I’d like to pick up where we left off by pointing out an important distinction in the way local governments deal with county government. These inter-governmental relationships play out on at least two levels: the staff level and the political level. The local and county staff are often in the trenches together, working on grant applications, sharing information, preparing documents for public hearings, meeting deadlines, etc.
The politicians… well, that can be a whole other story, even in the cases where the staff are somewhat merrily chugging along, jointly getting things done. Politics is what we read about in the paper – the votes we don’t understand; the frustration that’s built up over years, perhaps decades; the public policy – and the whole tone of the discussion – that is ultimately set by the elected officials.
In some sense, the wheels of government at the staff level just keep turning. Ideally, though, the local elected officials would be on the same page with county/ regional planning policy in order to keep those wheels greased. (It’s a karma thing.)
On to outside resources…
1. Everyone should know a little bit about Pottstown’s Keystone Opportunity Zone or KOZ. These zones exist in select places throughout Pennsylvania and provide for the elimination of certain state and local taxes for a limited period in order to encourage the redevelopment of specific properties that have not been generating much in taxes anyway and where their redevelopment could increase taxable activity outside the zone. Pottstown’s KOZ parcels are listed here, via Montgomery County’s Economic and Workforce Development website. I believe Pottstown’s KOZ designation expires in 2013. I don’t see news anywhere that any properties have been developed to take advantage of these tax breaks. (There seems to have been a move by the School District in July 2009 to seek an extension of the KOZ zone to 2020. More info/clarification from any readers out there?)
2. The Main Street Program is a 5-year State program to support a Main Street Manager position and the creation of a local organization to manage downtown revitalization efforts. In Pottstown, that organization is the Pottstown Downtown Improvement District Authority or PDIDA. The members are listed here. A map of the PDIDA district is here.
The State Main Street Program provides $115,000 over the five years (with more money given in the early years) and requires a local match. The idea is that the position would become self-sustaining. There is also a Downtown Reinvestment and Anchor Building component to the program that could provide up to $250,000. I’m not sure if Pottstown has taken advantage of the latter, or what year their program is in… (I hope to interview Leighton Wilderick, current Main Street Manager, sometime in the next few weeks!) The State closed off new Main Street applications this past year. At any rate, it looks like this particular funding stream may not be available much longer.
3. Pottstown’s got “brownfields,” properties that contain or potentially contain a hazardous substance, contaminant or pollutant. The PA Dept. of Environmental Protection has an Office of Community Revitalization and Local Government Support to help towns deal with the redevelopment of these kinds of properties.
4. As August 2010 winds to a close, federal money is now available for planning grants that recognize the interrelatedness between housing, transportation and economic development. For the first time, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Transportation will be accepting applications at a single entry point for Community Challenge and TIGER II Planning Grants, and HUD is taking applications for their Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program. At least for now, with the current Administration in D.C., there’s a clear push for coordinated, regional planning that explicitly takes into consideration the connections between housing, transportation and economic development.
The Pottstown Partnership will have to keep in mind all of these possible funding sources and agencies, thinking creatively and collaboratively in order to tap into any possible funding immediately, as soon as it becomes available. The only way to pounce is to know what’s coming down the pike ahead of time and to have your partnerships in the non-profit, government and private sectors all on solid footing.
5. Last but not least, I’d like to spend a moment considering all the businesses, entrepreneurs, consumers, and large and small investors. This “funding stream,” if you will, includes anyone or any entity with capital to invest or spend in Pottstown, whether it’s for the purchase of a building or for dinner and theater tickets. They are constantly making choices between spending their money in Pottstown or elsewhere.
Pottstown’s been struggling for a long time. Many people are worn out. It hurts to see prosperity visiting nearby communities and bypassing one’s own. Every once in a while, there will be a burst of negative online comments about other people with real or imagined, greater wealth or education. These comments impart a suspicion about “outsiders.” They have appeared most noticeably in the discussions about rental housing. Yes, there are some very real, valid concerns that should be, and are being, addressed through enforcement and, I gather, small group discussions between the Borough Manager and the affected parties. My point here is that, after a while, these comments can come across as a general, negative community attitude about investors, period. And that’s not good for economic development.
The planning profession is specifically concerned about improving equity across the entire spectrum of human needs – housing, clean water and air, education, food, transportation, the list goes on. That was a huge reason I was drawn to it in the first place. I think it’s crucial to acknowledge the disparities and our own attitudes toward them, and then hold it all up to the light, especially if they might be getting in the way of the collective best interest. Where and how can public policy be equitable for the most participants AND get the community what it needs to move forward? The balancing act never stops.
As you may have figured out, we’ve basically been taking a rough inventory in order to get an overall sense of what we’re dealing with – the physical landscape, how Pottstown looks on various maps, the people and groups doing the work of the community, the key resources, relationships and perceptions from outside the Borough. Next, I’d like to take another pass at what’s happening inside the Borough, specifically looking at the regulatory framework that land developers and investors would have to navigate if they wanted to locate their businesses there. The problem is, not nearly enough of them do. What’s that all about?
Next up: The regulatory framework for land development in Pottstown.