Corporation on properties it owns on the 500 block of Riverview Road in Swarthmore. Tommy Beninger thanked council for its efforts over the years aimed at preserving the residential quality of this particular neighborhood. He highlighted the recent tree removal, and recounted his efforts including an October 21, 2016 call for police to stop removal of trees on NRC property, which had served as a visual barrier, as specified in a 1985 zoning ordinance.

Beninger stressed the importance of council addressing the “totality” of the 1985 ordinance; council president David Grove reminded the audience that council was, “very mindful of the facts.” Sean O’Donnell, also of Riverview Road, echoed Beninger’s comments, noting that his concerns extend to Swarthmore in general, and that, “if left to status quo, the situation will continue to erode.”

HEADStrong Order Appealed

On January 4, in response to council’s December grant of an accommodation to HEADStrong Foundation under the Fair Housing Act for the property at 200 S. Chester Rd., “persons who feel themselves aggrieved” by this decision appealed the order to the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County. Swarthmore Borough Council and the HEADStrong Foundation are appellees. Borough Council will be represented by solicitor Bob Scott. It is unknown whether the appeal will be heard by the Common Pleas court, or referred to Federal district court.

Referendum Pending?

Some board members of Town Center Inc. are among a group of Swarthmore residents seeking to gather sufficient signatures to introduce a liquor referendum onto the May primary election ballot. The referendum will specifically ask if “liquor by the glass should be permitted in the borough.” Council President Grove noted that although Borough Council funds Town Center, council’s opinion was not sought in this matter, nor will council have any part in the creation, wording, or circulation of the petition.

Grove stressed that Swarthmoreans need to understand that if this referendum is successfully passed, that “this is an action that, once taken, cannot be undone, and that Swarthmoreans would have no say in who would receive the liquor licenses, which could be transferred from any other place in Delaware County.” Council member Ross Schmucki had previously attended a meeting, organized by Town Center, of roughly 15 very enthusiastic community members who believe strongly that the passage of this referendum will benefit downtown Swarthmore.

In other council news, Ashley Grider and Matt McCabe were appointed as new members of the EAC, and Chris DeBruyn and Denise Disney were reappointed as members of the Planning Commission. Cindy McCloud, who formerly served as an alternate was appointed as an official member of the Zoning Hearing board.

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